Posted by Julia Daniels | For Families, For Men, For Women
Reading Time: 13 minutes

How the brain works, and how things in everyday life affect our brains is a topic of endless fascination. It reminds me of the bubbling, multi-colored volcanic pools at Yellowstone National Park. Scientists have discovered healing medicinal properties in some of the rare bacteria living in these pools. But they have only barely scratched the surface of endless bacteria and possibilities. 

Is porn like good bacteria or bad bacteria to us? Is porn bad for mental health? 

Admittedly, when we talk about porn and mental health, we know there is room for much more research. However, this is a conversation that needs to happen. As a society we’re struggling with mental health issues. And tens of thousands of people are discovering mental health benefits when they decide to quit porn altogether! 

Signs Of A Mental Health Pandemic?

Mental Health America reports that in 2019 nearly 50 million Americans experienced a mental illness. Added to this, the global pandemic of 2020 has increased levels of depression and anxiety – common mental health challenges. Data from 2020-2021 gathered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) backs this up.

We’re convinced there’s never a better time to consider how mental health and pornography use could be connected. Now, more than ever, our society as a whole is struggling with mental health issues. For the sake of our future generations, we need to talk about mental health.

What we mean when we’re talking about “mental health”

First, what is mental health? 

“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.” – MentalHealth.gov

Next, it’s best to leave diagnosis to professionals. Mental health issues are clearly defined and documented by professionals. The American Psychiatric Association publishes and updates a guide to several hundred mental health disorders called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Another diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals is the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). 

What negatively impacts mental health 

Known contributing factors to struggles with mental health include a family history of mental health problems, traumatic or abusive life experiences, and brain chemistry imbalances or genes. 

Brain chemistry, physical health, and mental health are all linked. When one part of you suffers, so does the rest of you. That’s why it’s also important to talk about any connections between porn and mental health. But, first, what are some warning signs of mental health challenges?

Common medical signposts of poor mental health

You may need professional help if you’re experiencing any of these mental health symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic: 

  • Marked changes in personality, eating or sleeping patterns
  • An inability to cope with problems or daily activities
  • Feeling of disconnection or withdrawal from normal activities
  • Unusual or “magical” thinking
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Prolonged sadness, depression or apathy
  • Thoughts or statements about suicide or harming others
  • Substance misuse
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violent behavior

While it may seem hard to ask for help, there is a growing awareness that mental health illnesses are more common than we realize. However, mental health professionals are divided on the topic of porn and mental health.  

is porn bad for mental health graphich quote with leaves

The Debate: Does Porn Impact Mental Health

Now for the more difficult and challenging conversation about porn’s effects on mental health. So many will state that porn only affects mental health if porn is used excessively

Another line of thinking is that porn affects your mental health only if you have religious or moral qualms about using porn. In research terminology: 

“Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses reveal that American men (not women) who believe viewing pornography is always immoral but watch it anyway are more likely to experience depressive symptoms compared to others who do not report this incongruence.” – Sage Journals

Then there’s the “What came first? The chicken or the egg?” causation-style argument. In other words, is porn affecting your mental health simply because you already had an underlying mental health issue?

Or is porn bad for your mental health and actually causing your mental health issues? Even mental health professionals disagree on this topic. 

It’s quite possible that there is some truth to both arguments. Easy access to porn has rapidly evolved over the past 15 years – thanks to the smartphone! 

The late Gary Wilson, author of Your Brain on Porn, notes that, “Research lags behind reality…Academic research is painstakingly slow and narrow, and even slower to self-correct… By the time a study is released, its findings are rapidly becoming obsolete.”

For example, Wilson says, “Porn users are given little reason to suspect that porn can cause their symptoms. Instead, society has put their problems in neat little boxes that do not take account of internet overuse…Today’s porn users are regularly diagnosed with and prescribed treatment for social anxiety, low self esteem, concentration problems, lack of motivation, depression, and other conditions. They can even be told that their problem is definitely “performance anxiety” when they are unable to achieve an erection or climax on their own without porn.”

Despite the lag in research, here’s what is becoming more and more evident as time goes along. There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence from people who are ridding themselves of porn.

When we listen to their stories, they clearly state that porn has negatively impacted their mental health. 

Gen Z icon Billie Eilish boldly spoke out about how her mental health was damaged due to her porn use starting at age 11. 

“Billie Eilish recently said that an early interest in pornography had damaged her sex life and mental health.

‘As a woman, I think porn is a disgrace,” she said on Monday’s episode of “The Howard Stern Show,” TMZ reported. “I used to watch a lot of porn, to be honest. I started watching porn when I was like 11.’

She added, ‘I think it really destroyed my brain, and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn.’

Eilish said she believed her struggles with sleep paralysis and night terrors were rooted in her exposure to “abusive” BDSM…” – Insider.com

Does porn use cause depression?

Again, there is debate over people using porn due to depression, or porn being the actual cause of depression. Porn use and depression certainly feed off of each other in a vicious cycle. 

What may legitimately cause depression due to porn use?

  • Shame over a porn habit
  • Withdrawal from friends and family due to compulsive porn use
  • Lying repeatedly to your spouse about using pornography
  • Inability to perform in bed
  • Insecurity about your personal appearance due to porn-influenced expectations

Is it possible that the links between quitting porn and recovery from depression have not been properly researched? 

Perhaps if researchers would take up the challenge of asking people to quit porn completely and test the before and after mental health effects, we could offer a more scientific answer. It would be enormously helpful to see a large-scale study. 

However, we do have many smaller-scale studies that DO link porn and depression. 

porn and mental health 4 harms

How does porn impact mental health in teens and children?

For those who begin consuming porn as a teen or earlier, plenty of studies show links to mental health issues and porn. 

“Regarding the effect of porn use on minors, a review of 19 studies published between 2013 and 2018 found an association between online porn use and earlier sexual debut, engaging with occasional and/or multiple partners, emulating risky sexual behaviours, assimilating distorted gender roles, dysfunctional body perception, aggression, anxiety, depression, and compulsive porn use. Another study has shown that compulsive use of sexually explicit internet material by adolescent boys is more likely in those with lower self-esteem, depressive feeling and excessive sexual interest.” — Mike Kirby, Trends In Urology and Men’s Health

Dr. Trish Leigh, a cognitive neuroscientist, also notes: “We know when someone develops a porn habit early, usually in late childhood or adolescence, it delays development of the brain, especially development of the frontal lobe. We also know that continual porn consumption knocks the frontal lobe out structurally and functionally. That means your frontal lobe doesn’t learn how to socialize in the way that it would if you hadn’t consumed pornography.” 

Now, more than ever if you’re a parent, it’s important to talk to your kids about pornography. 

What happens to your mental health when you quit porn

No one’s mental health recovery is a “one-size-fits-all” experience. Nor are we professional mental health practitioners. But we believe the stories of others who quit porn and experience improved mental health are extremely valuable.  

Online forums like NoFap communities boast many success stories of those who find mental health benefits and more after being porn and masturbation-free for a period of time. 

And, in the words of one of our very own customers:

“I stopped looking at porn and you can’t imagine how happy I felt! I noticed for the first time in years how beautiful the sky and the mountains near my house are. My ambition to do hard things and go to college surged. I hadn’t realized what a huge damper pornography had put on me but once it was gone I knew I had to do whatever it took to protect myself so I’d never go back…” 

Is porn bad for you and your spouse

Any activity that damages relationships also potentially affects the mental health of both people involved. Some insist that porn use can benefit a marriage. But those who specialize in couples’ and marriage counseling often largely disagree with this view. For example:

“Use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction…We are led to unconditionally conclude that for many reasons, pornography poses a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony.” – from an open letter on porn by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, clinical psychologists and founders of The Gottman Institute

Not only is intimacy and relationship harmony damaged, partners also report feelings of betrayal, loss of self-esteem, and increased anxiety when they discover a partner’s secret porn habit. 

Dr. Jill Manning, licensed marital and family therapist, notes that betrayal trauma is “associated with more physical illness, anxiety, dissociation and depression than traumas low in betrayal”. 

All you have to do is start reading the comment sections on blog posts about a spouse’s repeated porn use to start hearing the mental anguish that the other partner may experience. The pain is real!

Porn and Mental Health: 3 Reasons To Consider Quitting Porn

“He says the best way out is always through. And I agree to that, or in so far As that I can see no way out but through-” … Len’s wife from Robert Frost’s poem “Servant of Servants”
porn and mental health

While stress levels are still high dealing with ongoing pandemic realities, we need to find positive, healthy ways to fight back. Using porn is not a healthy solution to soothe our stress and anxiety. Here’s our recap and 3 significant reasons we think quitting porn will impact your mental health in positive ways. 

1. Circumstantial evidence shows porn affects mental health.

Many others in vast online communities of thousands of people have reported both the positive effects of quitting porn – and the negative effects of porn on their mental health. We’d encourage you NOT to just take our word for it. Investigate for yourself. Read research and comment sections of blogs, as well as online personal stories.

2. Porn and mental health issues also affect those you love, so “be the change” for them. 

Partners of porn users are also speaking up in quiet places (like comment sections of blog posts or private therapy) where they will feel understood and heard.

Others are brave enough to speak publicly about the damaging effects of their partner’s porn use. There’s a reason recovery groups, psychologists, and therapists are beginning to pay attention and to address porn use and betrayal trauma. 

Quitting porn has the potential not only to change your mental health for the better, but also to ripple out and change everyone else’s life who is affected by yours. The ripple effect on their mental health when yours improves could be profound. 

In the words of a grateful wife of one of our customers: “My husband has stayed..away from pornography for several months now, and as he puts it, the desire to look at pornography is gone. He has become a changed person. I can see and witness the physical change in him — the light in his eyes and in his countenance — and the change that has come over our whole family because of it. I finally have the guy I knew was in there somewhere…”

What do you value the most? Your spouse, your children, your friendships – these are the true treasures in life! 

Imagine the joy of breathing new life into your relationships. It’s like watching the daffodils poke up their green heads while the winter landscape is still bleak and bare. 

What would you give to see that twinkle in your spouse’s eye again? To feel the warmth of intimacy and see a spark of hope rekindled in your relationship again? 

When you plug into your big reasons WHY you want to make a change, you’ll be much more motivated to keep going when things get tough.

"Quitting porn has the potential not only to change your mental health for the better, but also to ripple out and change everyone else’s life who is affected by yours. The ripple effect on their mental health when yours improves could be profound. "
mountain at dusk porn statistics

3. Be your own guinea pig, and see how quitting porn impacts your mental health.

Is porn bad for mental health – YOUR mental health? Porn may actually feel like your friend in need. We believe it’s a friend with dangerous “fine print” including potential mental health damages. You won’t know for certain, unless you truly give porn-free living a real chance. This is especially true if you’ve been hooked by porn for a while.

Try to be honest with yourself. Are you currently struggling with any of the common mental health issues (cited by the Mayo clinic) that we mentioned above? 

What if you conduct your own mental health experiment on yourself? See how you respond to completely committing to get rid of porn for 30 days, 60 days, or six months. Be observant and write down even small, positive changes. 

What do you have to lose? You may have lost so much already. Cumulative losses and regrets pile up. The years go by.  

You’re not alone in the experience of genuine losses due to porn. Many others have talked about their losses in real-life relationships due to the isolation, mental health issues, self-loathing, and loneliness of compulsive porn use

What’s worse? The longer you stay stuck, the harder it is to feel hope that you can improve.

young people sitting around a campfireporn and mental health

A Way Forward: Hope For Recovery From Porn’s Impacts on Mental Health

Where do you begin? How do you learn to relate in a healthy way to yourself and others? We have legitimate reasons to offer you hope if your goal is to explore freedom from porn as one way to improve mental health. Our first reason is based on neuroscience. 

First, tap into brain science to fuel hope.

Science legitimately proves that brain rewiring IS possible. Your “brain on porn” has been wired to reach for supernormal amounts of pleasure chemicals, such as dopamine.

The saying that “neurons that fire together, wire together” holds true. 

A brain research study led by Dr. Valerie Voon, Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, noted links between the brain patterns of those viewing sexually stimulating materials and those experiencing the stimulation of nicotine, cocaine, and alchohol. 

So, not surprisingly, the process of quitting porn may mimic withdrawal symptoms similar to chemical addictions. Knowing these symptoms are normal and part of a healing process is actually a relief. 

But neuroscientists have proven that the brain is capable of healing due to its amazing neuroplasticity. 

In a recent podcast, neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf talks about 5 Steps To Rewire Your Neurology. She notes that forming a new habit – based on scientific research – normally takes at least 60 days. But all you have to do is take the first step toward hope and health. And then the next. (Episode 46 • 12th August 2020 • Be Well By Kelly • Kelly Leveque)

Next, follow the examples of others.

“I found that with depression, one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone.” — Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson

Although careful scientific research will always take time and experience a “real-life”lag, as Gary Wilson noted, you can stand on the shoulders of others. Just follow the real examples of those who’ve done hard work to recover from porn’s effects on their physical, emotional, and mental health. 

Though every person’s journey will look different, here are some helpful success tips to quit porn that others have used.

  • Plug into a support community online or in-person to break isolation.
  • Educate yourself on the process of quitting porn.
  • Ask an accountability partner to help you reach your goals.
  • Get tools to help make changes easier and more reliable, such as accountability software.
  • Be fully committed to the journey.

Like forming any new habit, retraining your brain and body will take time, focus, and commitment. Sometimes there are many layers of yourself to uncover first. 


“You are relearning 

who you are 

on your own. 

Breathe.

Even rediscoveries 

take patience

and time.” 

– l.e. bowman

porn and mental health

Finally, seek help from a professional therapist.

If you’ve been struggling with mental health issues for a while, getting a professional mental health counselor is a vital step forward. Although compulsive porn use is not technically considered a mental health issue according to the DSM, many therapists understand and treat unwanted sexual behaviors – including problematic porn use. Before hiring a therapist, it’s wise to ask if they specialize in this area. You can specifically search for a sexual addictions counselor, too. 

Your life can BE so much more than a constant struggle with porn and mental health! What you may not realize — until you start experiencing a life free of porn — is how much porn has bound and gagged your mental health. 

In a real way, you’ve lost part of yourself if you’ve been deeply hooked by porn. Along the road to freedom from porn, you can rediscover who you were meant to be. 

*Ever Accountable’s blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or therapy, though we often link to medically reviewed studies.

Works Cited

Sage Journals, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2156869317728373?journalCode=smha.

Ahlgrim, Callie. “Billie Eilish Began Watching Porn at 11, Says It Damaged Mental Health.” Insider, 14 December 2021, https://www.insider.com/billie-eilish-porn-affected-sex-life-mental-health-interview-2021-12. Accessed 4 May 2022.

Gottman, Julie. “Is Pornography Destroying Your Marriage?” Verywell Mind, 6 November 2020, https://www.verywellmind.com/is-pornography-destroying-your-marriage-2302509. Accessed 5 May 2022.

The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-open-letter-on-porn/.

Gregoire, Sheila. “How Betrayal Trauma Therapy Can Help Wives of Porn Addicts.” https://tolovehonorandvacuum.com, 2019, https://tolovehonorandvacuum.com/?s=betrayal+trauma.

Kirby, Mike. “Pornography and its impact on the sexual health of men.” Trends in Urology & Men’s Health, 2021. Wiley Clinical Healthcare Hub, https://wchh.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/tre.791. Accessed April 2022.

“Mental health: What’s normal, what’s not.” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/mental-health/art-20044098. Accessed 4 May 2022.

“Neuroplasticity: Rewiring The Brain in 2022.” Declutter The Mind, 13 July 2021, https://declutterthemind.com/blog/neuroplasticity/. Accessed 5 May 2022.

“Online porn may feed sex addicts’ desire for new sexual images.” University of Cambridge, 23 November 2015, https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/online-porn-may-feed-sex-addicts-desire-for-new-sexual-images. Accessed 4 May 2022.

“Porn Increases Social Anxiety.” Dr. Trish Leigh, https://drtrishleigh.com/porn-increases-social-anxiety/. Accessed 4 May 2022.

“Pornography and depression: Is there a link?” Medical News Today, 4 November 2020, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/pornography-and-depression. Accessed 4 May 2022.

“Quitting Porn Helped in My Fight Against Depression.” Fight the New Drug, 16 September 2021, https://fightthenewdrug.org/depression-disappeared-stopped-watching-porn/. Accessed 5 May 2022.

Serico, Chris. “’Have faith’: See Dwayne Johnson’s inspiring advice for people with depression.” TODAY, 17 November 2015, https://www.today.com/health/dwayne-rock-johnson-shares-inspiring-message-people-depression-t56586. Accessed 5 May 2022.

“The State of Mental Health in America.” Mental Health America, https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america. Accessed 4 May 2022.

“Success Stories | NoFap®.” NoFap Forum, https://forum.nofap.com/index.php?forums/success-stories.24/. Accessed 5 May 2022.

Sutphen, April, and Randy Withers. “Is Porn Addiction Ruining Your Mental Health?” Blunt Therapy, 12 August 2021, https://www.blunt-therapy.com/porn-addiction/#What_is_Porn_Addiction. Accessed 4 May 2022.

Vahratian, Anjel. “Symptoms of Anxiety or Depressive Disorder and Use of Mental Health.” CDC, 2 April 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7013e2.htm. Accessed 4 May 2022.

Voon V, Mole TB, Banca P, Porter L, Morris L, Mitchell S, et al. (2014) Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102419. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102419

Ward, Tom. “Why Men Are Turning To Porn As A Mental Health Coping Strategy.” menshealth.com, 11 11 2020, https://www.menshealth.com/uk/mental-strength/a34640211/men-porn-addiction-male-loneliness/. Accessed 2022.

“What is Betrayal Trauma.” Dr. Jill Manning, https://drjillmanning.com/betrayal-trauma/. Accessed 5 May 2022.

“What Is Mental Health? | MentalHealth.gov.” Mental Health.gov, 28 February 2022, https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health. Accessed 4 May 2022.

Your Brain On Porn. “Studies linking porn use to poorer emotional health and poorer cognitive outcomes.” https://www.yourbrainonporn.com/relevant-research-and-articles-about-the-studies/porn-use-sex-addiction-studies/studies-linking-porn-use-to-poorer-mental-emotional-health-poorer-cognitive-outcomes/.

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