Is there a real link between pornography and depression

CareMe Health
3 min readFeb 26, 2021

The link between Porn and depression is almost a chicken and egg situation. A large amount of research has been published, trying to understand what comes first. One big concern in these studies is that a wide range of content is clubbed under one umbrella term, pornography. Different types of sexual content might impact our well-being differently.

In essence, some kind of pornography is more problematic than others.

Though we still don’t have any concrete evidence of the cause and effect relationship, we currently have established a link.

Let’s understand the link both ways.

Can Porn cause depression?

No. Porn does not cause depression directly; you can view Porn and be content and happy as well. Nevertheless, there is a link between the two. And it’s cyclical in nature.

Research has found that Porn does not directly cause depression. However, conflicted porn viewers (those who believe viewing porn is always wrong but viewed it anyway) are likely to feel the depressive symptoms. This conflicted guilt feeling is called dissonance, which leads to distress. Hence, when it comes to watching Porn, your moral incongruence plays a role in the depressive symptoms.

Hence, in reality, the guilt, sexual shame, stigma associated with Porn is likely to cause depression than Porn itself.

Another indirect route to depression is the unrealistic standards set by the porn industry. Studies have shown that this has a significant impact on the sexual relationship and satisfaction, which leads to disappointment, feelings of insecurity, and plausibly depression.

Can depression cause increased Porn behavior?

People going through depression are likely to feel lonely and isolated. For some of them, watching Porn becomes a coping mechanism. This coping aid is seen more so in men than women.

Negative thoughts that are hovering around during depression has an influence on the perception of porn use. It leads to feelings of guilt and shame associated with Porn, which exacerbates depressive symptoms.

The cycle

The problem happens when a person gets caught in this vicious cycle.

Impact on our brain

Watching porn releases a chemical in your brain called dopamine. Dopamine makes you feel good. Hence, in the initial times, you might feel good while watching Porn, and it seems like the best coping aid. The problem is, it’s not sustainable.

This dopamine activates our reward pathway. The problem with Porn is, it hijacks this pathway and sends it into overdrive. When this pathway is repetitively triggered, less and less dopamine is produced. Hence you need increasing amounts of new and different material. This leads to more shame and guilt and less sexual satisfaction.

This is the way all addiction behavior happens.

Pornography addiction is not a recognized mental health disorder. However, if you feel your consumption is excessive and causing you distress, you should consult a mental health professional.

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