How Is Porn Addiction Diagnosed?

Sandra Richardson

Feb 22, 2022

We live in a world full of labels and stigmatizations. We also live in a world where people are defined by their “conditions.” In other words, when a person is diagnosed with a particular “condition,” he or she is generally referred to as that diagnosis. For instance, someone, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may tell others, “I’m bipolar” as if the condition defines him or her. Similarly, a person with a porn addiction may say, “I’m a porn addict.”

And, some people may even base their identities on their diagnoses. In other words, their diagnoses become an integral part of them. More specifically, their thoughts, goals, relationships, self-perception, and worldview revolve around the “condition.”

Understand, however, that your childhood experiences and culture can, and often does, influence how you see yourself, others, and the world around you. Unfortunately, many individuals are unaware of how identifying with labels – even diagnostic ones – can hinder their potential and affect their futures.

When you confine yourself to a specific diagnosis, you limit the person you could be. But you don’t have to allow porn addiction to define who you are or who you become. You also don’t have to allow it to influence your life, choices, judgment, thoughts, opinions, or behaviors. You can be “porn-free.” And, with the right support, you can kick your porn addiction to the curb. But, first, you must seek porn addiction treatment.

Is Porn Addiction Considered a Real Diagnosable Condition?

Yes and no…

Yes, porn addiction is a real diagnosable condition, however, it is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). However, to the people struggling with porn addiction, it is most definitely real.

The truth is porn has been around for decades, if not centuries, and it has always been considered “taboo” by most people. “Porn use” is tricky in that some people brush it off as if it’s nothing, while others are deeply offended by the mere mention of it. Some people, who view porn a few times a week, have been diagnosed with porn addiction, while others, who view porn every day for hours at a time, have been spared from the diagnosis. It is simply a matter of preference, societal norms, religious, and cultural beliefs.

Compulsive behaviors, like excessively viewing porn, can cause serious problems, regardless of whether they are considered “legitimate” addictions or not. But because porn addiction is not “officially” recognized as a mental health disorder and because no criteria have been determined for diagnosing it, many porn addicts go undiagnosed and untreated. In other words, mental health professionals and porn addiction specialists do not have a formal guide to help them legitimately determine if a person truly has a true addiction or is simply exhibiting problematic porn-related behaviors.

Note: Viewing porn occasionally – or even regularly – doesn’t automatically mean you have a full-blown porn addiction. However, if you have tried repeatedly to stop and have found it impossible to do so, it may be time to get porn addiction help. Porn addiction specialists, therapists, social workers, and other mental health professionals can help you combat your urges to view porn, so you can attain the life you have always wanted.

Is “Porn Use” on the Rise?

Yes!

Approximately, 5% of people suffer from porn addiction.

“Porn use” is on the rise for a variety of reasons, but primarily because of COVID-19. The pandemic has forced many people, male and female, young and old, indoors for long periods. Because people have lost their abilities to socialize and get out, much of their attention has now turned to other endeavors, such as watching porn.

Some people watch porn out of boredom, while others click on porn sites out of fear or the need to “escape” their problems. The remaining few indulge in porn-watching because of stress (i.e., being stuck at home with a partner/spouse and/or kids or the loss of a job). Regardless of the reason(s), studies suggest that “porn use” is exploding in popularity and accessibility. The result? More and more people of all ages, genders, religions, and cultures are becoming addicted to it.

What Appears to Be Contributing to This Boost in Porn Addiction – Besides COVID?

Well, several factors appear to be linked to porn addictions, such as:

  • Availability – If you have a smartphone, laptop, desktop, or tablet, you have instantaneous access to an endless amount of sexually explicit material (porn).
  • Affordability – Most porn sites offer some degree of “free content,” which means people can afford to watch porn. So, even if a site offers “premium” or fee-based porn, it is still easy to find sites that offer large quantities of porn – for free. So, the cost is not a hindrance for people looking for “adult content.”
  • Anonymity – Porn-watching used to be a more open activity. More specifically, back in the day, a person had to go to an XXX shop to purchase porn or to a shady theater to view it on the screen – but not anymore. While there used to be a sense of shame and guilt associated with doing so. Now, people can view porn in secret in the comfort of their homes. It is the anonymity of it that is fueling porn addictions.

Could I Be Addicted to Porn?

It is definitely possible – if you have certain symptoms

When people hear the term, “addiction,” most automatically assume that is referring to drug and alcohol addiction or gambling addiction. People don’t always think of “heavy porn use” as an “addiction.” Although, for most it is. So, the notion that a person could become addicted to porn may be confusing or unreal for the general population. It is important to understand, however, that the research and criteria for diagnosing addictions are steadily evolving.

Today, scientists and researchers are delving further into what causes certain addictions (like porn addiction) and how they should be classified. And, while there is currently no “official” guidance on porn addiction, there is evidence that people can become dependent on porn.

Note: Smoking pot (cannabis or marijuana), drinking alcohol, and/or ingesting other chemicals or substances can cause “alterations” or “changes” in your brain chemistry and function. These “changes” can sway your thoughts (i.e., constantly thinking about porn) and behaviors (i.e., porn-watching). These “changes” are similar to the ones found in substance abuse, which means they can lead to addiction. And, similar to drug and alcohol addictions, porn addiction can have far-reaching consequences, such as non-stop urges, withdrawal symptoms, relapses, and “tolerance.”

So, yes, you could be addicted to porn.

Is Porn Addiction Progressive? If So, What Are the Various Stages?

Yes, porn addiction is usually progressive.

What does that mean? It means there are various stages associated with “porn use.”

The 4 stages of porn addiction are:

  • Dependency – In this stage, you compulsively watch porn. It is no longer a choice. You are addicted to porn.
  • Advancement – The next stage involves a progression of your porn addiction. In other words, you require more extreme or kinky porn for sexual arousal, release, and satisfaction. At this point, you have to ramp up your “porn use” to experience sexual satisfaction.
  • Acclimatization – In this stage of porn addiction, your idea of what constitutes “healthy sexual behaviors” becomes skewed. You no longer know tell the difference between socially acceptable and inappropriate sexual behaviors. For instance, extreme porn (i.e., sexual fetishes) may start to feel “normal” to you.
  • Impulsivity & Promiscuity – In this last stage, you begin to forge into other sexual arenas, such as voyeurism, group sex or orgies, promiscuous behaviors, visiting massage “sex” parlors, statutory rape or having sex with minors, exhibitionism, rape, or sexual assault, BDSM, etc. In other words, you begin to “perform” or “act out” pornographic fantasies.

Does Porn Addiction Share Characteristics with Other Addictions? If So, What Are Those Characteristics?

Yes!

Listed below are the ways that porn addiction resembles other addictions:

  • An inability to resist doing a specific behavior
  • High levels of stress immediately after beginning a specific behavior
  • Sexual satisfaction or relief after engaging in a specific behavior
  • Engaging in a specific behavior for a longer length of time than originally anticipated
  • Repeated attempts to prevent, control, reduce, or eliminate a specific behavior.
  • Spending an inordinate amount of time and money on a specific behavior or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop the behavior
  • Neglecting household, parenting, relationship, and/or job responsibilities, in favor of performing a certain action.
  • Continuing a specific behavior even though it is causing problems in your life – i.e., relationship or marriage, friendships, parent/child bond, self-esteem and self-confidence, finances or job opportunities, social skills, etc.
  • Gaining a “tolerance “to a specific “vice,” behavior, or action, such as drugs and alcohol, gambling, shopping, eating, etc., or feeling the need to increase the frequency or severity of a specific behavior to attain the desired effects.
  • Becoming agitated, irritated, angry, or restless when you are unable to engage in a specific behavior.
  • Partaking in a behavior that has interrupted your life for at least a month.

Note: These criteria can be applied to almost any behavior or action. Addiction symptoms typically involve certain behaviors, such as a heavy, frequent, and/or involuntary “attachment” or “fixation” on something or some person. Thus, porn addiction symptoms tend to “mirror” those of other addictions.

What Addictions Are Similar to Porn Addiction?

Truthfully, all addictions are similar to porn addiction – in some way.

Listed below are some of the compulsive behaviors that resemble porn addiction:

  • Playing video games for long periods
  • Overeating
  • Excessively exercising or playing sports
  • Being unable to stop having sex
  • Compulsively shopping
  • Obsessively working or being workaholic
  • Surfing the web or social media to the detriment of your tasks and responsibilities

Understand that while some of these compulsive or addictive behaviors may not resemble porn addiction in every way, the resemblances in many areas are undeniable. The disconnect occurs in how society views compulsive behaviors. For instance, society typically views working extremely hard and being a workaholic as a positive attribute.

Similarly, society often praises people, who work out and are physically fit. While compulsively shopping, watching porn, playing video games all day long, surfing the web, and scrolling through social media sites are not considered positive or healthy attributes. Porn is usually viewed as “taboo,” deviant, and/or shameful. However, keep in mind that all addictions regardless of whether they are viewed positively or negatively can be harmful and destructive. In other words, addiction can ruin your life if left undiagnosed and untreated.

Note: To date, the only truly diagnosable behavioral addiction is gambling disorder. Keep in mind that behavioral addictions like gambling addiction, porn addiction, eating addiction, etc., can affect you in a variety of ways, such as emotionally/mentally, socially, physically, and even romantically. And, because these addictions can be active or passive, even excessively watching television or listening to music can become addictive.

What Are the Criteria for Porn Addiction?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), porn addiction is not an “official” diagnosable disorder. As a result, there is no standard definition for porn addiction. There are, however, plenty of self-reports and “unofficial tests” that can help people determine if they are dependent on porn.

Still, these reports and tests are unvalidated – at this time. As a result, doctors and other mental health providers are forced to apply the diagnostic criteria of drug and alcohol addictions to porn addiction. But even though porn addiction is not “officially” recognized as a “diagnosable disorder,” its symptoms mimic those of other diagnosable addictions.

To assist in the diagnostic process for porn addiction, Dr. Patrick Carnes, the Founding Father of Sexual Addiction Therapy, has published multiple in-depth analyses of the behaviors and criteria of sexual addiction. Dr. Carnes has found that nearly all sex addicts “use porn” at some point. However, he also found that not all “porn users” are sex addicts. Dr. Carnes concluded that using a basic internet checklist to diagnose porn addiction or sex addiction is insufficient and most likely inaccurate.

Thus, Dr. Carnes believes that the only way to get a proper diagnosis for porn or sex addiction is to see a sex or porn addiction specialist, therapist, or mental health provider. More specifically, he believes that it will be challenging, if not impossible, to truly conquer porn addiction without porn addiction help.

However, the general consensus amongst mental health professionals and porn addiction specialists, is that a person must view porn compulsively and have at least two of the four clinical criteria for behavioral addiction.

The four criteria for a behavioral addiction are listed below:

  • A constant urge to engage in a certain activity, such as porn-watching.
  • Numerous “failed attempts” to prevent, control, reduce, manage, or stop a certain activity.
  • Neglecting to complete important home, parenting, work, and/or school tasks, such as house cleaning, cooking, taking your child to school, etc.
  • Giving up or continuing to partake in the activity, even though it comes with negative consequences.

However, porn addiction is different than other behavioral addictions in the following ways:

  • Porn addiction is not naturally or directly linked to risk-taking behaviors, such as theft, violence or fights, unprotected sexual activities, driving while intoxicated, etc.
  • Porn addiction typically does not involve “tolerance” in the sense of needing more of the porn to get the desired effects (i.e., sexual arousal, release, and satisfaction).
  • Porn addiction usually does not involve physical withdrawal symptoms or adverse effects (i.e., diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, muscle aches, jitters, seizures, restlessness, clammy hands, lethargy, weight loss, dizziness, etc.) when trying to stop the behavior.

Note: Although some experts argue that compulsive behaviors, like the ones above, can also occur with “heavy porn use” or porn addiction, evidence supporting this claim is ambiguous and unreliable.

What Happens If Porn Addiction Goes Undiagnosed and Untreated?

A lot can happen if your porn addiction goes undiagnosed and untreated.

Porn addiction can wreak havoc in your life if left undiagnosed and untreated. This is especially true when it comes to your friendships, job prospects, finances, family dynamics, and romantic relationships.

If porn addiction is not properly diagnosed and treated it could lead to the following effects:

  • Unhealthy or Dysfunctional Friendships and Relationships
  • Sexual Dissatisfaction & Emotional/Sexual Detachment
  • Low Self-Esteem & Self-Confidence
  • Debt
  • Unemployment

Do I Need to See a Doctor for My “Porn Use” or Can I Self-Diagnose and Treat “Habit?”

It is best to see if a professional if you think you may be addicted to porn.

However, you may be able to successfully manage or control your “heavy porn use” with the self-help tools listed below:

  • Delete all of your digital porn images and videos on all of your devices – i.e., smartphone, tablet, laptop, and computer.
  • Get rid of all your hardcopy porn images – i.e., porn magazines and erotica books
  • Ask a friend or loved one to install an anti-porn program on all of your electronic devices and instruct him or her not to give you the password – no matter what you say or do.
  • Develop an anti-porn recovery plan – i.e., replace your porn-watching with other activities when the urge to view porn arises. These activities may include working out, hanging out with friends, going on a date, working through your feelings with a close confidant, signing up for a class, or starting a new hobby.
  • Ponder the impact porn has had on your life – i.e., make a list of all the ways porn has affected your life when you get the urge to view it.
  • Determine your triggers and then avoid them – i.e., if you know that boredom or too much time alone triggers your “porn use” – try to stay busy with healthier activities and/or call a friend or loved one when you become lonely.
  • Be accountable for your actions – i.e., have a friend or loved one ask about your “porn use” daily at first and then weekly once you appear to have a grasp on it.
  • Purchase a journal and track your successes and regressions, special dates and milestones, and healthy replacement activities.
  • Enroll in a porn addiction recovery program, like Stop Together. Stop Together has expert-crafted content, resources, tools, therapists/life coaches, support, and suggestions to help “reboot” your brain and free yourself from porn. The best thing about Stop Together? It is online which means it is accessible. And, it is also affordable!

When Should I Seek Porn Addiction Treatment?

You should see a doctor if:

  • You have a hard time “releasing” or “orgasming” while having sexual intercourse with your real-life partner or spouse.
  • You have started to experience sexual dysfunction, such as porn-induced erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, poor sexual arousal, sex-based performance anxiety, etc.
  • Sex has become physically painful.
  • You have a history of porn addiction or other addictions.
  • You already suffer from a mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, and/or another mental health condition.
  • Your “porn use” is causing serious problems in your romantic relationship.
  • Using porn makes you feel dirty, deviant, evil, unclean, guilty, and/or ashamed.
  • You want to stop using porn but have been unsuccessful in actually quitting it.

Note: Keep in mind that therapists and porn addiction specialists have differing views on “porn use.” Some believe that all “porn habits” are inherently harmful, while others think it is not really addictive and definitely not life-changing. So, you must find a therapist or specialist who shares your morals, values, ideologies, and beliefs before committing to the porn addiction recovery process with the expert.