Let’s get this out of the way at the beginning of the article: this is not a masturbation hit piece! Masturbation is a normal, healthy endeavour that adults should not feel shame in. Men and women should both feel encouraged in participating in the self-care ritual of masturbation. That isn’t to say that it isn’t without concerns, however. Frequent masturbation can lead to negative effects including depression. On top of this, the number one instrument for masturbation –pornography– has concerns as well.
So what is the connection between pornography and depression?
Numerous studies have shown a link between the two but it’s not as cut-and-dry as some may lead you to believe. That is why we wanted to take the opportunity to discuss the link between pornography and depression in more detail. While there are a lot of ins and outs to this, pornography and depression do seem somewhat intermingled. This is true, at least, in extreme instances of pornography use. If you’re worried about your symptoms, take our High Functioning Depression Test to determine the likelihood of diagnosis.
Let’s start by understanding the mental health concerns.
What is a Use Disorder?
The term “use disorder” (UD) is more often used to describe dependence on drugs in the addiction world. But the phrase is useful for all things that we consume – even pornography. The definition for a UD goes far beyond a person simply “using” a drug. It even goes beyond regular use of a drug.
If a substance use disorder was as simple as regular use of a drug, everyone would have it! How many are unable to function properly without their morning cup of tea or coffee? Many are physically dependent on these beverages but they still don’t qualify as having a substance use disorder (SUD.) So what makes this use problematic?
In the medical community, the use of a substance becomes a SUD when it starts taking you away from your daily life. Those who are spending their day in search of a drug, neglecting emotional or physical duties, or other tasks. In other words, a dependence transitions to a disorder when order is no longer kept in the life of the user.
One of the major things that can lead to this for watching pornography is a feeling of shame. A clear way to see this is in a 2019 study that linked depression from pornography consumption. The catch was that the link was to a person’s moral disapproval of the pornography they watch. Shame.
The findings of this study point to pornography and depression leading with the feelings that can bring shame after consuming it. That is the clearest that the link between pornography and depression really gets. The link is there, but only sometimes, and other times it is perfectly harmless.
When the use is problematic, dangerous cycles can begin to form. As a person is consuming pornography, they may avoid their emotions of guilt or shame. Then, after they finish watching pornography, those feelings return. To avoid dealing with them, the person attempts to drown them out with more pornography.
Then the whole cycle keeps going. Much of the reason the use of pornography can be problematic is this avoidance of emotion. That’s not to say that there aren’t arguments worth making against pornography.
Reasons for Opposing Pornography
Shame is a terrible motivator but it’s the one that is historically wielded most. The biggest problem with pornography and depression is in our relationship with them. In truth, many enjoy the thrill of a recorded sexual encounter but they represent a minority of the performers. This stigmatisation has created a largely predatory industry.
As a result, many productions take gross advantage of marginalised women. In fact, in 2020, an adult film producer received 20 years in prison for using “force, fraud, and coercion” to get women to star in their movies. The company’s name was “Girls Do Porn,” and it was available and promoted by the major outlet, Pornhub. Allegations from 40 women attest that Pornhub was aware of the practice and allowed the content regardless.
The other consequence of this societal shame is the effect that it has on the viewer. As mentioned above, an ethical opposition to pornography is a large part of what drives depression from watching it. Opposing pornography from high ethical grounds is often still not enough to prevent the occasional use.
For many, the aftermath of watching pornography can be battling a barrage of shameful thoughts.
With this in mind, it’s important to stress that pornography itself is not inherently bad. Occasional consumption of pornography with a clear conscience would not be a problem. For all the reasons visited above, can be difficult to accomplish something like this, however.
As such, the issue remains intensely personal.
Some instances, like use disorders, are clear indications of an issue. If you find yourself neglecting tasks or watching porn many times a day, you should immediately stop watching pornography. This is a clear indicator of a use disorder and is much more likely to lead to depression.
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When Porn Can Help Mentally
If the question is “does porn addiction cause depression,” the answer is likely yes. However, pornography has also served some very useful purposes. Not everyone who consumes it does so addictively.
Men, women and even some couples enjoy the aspect of watching pornography from time to time. Couples find doing so together adds a thrill to the intimacy without having to add actual people. Additionally, couples may use pornography as a way to better understand the desires of their partner.
In many ways, pornography is a major part of life. Pornography has helped boys and girls find their sexuality since the days of stashed away magazines. Many who struggle with understanding their sexual identity turn to pornography for help. In these scenarios, it can provide a risk-free way to check out the options.
Historically, we don’t know of a time in history before porn. As much as older generations try to turn their nose up at pornography, they were in on it too. There were plenty of pornographic drawings long before the invention of the camera.
Go back even further if you’d like. The oldest statue depicting humanity was downright pornographic. The Venus of Hohle Fels is a 40,000-year-old ivory tusk carved to depict an extremely voluptuous female. Forget stories, this is one of the oldest items that we know of and this was the topic of choice.
The question of whether participation in the pornography industry as it stands is okay is more complicated. People have to answer that question individually. There is certainly a case for a socially-conscious approach to pornography. Yet, it’s unclear as to whether that is a thing that even exists at this point.
As far as personal choices go, watching pornography is relatively harmless. It may even have some benefits by way of dopamine and serotonin release. Our tolerance to that release builds rapidly and, the more often we turn to masturbation, the less this release will help. That is where use disorders often occur.
Personal, regulated consumption of pornography is a normal and healthy part of most lives. There are no physical or mental disorders linked to masturbation. There are even some benefits in favour of doing so. Risk does lie in the prolonged, frequent use of pornography which can lead to an addictive behaviour towards it. Like other use disorders, this can include avoiding daily tasks in favour of watching pornography or masturbating.
While these concerns won’t lead to death, they can damage personal relationships and initiate a depressive spiral. If you are watching pornography multiple times a day and/or experiencing depression, it is important to seek out the help of a professional immediately. Don’t take your mental health for granted!