Some cultural beliefs, spiritual beliefs, or myths support the idea that there is a causative link between pornography and mental health conditions such as depression. However, at present, there is not enough evidence to support this.
According to the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), there is not enough evidence to classify pornography use or addiction as a mental health condition or link it to any negative side effects, such as depression.
Read on to learn more about whether or not pornography use can cause depression and whether or not depression can lead to pornography addiction.
According to AASECT, people may experience negative physical, spiritual, or psychological consequences related to their sexual urges, thoughts, or behaviors, such as pornography use.
However, there is not currently enough evidence to support the idea that pornography use can lead to depression. That said, research has found some links between the two.
For example, one 2019 study that surveyed 507 women and 250 men found that depression seemed to raise the risk of developing a problematic relationship with pornography.
However, this was only the case for people using pornography to escape unpleasant emotions and women with sexual problems related to using pornography.
Another 2019 study found that excessive pornography use increased the risk of depression in both men and women.
How likely someone is to experience depression alongside or related to pornography use also seems to depend on how often they use it and how long their exposure to it is.
For example, one 2017 study that surveyed 582 senior male students found that 14.6% of those who used pornography more than three times per week reported experiencing depression, compared with 2.8% of individuals who reported using pornography less than once per week.
The same study found that those who started using pornography at elementary school, junior middle school, high school, or university had depression ratios of 11.7%, 7.1%, 4.9%, and 5.9%, respectively.
Individuals who morally disapprove of pornography may also be more likely to view their relationship with pornography as addictive and feel sexual shame, which may ultimately lead to higher levels of depression.
Problematic pornography use also seems to have a positive correlation with:
There is no large-scale, conclusive evidence to suggest that depression can lead to pornography addiction.
In fact, the AASECT do not recognize pornography addiction as a mental health condition.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) currently
That said, neuroscientific research
Indeed, some research that scanned the brains of compulsive pornography users when they had exposure to erotic images found that their brain activity patterns were similar to those of people with alcohol use disorder who watched commercials for alcohol.
However, other research has suggested that this is not the case.
Several preliminary and small-scale studies have also suggested that people may engage more with pornography when they have depression, especially men.
For example, one study from 2017 found that men with depression may use pornography more frequently as a coping aid — especially those who morally reject pornography.
Also, an upcoming study suggests that returning male U.S. veterans who experience depression have an increased risk of developing problematic pornography use.
Some research also suggests that having depression may change how someone negatively interprets or perceives their use of pornography.
A 2018 study found that loneliness and depression were the underlying mechanisms that influenced how internet activities such as pornography use affected life satisfaction.
There is currently no large-scale, conclusive evidence to support the idea that pornography use causes depression or that people with depression are more likely to develop an addiction to pornography.
The medical community has not confirmed whether or not pornography addiction is even a mental health condition. Experts have also not confirmed how it relates to or influences negative emotions or psychological conditions, such as depression.
People who think that their pornography use may be excessive or impacting their lives negatively should talk with a doctor or mental health professional.
Although there are no specific treatment options to help people reduce their dependency on pornography, some therapies may teach people how to cope with or view their relationship with pornography more positively.
Many therapies and treatment options exist to effectively treat or help reduce depression.