An Atlanta Counselor Discusses Excessive Pornography Use and Porn Addiction

(Note: this is a very long article: about 12 pages double spaced!  I didn't intend to write something this lengthy, but there is a lot to say on this subject.  So what began as a few thoughts kept growing to include information that seemed too important to keep out.  So my advice is to either take your time reading all this or look over the subject headings for the sections that interest you most at this moment.  And remember that the best way I can help a person to deal with these kinds of issues is to meet in person. -Bill)


In my Atlanta counseling practice I regularly help people resolve problems regarding excesses in sexual behavior.  One common problem many people are grappling with involves problematic use of online pornography.  On this page I'm going to share some of my perspectives about this issue, including helpful recommendations and resources.

People have created and looked at sexual images since the dawn of recorded history. However, it's only been in the last 15 years or so that people have been able to view a never-ending stream of every type of sexual situation imaginable. 

Many adults who look at pornography don't have a problem with it. They enjoy what they are watching without losing control of their behavior, their time, their common sense, their morality or their ability to maintain close and intimate relationships.  I don't think that all pornography is always bad for all people.  I certainly agree that much pornography is demeaning, exploitative and harmful, and many categories of pornography are shocking to people who don't find that particular interest to be erotic.  However, I don't condemn all pornography any more than I condemn all alcohol. It's what a person does with it -- and what it does to a person -- that matters.

Also, it's important not to try to use one word, i.e. "pornography", to represent the vast range of sexually explicit imagery available.

With that being said.......


Excessive use of online pornography can be a nightmare for some people.  The three major categories are (a) relationship problems, (b) values-based problems and (c) addiction-related problems.

A. Relationship Problems Caused By Pornography

Since viewing pornography is typically a private matter, some issues only come up for couples. A typical problem develops when a person who views online pornography is in a relationship with a partner who is opposed to it. The trouble comes if the behavior continues secretly In an attempt to avoid a conflict.​ 

There are lots of different ways couples handle pornography use. Some people believe that monogamy means it's never ok to seek arousal by looking at someone else. Other people don't feel this strongly or have an entirely different opinion on the matter. Some couples enjoy watching pornography together. What works for one relationship may not work for another.

Unfortunately many couples don't spend enough time discussing their views about pornography as they get to know each other. Often this is because a person who enjoys looking at sexual images of other people may fear that fully admitting this to a potential partner could end a relationship before it starts. 

One way that counseling can help in such situations is by helping couples address their differences.  For example, if one person feels that all erotic images are inherently bad and another person does not feel this strongly then this issue needs to be addressed in order to reach some mutual harmony and understanding.  Effective counseling help a couple reach whatever healthy decisions work best for their particular situation.

B. Values-Based Problems Caused By Pornography

The second category of problems is when the enjoyment of pornography conflicts with other values.  Some people "don't like it that they like it".

This struggle between the erotic and the acceptable is easy to understand.  Society contains all kinds of conflicting messages and double standards regarding sexuality. Conversations about sex in most families are either nonexistent, brief, awkward or shaming.  No wonder so many folks are sexually curious, conflicted and confused.

Many people have some type of sexual desire that they feel too ashamed to admit.  They discover that it is easier to go online than to risk saying openly "this is something that excites me".  This inability to engage in safe and affirming conversations about sex only fuels greater secrecy and shame.  This causes unexamined feelings and meanings about sex to descend deeper and deeper into secret "compartments", creating a split between a person's inner world and outward appearance.  Online pornography becomes the only way to satisfy longings that have no other outlet, which can set the stage for some deep problems to develop. 

C. Addiction-Related Problems Caused By Pornography

There's no question that an increasing number of people are overwhelmed by the easy, immediate and endless access to online pornography.  What may start as casual viewing eventually becomes more and more of a habit or dependency until it finally becomes all-consuming.  Research is showing that a never-ending variety of sexual excitement can cause part of the brain to cease to operate effectively.   We are just learning about all of the negative effects that can happen to a brain that is repeatedly exposed to massive levels of visual sexual stimulation. In the words of the website Your Brain on Porn, "evolution has not prepared your brain for today's Internet porn."  The brain changes some people experience as a result of overexposure to online pornography is very similar to what happens with drug addictions.

Excessive viewing of pornography doesn't have to be "addictive" to be a major problem. It's similar to the fact that it's not necessary to be an alcoholic to have a drinking problem. What matters isn’t the label as much as whether (a) the behavior itself is excessive and (b) the consequences are bad. But for many people "porn addiction" is a way to understand the problem that provides a pathway to a real and lasting solution.

Now that we have looked at three general categories of pornography problems it's time to look more closely into the topic, starting with the controversy about whether pornography addiction is different from sex addiction, any why this matters.

Click to go to the next section of this overview of excessive pornography use and porn addiction.