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Pornography and Depression: What’s the Link?

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 10/19/2021

According to the International Institute of Environmental Research and Public Health, pornography is a pervasive part of our culture – and its use is growing.

Chances are, you’ve checked it out, yourself. Today’s pornography consumer is overwhelmingly male.  

Pornhub, a major internet pornography site, reported that in 2019 men made up over 70 percent of its users, with younger adults below 34-years-old a large part of that user base.

Overall, according to statistics, more than 70 percent of U.S. citizens ages 18 to 30 watch online pornography at least once a week. 

It’s reported that about 60 percent of college students are viewing porn once a week.

The problem? Studies published by the American Psychological Association have shown that porn use can be linked to negative attitudes toward women, risky sexual behavior related to poor contraceptive use, and may even lead to divorce.

There may also be a link between pornography consumption and depression

If you’ve been watching lots of porn lately — and you’re feeling a bit low, read on.

Can Porn Cause Depression: The Potential Connection

The link between porn, porn addiction, self-perceived problematic pornography use and depressive symptoms is complex.

For starters, the official stance of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists is that it “does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sexual addiction or pornography addiction as a mental health disorder.”

That said, it’s possible there’s a link between viewing pornography and experiencing depression (which is a mental health condition), and some studies have shown the relationship might work both ways. 

One study published in The Journal of Treatment & Prevention found that some people with scrupulosity, or those with guilt or anxiety about morality or religiosity, had a problematic relationship with pornography. 

Depression was also found to be a potential cause of problematic use of pornography, but only for those who use it to escape negative emotions as a coping mechanism. 

Scrupulous people, according to another study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, were found to experience shame related to their pornography use, and as a result, label themselves as addicted. 

Another study published in the China National Knowledge Infrastructure reviewed male college students' pornography use and depression and the age of onset. 

The researchers found that the rates of depression in men who started using pornography in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college were 11.7 percent, 7.1 percent, 4.9 percent, and 5.9 percent, respectively.

In fact, kids especially may be at a higher risk of mental health disorders resulting from pornography. 

It has been found that pornography may contribute to an adolescent’s low self-esteem as well as poor life satisfaction, and there may be more symptoms of depression among adolescents.

However, other research published in the Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace has shown that pornography use and sexual esteem in adults may relate to bodily or sexual satisfaction.

The results are slightly mixed and whether or not you experience negative consequences from watching porn (or vice versa) may come down to you.

So what happens if you do notice a correlation between your porn consumption and a low mood?

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Depression Treatments

If you feel your pornography use may have negative effects on your mental health, there are several treatment options available to you. 

First, here are some common symptoms to look out for, in order to determine if you are in fact depressed. 

These symptoms, as outlined by the National Institute of Mental Health, are experienced almost all day, every day, for at least two weeks: 

  • Feeling helpless, worthless or guilty consistently

  • Slurred speech and/or slowed movement

  • Feeling pessimistic or hopeless

  • Sleep issues — difficulty staying asleep and also sleeping too much

  • Feeling irritable

  • A persistent feeling of anxiousness, emptiness or sadness.

  • Losing interest in your preferred interest, hobbies or activities 

  • Feeling fatigued or experiencing a drop in energy

  • Inability to stand still

  • Changes in things like weight or appetite

  • Difficulting focusing, concentrating or an impaired ability to make decisions

  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

  • An assortment of aches or pains, digestive problems, headaches or cramps that don’t have a specific physical cause and/or those that don’t get better with treatment 

If you feel any of the above symptoms, it’s wise to consult with a mental health professional about depression treatment options, some of which may include:

Medication

Many people who suffer from depression take antidepressants to help manage their condition. 

These medications work by improving the way the chemicals in your brain handle stress and can take anywhere from two to even several weeks to start working. 

You may see symptoms like poor sleep, concentration problems and appetite get better before your mood improves.

Some people find they need to try a few different antidepressants to find the one that works best. 

It’s also important to remember that stopping antidepressants without the help of a healthcare provider can result in withdrawal symptoms. 

This can happen when people who are taking antidepressants start to feel better and feel they can stop taking the medication on their own. 

Instead, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider if you are feeling better. You can then slowly and safely taper off your medication with professional guidance. 

It’s typically possible to taper off antidepressants about six to 12 months after beginning your course.

Of course, before you begin taking any medications — whether they be prescription, herbal or even over-the-counter — you should talk to a trusted healthcare provider. They’ll be able to recommend the best treatment for your individual needs.

Psychotherapy

In addition to medication, many kinds of psychotherapy, also called talk therapy or online counseling, can help people with depression.

Talking with a healthcare provider can help you zero in on which type of therapy might be a good fit for you. 

Types of evidence-based treatments of depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT) and problem-solving therapy. 

Discussing your sexual health and well-being with a therapist could help get to the bottom of your depression symptoms. 

In fact, talking about your sexual problems may even increase your quality of life. Some talking points your therapist may cover with you are: the role of moral incongruence in pornography users, any perceived addiction, hypersexuality, sex addiction and general sexual health.

Other Ways to Ease Depression

There are some ways you can also ease depression on your own. These include keeping up with exercise, confiding in a trusted friend or relative, engaging in support groups or just socializing with others. 

You may also remind yourself to set realistic goals, resist isolating yourself and understand that your mood may get better gradually. 

Feeling depressed can be debilitating, but with the right therapies and understanding of the roots of your condition, depression can be treated and you can get back to better emotional health. 

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Getting Real: Does Pornography Cause Depression

Although there is no definitive answer as to whether porn can trigger depression, it is important to stay on top of your mental health. 

If you find your low mood seems to coincide with an uptick in your porn viewing, it might be helpful to cut back or take a break — and see if your mood improves. 

Some research points to a correlation of the effects of pornography and depression, so you could be experiencing the link. 

Either way, if you’re feeling depressed, anxious or any sort of psychological distress, help is available. 

Speaking with a healthcare professional is an excellent first step, as they can not only pinpoint what might be causing your low mood but help determine the best treatment options for you.

9 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Dwulit, A. D., & Rzymski, P. (2019). Prevalence, Patterns and Self-Perceived Effects of Pornography Consumption in Polish University Students: A Cross-Sectional Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(10), 1861. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16101861
  2. Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. N., & Lange, T. (2013, June 10). Pornography and Sexist Attitudes Among Heterosexuals. Oxford Academic. Retrieved July 12, 2021, from https://academic.oup.com/joc/article-abstract/63/4/638/4085972?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  3. Schrimshaw, E. W., Antebi-Gruszka, N., & Dowling Jr., M. J. (2016, April 27). Viewing of Internet-Based Sexually Explicit Media as a Risk Factor for Condomless Anal Sex among Men Who Have Sex with Men in Four U.S. Cities. PlosOne. Retrieved July 12, 2021, from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154439
  4. AASECT Position on Sex Addiction. (n.d.). American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. Retrieved July 12, 2021, from https://www.aasect.org/position-sex-addiction
  5. Borgogna, N. C., Duncan, J., & McDermott, R. C. (2019, February 18). Is scrupulosity behind the relationship between problematic pornography viewing and depression, anxiety, and stress? Taylor & Francis Online. Retrieved July 12, 2021, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10720162.2019.1567410
  6. De Jong, D. C., & Cook, C. (2021). Roles of Religiosity, Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms, Scrupulosity, and Shame in Self-Perceived Pornography Addiction: A Preregistered Study. Archives of sexual behavior, 50(2), 695–709. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01878-6
  7. Min, M., Zhihong, C., Xiaogang, W., Peng, Z., & Jia, C. (n.d.). Current situation of pornography use in senior college male students and its correlation with their depression-anxiety-pressure. CNKI. Retrieved July 12, 2021, from http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTotal-DSDX201711022.htm
  8. Kohut, T., & Štulhofer, A. (2018). Is pornography use a risk for adolescent well-being? An examination of temporal relationships in two independent panel samples. PloS one, 13(8), e0202048. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0202048
  9. Depression. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved July 12, 2021, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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