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Pornography and Depression: What’s the Link?

Angela Sheddan

Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 8/17/2021

There’s no doubt 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 website featuring explicit content, reported that men make 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 also watch pornography once a week.

The problem? Studies have shown that porn use can be linked to negative attitudes toward women, 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. 

How Pornography and Depression May Be Connected

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 sex addiction or porn 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 found that some people with scrupulosity, or those with guilt or anxiety about moral or religious issues, had a problematic relationship with pornography. 

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

Scrupulous people, in another study, were found to experience shame related to their pornography use, and as a result, label themselves as addicted. 

Another study of male college students looked at 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 was 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 bodily insecurity as well as poor life-satisfaction, and there may be more symptoms of depression among adolescents.

However, other research has shown that pornography use and sexual esteem in adults may relate to bodily 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 be adversely affecting 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 include the following experienced almost all day, every day, for at least two weeks: 

  • A persistent sad, anxious or empty-feeling mood

  • Feeling hopeless or pessimistic

  • Irritability

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness

  • Little interest in or pleasure from hobbies and activities

  • A drop in energy or feelings of fatigue

  • Moving or talking more slowly

  • Restlessness or having trouble sitting still

  • Having a hard time concentrating, remembering or making decisions

  • Finding it difficult to sleep, oversleeping or waking in the early-morning

  • Appetite and/or weight changes

  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

  • An assortment of aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems 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 healthcare 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 between two to four weeks to kick in. 

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 handful of 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.

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.

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 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. 

For more information and resources on mental health, check out the Hims Mental Health Resource Guide.

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Pornography and Depression: Getting Real

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 between 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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