Sex and Porn Addiction

What is Sexual Addiction 

What is NOT Sexual Addiction

Porn Addiction


Anti-Porn Men's Project

Excessive Porn Use and Sexual Function

What is Sexual Addiction?

Sexual addiction is a relatively new term. Canes’ first described Sexual Addiction in his book Out of the shadows: Understanding sexual addiction in 1983. He postulated that sexual addiction is diagnosable disorder, similar to alcohol or drug addiction, which stems from the inability to adequately control sexual behaviour. 

There is a lot of clinical debate about whether sexual addiction exists and not much information on effective treatments. There is no classifiable set of symptoms for sexual addiction. Sexual addiction was proposed as a diagnostic mental disorder and was not included in the DSM-V (the Diagnostic Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders, 2013) due to insufficient evidence and fear of stigmatising normal sexual behaviour.

O.k. so there is no diagnosis of sexual addiction, but people say they have a sexual addiction, what do they mean?

People who complain of sexual addiction tend to report:

  1. A lack of control over sexual behaviour, lack of impulse control or compulsion to engage in sexual behaviour (masturbation; pornography; web sex chat/texting/apps; sexual behaviour).
  2. Obsessions or preoccupation with sexual behaviour, and or planing and searching how to engage in sexual behaviour.
  3. Distress associated with sexual behaviour (guilt, depression, anxiety, shame, or low self-esteem due to conflict between public social role and secret behaviour).
  4. Continuation of sexual behaviour despite adverse consequences and/or attempts to cease behaviour.


What is NOT sexual addiction?

  1. Hypersexuality or promiscuity.
  2. Interest in sexual behaviour that is outside common practice.
  3. Watching Internet porn regularly.
  4. Interest in fetishes/kink.
  5. Seeking sexual behaviour because you are bored or unsatisfied


Porn Addiction

There is increasing evidence that watching too much porn is bad for you. Too much porn has been described as approximately 11 hours or more per week or behaviour that interferes with every day activities such as work, sleep, socialising or your relationship. Although men are more likely to than women to have problems with porn, women are increasingly showing up in high usage group.

There is increasing evidence that porn rewires the brain so that it is difficult for individuals to enjoy regular sexual activity with their partner. Male high consumption users have described decreased sexual sensitivity leading to decreased satisfaction with partnered sex, erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation and a preference for masturbating to porn rather than having sex with a human partner. There is no information on sexual impact of excessive pornography on women. 

This partner-specific reduction in sexual enjoyment is thought to be related to the Coolridge Effect, that is the increase in sexual interest for a novel partner over a regular partner demonstrated in all mamals (particularly strong in male mammals). Internet pornography provides immediate increased sexual arousal via the delivery of multiple novel partners (specific to your fantasy). Thus porn, with repeated exposure and practice can become more sexually stimulating than a long-term partner. In addition, there is no judgement from porn, there is less distractions about having to please your partner or worry what a new partner will think of you. Internet pornography is easier than having to think of your own fantasy and deal with a person. Unfortunately with internet pornograpahy if you practice your sexual response repeatedly in one way you become very good at that one thing, sometimes to the detriment of partnered sex. Thus excessive porn use can lead to a narrowing of sexual response and decreased flexibility in sexual response and arousal. 

Although pornography has been around for ever, the Internet has provided the pathway for porn to become addictive. Historically, due to the labour involved people tend to watch a Video, CD or DVD only  limited amount of times. Now you can access multiple partners doing multiple different sexual activities all at the same time on the same screen. Further, the reward of pleasure is easily and immediately accessible; there is an abundance of types of porn and avenues to access it (phone, tablet, computer; chatting with a real person via web cam, sexting, virtual realities)  you can check in at any time of the day. The speed of access and reward, is a powerful habit builder.  

Internet porn also can provide both a sense of intimacy.....(there is some one else who is into the same things as you) and anonymity. There is always someone who is willing to have sex with you, it makes you feel good by boosting your ego and you can live out your fantasies and forget about reality.

Individuals who are watching too much porn tend to display the following signs:

  • Continued porn use despite negative consequences and/or promises made to self or others to stop.
  • Escalating amounts of time spent on porn use: hours, sometimes days, lost to viewing pornography (sexting, sex chats, checking dating apps, searching back page, crags list etc).
  • Viewing progressively more arousing, intense, or bizarre sexual content.
  • Lying, keeping secrets and covering up the nature and extent of porn use.
  • Anger or irritability if asked to stop.
  • Reduced or even nonexistent interest in sexual, physical, and emotional connections with spouses or partners.
  • Loneliness and detachment from other people.
  • Drug/alcohol use or addiction relapse in conjunction with porn use.
  • Increased objectification of strangers, viewing them as body parts rather than people.
  • Escalation from viewing two-dimensional images to using the Internet for anonymous sexual hook-ups and sex workers.
  • Change is sexual attraction, such as engaging in same-sex or transgender sexual fantasy and or behaviour in context of porn misuse but not attracted outside porn use. 
  • Watching at work with possible job loss as a consequence. 
  • Watching illegal content.

For detailed examination of neurobiological theories behind porn addiction see links below by Gary Willson, Neurscientist at Orgegon University

Erectile Dysfunction and Porn: Part 1

Erectile Dysfunction and Porn: Part 2

Erectile Dysfunction and Porn: Part 3

Erectile Dysfunction and Porn: Part 4


What is the treatment?

There is little data on treatment out comes for sexual addiction. This is due to the lack of consensus on how to label the phenomena (sexual addition, sexual compulsion or sexual impulsive disorder)  what constitutes the symptoms and if symptoms are secondary to mental distress (e.g. acute stress reaction to grief or trauma) or mental disorder (e.g. addiction, depression, anxiety disorder, alexithymia, personality disorder).

Personally, I find that it is better to respond to the individual rather than try and fit a person into a category. This is particularly true for sexuality. All of us have unique sexual histories that influence our sexual expression. That said I find that many cognitive and behavioural strategies that are effective in reducing addiction to alcohol, drugs and food also work for sexual/porn addiction. Also DBT strategies that are effective for emotional regulation and personality disorder are effective for sexual addiction. Important initial interventions are: 1) Disclosing of intent to stop to someone important; 2) Deconstruction of secretive sexual behaviour; 3) Use of firewalls and blocks on technology to stop access to hook ups and sexual content; 4) Development of support networks and strategies to reduce or cease behaviour; 5) Planning for relapse. 

Partners also require support and are instrumental for behavioural change to be long-lasting.  Many clients have successfully changed their behaviour using a combined approach of cognitive behavioural therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and couple sex therapy.


Alternative approaches include

  1. Medication to reduce anxiety, depression and or sexual desire (supressing sexual desire not recomended unless engaging in criminal activities.)
  2. Sexaholics Anonymous : a 12 step program for “sex addiction” requiring sexual sobriety or 
  3. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous: also a 12 step program for sex and love addiction and sexual annorexia 
  4. Sex addiction detox/rehabilitation: South Pacific Private also Sex Rehab Thriving Industry article by the Los Angeles Times.