What Comes First- A Pornography Habit or Depression?: Exploring the Relationship

There are countless things that affect mental health- genetics, stress, exercise, diet and even not getting enough sunshine can contribute to depression. Many of these causes and risk factors are well-known and may be incorporated into your treatment in some way.

A risk factor for depression that might come as a shock is a person’s relationship with pornography usage. Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between those who watch pornography and symptoms of depression.

There are conflicting viewpoints on this topic depending on where the information comes from. There is widespread cultural acceptance of porn in the United States, despite problematic ties to sex trafficking, child abuse and sexual exploitation.

Although porn usage is an intensely personal decision, there is consensus in the mental health community about the negative effects of pornography on mental health. 

In fact, this understanding is by no means recent news. In 1987 the U.S. Surgeon General’s Workshop on Pornography and Public Health declared pornography usage to be a public health issue with the following being the most evident and disastrous effects, many of which have been backed up by more recent research.

  • Trauma to children and adolescents involved
  • Skewed perception of sexual norms with an increase in exposure to porn, such as greater acceptance of aggression and coercion in sexual relations
  • Increased violence to women

What comes first- using porn or depression?

When trying to understand the relationship between pornography and depression, it’s easy to wonder which one causes the other. Further studies should be done to explore the connection, but here’s what we do know.

Depression doesn’t have a singular origin. Therefore, even the most problematic pornography addiction is likely rooted in other causes such as childhood trauma or early exposure to pornographic materials. However, many of the signs and symptoms of depression may be linked to viewing porn.

For example, depression is manifested in feelings of guilt and self-blame. A 2019 study showed that a person who ethically disapproves of porn but still consumes it is more likely to experience depression.

Loss of interest in social activities and increased isolation is also a sign of depression that can be exacerbated by watching porn. A study of 400 self-reports found a solid association between porn usage and loneliness.

Decreased relationship quality and porn usage work similarly, with both contributing to the other. Strong relationships are one of the best protective factors against depression, but with difficult interpersonal relationships, porn usage and depression increase.

It’s also been postulated that individuals seek out pornography as a form of emotional avoidance. Seeing as depression is accompanied by feelings of distress, hopelessness and irritability, it’s logical that a person would seek out pornography as a way to elude those unpleasant emotions.

Moreover, A 2018 longitudinal study found an increase in pornography consumption to be linked to an increase in depressive and psychosomatic symptoms among adolescents.

Porn use can also impact intimate relationships, anxiety, self-esteem, sexual preferences and expectations and overall life satisfaction.

So yes, there is a relationship between pornography and depression, but combing out just what the effects are is both tricky and controversial. The American Psychological Association has not identified problematic porn use as a mental health disorder, but studies have shown that porn addiction works in the same neurological manner as other substance addictions.

A self-assessment can help you determine the full extent of porn’s impact on your life. Resolve to cut porn out of your life for a month. If you’re unable to live without it or the task itself seems impossible, it’s probably a good idea to bring up your porn usage with a mental health professional. Even if the two of you deem that there are no significant negative effects of porn on your life, there’s no harm in bringing it up.

Reach out

It’s unlikely that pornography impacts everyone in the same way, but it’s clear that overall porn has negative consequences for individuals and society. If you have noticed that porn usage has negatively impacted your mental health, it’s time to get help. 

Porn addiction can have devastating effects on your relationships, brain functioning and depression. Reverse these effects and find freedom from a porn habit in a judgment-free environment at Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling.