Young man is sitting in bed and watching pornography on laptop 1732 x 1155

I started regarding pornography as addictive after a friend, a physician’s assistant working in a urology clinic approached me with concern. He told me that several emerging adult men, ages 18-25, were coming into the clinic with problems associated with Erectile Dysfunction (ED). This is an unusual problem in this age range.

When he examined them, he found them to be healthy with no physical explanation for their ED. Most of these men, in fact, were particularly fit individuals.

Further assessment revealed the common denominator amongst these young men was their high consumption and daily viewing of pornography. This sparked some important questions about pornography that I would like to explore. It also raises the issue of whether or not pornography is addictive.

Why is pornography so powerful?

The simple answer is that pornography acts like a drug in the brain. It can become very powerful in some individuals.

Researchers Love, Laier, Brand, Hatch, and Hajela (2015) conducted and published a review of several studies exploring the neuroscience of internet pornography. What they found and reported is compelling. Studies examining the neuroimaging results of subjects who viewed internet pornography reveal brain region activation similar to craving and drug cue reactions for alcohol, cocaine, and nicotine.1

People who identified as engaging in compulsive sexual behaviors showed more reactivity in the brain compared with those who identified as non-compulsive. Thus, viewing pornography, especially when it becomes compulsive in nature, activates the same underlying brain networks as alcohol and other drugs.

These studies offer profound evidence that the compulsive and consistent use of pornography is potentially as powerful as drug use. A detailed review and discussion of studies on the neuroscience of pornography use can be found at the Your Brain on Porn website.2

Other posts on addiction:

Why Some People Struggle with Addiction and Some Do Not
8 Drug Seeking Behaviors that Might Signal Addiction
Untreatable Gonorrhea Strain Has Health Officials Alarmed

Is viewing pornography an addiction?

It is reasonable to declare that not everyone who drinks alcohol becomes addicted to alcohol. The same can also be said for internet pornography. Not everyone who views pornography will become addicted.

The journey to becoming addicted to pornography most likely follows the same pattern as drug addiction. For example, at some point, a person is exposed to pornographic images and begins to experiment with pornography.

This experimentation may progress to abuse and then, dependence. The individual views more and more in-depth types of pornography. And, also starts to experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop. Then, for some, addiction sets in due to a variety of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.

Addictive behaviors and the chronic brain disease of addiction

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) acknowledges that engaging in addictive behaviors, apart from alcohol and other drug use, can be a common manifestation of the chronic brain disease of addiction.

In their definition of addiction, ASAM presents an important section on the “Behavioral Manifestations and Complications of Addiction.” This section provides strong indicators that addiction can also manifest in sexually compulsive behaviors including internet pornography.

The following are excerpts from ASAMs long definition of addiction highlighting these behaviors (the bold has been added for emphasis)3:

      • Excessive use and/or engagement in addictive behaviors, at higher frequencies and/or quantities than the person intended, often associated with a persistent desire for and unsuccessful attempts at behavioral control.
      •  Excessive time lost in substance use or recovering from the effects of substance use and/or engagement in addictive behaviors, with significant adverse impact on social and occupational functioning (e.g. the development of interpersonal relationship problems or the neglect of responsibilities at home, school, or work)
      • Continued use and/or engagement in addictive behaviors, despite the presence of persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems which may have been caused or exacerbated by substance use and/or related addictive behaviors.

Thus, internet pornography behaviors may reach the level of addiction when they are accompanied by the following: 

    • unsuccessful attempts to stop
    • impairment in social and occupational functioning
    • the presence of persistent or recurrent physical and psychological problems

 Am I addicted?

How can someone tell if they are addicted to pornography? Besides the behaviors and symptoms described above, some great researchers have put together instruments that measure sexual compulsivity and internet pornography use.

For example, Grubbs, Volk, Exline, and Pargament (2015) revised and validated a brief measure of internet pornography addiction. It is called the Cyber Pornography Use Inventory (CPUI-9).4

There are nine questions in the instrument. They can be rated on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 7 (extremely). Or the questions can be answered true or false. The total score provides an assessment of perceived porn addiction. 

The potential for Internet pornography addiction and the factors that make up such addiction can be found within the intent of the questions. These include a person’s efforts to access internet pornography, the emotional distress caused by viewing pornography, and a person’s perceived compulsivity to the behavior.

  • Questions related to compulsivity:

      • I believe I am addicted to Internet pornography 
      • Even when I do not want to use pornography, I feel drawn to it 
      • I feel unable to stop my use of online pornography
  • Questions related to access efforts:

      • At times, I try to arrange my schedule so that I will be able to alone in order to view pornography 
      • I’ve refused to go out with friends or attend certain social functions to have the opportunity to view pornography 
      • I have put off important priorities to view pornography
  • Questions related to emotional distress:

      • I feel ashamed after viewing pornography online 
      • I feel depressed after viewing pornography online 
      • I feel sick after viewing pornography online 

What help is available for pornography addiction?

For those who are grappling with internet pornography use or addiction, help is always available.

  • Books by the renowned author Patrick Carnes such as Out of the Shadows and A Gentle Path can be incredibly helpful in gathering more information and starting a recovery journey
  • Specially trained psychologists, counselors and marriage and family therapists can be incredibly helpful in the process

What is most important is once a problem such as Internet pornography is realized, you need to reach out to meaningful help. Holding onto hope and developing new and healthier ways to cope is always possible.


1. Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of internet pornography addiction: A Review and update. Behavioral Sciences, (5), 388-423.
2. Your Brain on Porn.
3. American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). Long Definition of Addiction.
4. Grubbs, J.B., Volk, F., Exline, J.J., & Pargament  K.I. (2015). Internet pornography use:  Perceived addiction, psychological distress, and the validation of a brief measure. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 41(1), 83-106.



this post was first published on June 20, 2017. It has been reviewed and updated for republication on March 2, 2020.


  • Books by the renowned author Patrick Carnes such as Out of the Shadows and A Gentle Path can be incredibly helpful in gathering more information and starting a recovery journey
  • Specially trained psychologists, counselors and marriage and family therapists can be incredibly helpful in the process
Thomas G. Kimball, PhD
Thomas G. Kimball, Ph.D., LMFT, is the George C. Miller Family Regents Professor at Texas Tech University and the Director of the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities. Dr. Kimball has been part of the MAP team since 2012 and serves as Clinical Director, where he oversees and consults on the implementation of extended recovery modalities, techniques, and practices on individuals who undergo treatment for Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

He has received numerous teaching awards for his courses on families, addiction, & recovery. He is the author of several peer-reviewed articles on addiction and recovery in respected medical journals, a frequent contributor to leading addiction and recovery publications online, and co-authored the book, Six Essentials to Achieve Lasting Recovery, by Hazelden Press.

In addition to consulting and presenting on recovery-related issues across the U.S. and internationally, he frequently writes articles pertaining to emerging addiction recovery data, recovery techniques and modalities, the science behind addiction, the addiction crisis, and long term treatment for the chronic disease of addiction.

Dr. Kimball has made the focus of his career studying collegiate and long term addiction recovery by focusing on factors that enhance long term recovery and improve the treatment industry at a local, national, and international level. Follow him @drtomkimball


  1. Your article on the addictive “properties” of pornography was truly interesting. I have no “rebuttal” but a few additional observations.

    I am in my 70’s, happily married to my best friend (female) of a similar age but without sexual intimacy. We touch often, hug often and relate verbally extensively and wonderfully. I was married twice before and for reasons that are still not clear to me, sexual intimacy just never developed. I do have some ideas why but can’t speak with useful knowledge. (BTW I have no training in your field). During my second marriage, when pornography was available on tape machines and during my current marriage, with pornography available on the Net, I masturbated more frequently and while that was initially with guilt it no longer is. It is a private pleasure and I need not concern myself with my partner’s pleasure or how sexual intimacy dovetails with the quality of a relationship.

    “Addictive”? I don’t have an addictive personality. My drinking habits have remained the same for 50 years; I have never smoked or gambled. You comment about a predilection to addiction in general. I have known people who I believe really are “addicted” to porn according to the habits you list as telltale. I might go weeks without watching porn or I might watch it two days in a row. I believe the release is healthy for me irrespective of the manner in which I achieve it (no child porn or depictions of violence).

    My bottom line comment to your article is I think you are spot on. Pornography is not necessarily bad or destructive to a committed relationship. Some people are addicted to it to the point where it can hurt their lives; some have no interest in sex whatsoever and then there are people like me who use pornography as an occasional “drug.”

    Thanks for your article.

  2. Porn has wasted my precious life but I still got many years ahead of me and I will give in to my conviction rather than porn and foster my mind

  3. Dr Kimball – we’ve seen a massive increase in the number of people that have been enrolling in our online porn addiction course. One particularly interesting observation we’ve had after surveying people is that their biggest fear comes from the ability to discuss it with their partners. There is a massive level of fear that they feel which causes many of them to withdraw and create emotional barriers. I’d love to discuss with you more how our online program has helped and maybe see if you would be interested in adding it to your list of resources? Here is a post we wrote just the other day on the exact same subject:

  4. I am going to be quitting watching porn after all I have learned here, one thing I don’t get is why they say porn gives you the same high as drugs, how is that even possible? Watching Porn does not give me the same high as cocaine, this notion is preposterous to say the least… And how is it worse than drugs? Because of how psychologically addicting it is?

  5. Hi there, I checked your blog named “Why is Pornography So Powerfully Addictive?” regularly. Your humoristic style is witty, keep doing what you’re doing! And you can look our website about love spells.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.