Can Porn Addiction Counseling Help My Relationship?

By Abigail Boyd

Updated August 20, 2019

Porn addiction has only recently gotten much acknowledgment from the medical community. Whether behavioral addictions are on the same level as other addictions, such as drug abuse or gambling, is still up for debate. However, many people have reported that excessive use of porn has caused problems in their relationships.

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Today's high-speed internet porn is far more likely to cause addiction than the dirty magazines of the past. Porn addiction can cause a great deal of damage to a relationship, especially if it operates for a long time in secrecy. Someone dealing with a porn addiction may be in denial and feel too embarrassed to open up about their problem.

Usually, a person is forced to admit that they have a porn addiction after being caught by their partner. Sometimes there can also be another crisis that is caused by their addiction, such as high credit card bills from buying adult content or job loss due to decreased productivity. Whatever the case may be, once a porn addiction is firmly established, it can threaten a relationship.

What Defines A Porn Addiction?

Porn is widely used among adults all over the world. Many sex health experts agree that porn can potentially play a role as part of a healthy sex life. Where is the line drawn between a healthy level of porn consumption and a potential addiction?

In simple terms, having a porn addiction means that you compulsively watch or access porn regularly, despite negative consequences. It is considered a behavioral addiction, a type of addiction that still faces scrutiny from some parts of the medical community. Porn addiction is not currently included in the DSM-V.

Porn addiction can be particularly insidious due to the easy accessibility of novel stimuli. There is a never-ending amount of pornographic material on the internet, much of it free.

As such, addiction to pornography is becoming a common complaint, especially among young men. Preliminary research has supported the connection between porn and sexual performance issues, including erectile dysfunction (ED). Your expectations for what your partner should look like or what sex should feel like become skewed, distorted by fantasy. No partner, no matter how experimental or attractive, can ever match the endless novelty of porn.

Signs of porn addiction include:

  • You can't stop viewing pornography, despite wanting and attempting to.
  • You get angry or irritable if you go too long without viewing pornography. You may snap at your partner or lose your temper easily.
  • You have strong, hard-to-resist urges (compulsions) to view pornography regularly.
  • You hide your behavior from your partner, whether it's sneaking away unnoticed or waiting until they go to sleep.
  • You can achieve an erection easily to porn, but not with a partner. You may even secretly fantasize about porn you've viewed during intercourse to stay excited.
  • You find yourself increasingly seeking more novel or raunchy stimulus to achieve the same excitement. You may view material that you feel ashamed of later.
  • You've lost interest in sex, even though you believe you're very attracted to your partner. In some cases, this can lead to a loss of performance and erectile dysfunction.
  • You find yourself withdrawing from your partner and others. You may struggle with feelings of guilt, shame, or numbness.

Is Porn Addiction The Same As Sex Addiction?

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Porn addiction and sexual addiction are both considered behavioral addictions, but they aren't the same. In fact, many people turn to porn instead of having sex. That's because the person is getting addicted to the feeling of reward and novelty that they are experiencing when watching porn. A person can be addicted to porn without ever cheating on their spouse.

What Causes Porn Addiction?

Many people view porn, but few will develop an addiction. What causes some people to become addicted and not others?

Porn addiction can develop because the brain learns to associate a strong reward with the routine of watching porn and masturbating. A person may use excessive porn consumption not only for sexual pleasure but as a maladaptive coping mechanism for:

  • Reducing stress
  • Relieving boredom
  • Managing emotions
  • Relieving loneliness

Scientists aren't exactly sure why some people develop a porn addiction, and others don't. One theory states that some people may have genetic weaknesses that predispose them to certain types of addiction. Others espouse that there could be various environmental and social factors at play.

How Porn Hijacks The Brain's Reward System

Our brains are hardwired to seek the things that most benefit our survival: food, water, and sex being just a few. Every time we perform an action that our brain registers as rewarding, a squirt of dopamine is released in a part of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. Substances of abuse, such as alcohol, cocaine, and amphetamines, release a far higher level of dopamine than natural stimulus. Porn also releases a higher amount of dopamine than natural sex.

Part of this is due to the novelty of internet porn. There is always another photo to view another video to watch. This stimulates the brain's natural "seeking" behavior. Over time, the brain rewires itself via a process known as "neuroplasticity," creating a strong connection between porn use and reward. Just like with any other addiction, the longer the addiction persists, the more consumption it will take to release the same amount of dopamine.

How Porn Addiction Can Negatively Impact A Relationship

There are two major parts of a relationship that suffer when one partner is struggling with a porn addiction. The first is intimacy. You may find you begin to prefer porn over sex with your partner. One person could never provide the novelty that porn can. This can leave the individual with porn addiction disinterested in sex. At the same time, your partner may struggle with deep feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. They may no longer feel attractive, and this can have long-lasting consequences for their confidence.

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As you can imagine, this can have a devastating effect on intimacy. Some couples try to integrate porn into the relationship, which can be effective for some, but only drive the wedge deeper for others.

The second area affected by porn addiction is the development of trust issues that undermine the foundation of the relationship. Trust is critical to any romantic partnership. Without it, two people cannot sustain a relationship. Once broken, trust can be difficult to rebuild.

Since someone struggling with a porn addiction usually hides and minimizes their problem, when the truth comes out, it can destroy the trust between them and their partner.

How Porn Addiction Counseling Can Help

While the medical literature does not explicitly define porn addiction, it works in the same manner as other behavioral addictions. It can be very hard to stop an addiction to pornography on your own. You may feel out of control despite your best attempts to stop. You may feel defeated and guilty, especially if it's affected your relationship with your partner.

Porn addiction counseling can happen alone or alongside a 12-step recovery program. You'll learn not only how to manage the triggers of your addiction, but how to solve the deeper issues that drove you to develop the addiction in the first place. You and your partner can learn how to rebuild the trust broken by the addiction and restore intimacy.

You may face struggles, particularly early on in therapy. It can be difficult to resist urges to watch pornography, especially when it's so widely available. Some people experience sexual dysfunction temporarily as they effectively "detox" from the high stimulation of porn.

It can take time and support to rebuild a relationship, months, or possibly even years. It can be a difficult journey, but most couples who commit to the process report that it's worth it to restore the relationship with the person they love. A counselor can help give you the support you need to get through this difficult time.

The Role Of Individual Therapy

Once a porn addiction is out in the open, couples counseling is not the only type of therapy that may be required to sustain and repair the relationship. Finding out that your partner is addicted to porn can have a detrimental effect on your self-esteem and confidence, even if you're logically aware of the addiction mechanics underlying the problem. This can be addressed in individual counseling.

Like others dealing with addiction, you may feel deep self-esteem issues and shame about your addiction. It can be difficult to talk about the subject, as you may feel embarrassed or awkward. However, individual therapy is essential for taking control of your negative thinking and regaining your agency.

Many people who develop a porn addiction do so because of a poorly addressed mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety. Therapy can help pinpoint these issues and provide you with proper treatment.

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You're Not Alone

Porn addiction can have a devastating effect on a relationship, whether you're dating or married. However, there is hope. With commitment and the support of a therapist you can trust, you can recover from porn addiction and rebuild a healthy level of intimacy in your relationship. ReGain.us can help you every step of the way.


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