“Porn” has a long and interesting history, having changed and evolved across centuries. Unlike in ancient times, porn today enjoys a lucrative mass market. Enabled by film technologies like virtual reality, it can now appeal to sexual fantasies in ways that seem almost as real as they are artificial. For many consumers, the dopamine rush can become addictive. This article will take a closer look at the statistics on porn and porn addiction, starting with a definition of pornography. As it turns out, there is some history to it.
What Is Pornography?
Historians consider the ancient Romans and Greeks as the “founders” of what we now call pornography. Frescos and sculptures illustrating scenes involving homosexuality, group sex, and fellatio were exhibited in public on buildings in Athens and Rome for anyone to view. Ancient Peruvians painted sexually explicit images on pottery. Japanese aristocracy during the Edo Period commissioned artists to make pornographic woodblock prints for them to display in their homes.
When did “artistic” porn obtain a more derogatory connotation as “dirty” porn? You might blame Thomas Edison for relocating pornography from the art world into the world of motion pictures. Early pornographic films were called “stag” films and depicted women doing strip-tease dances, bathing, or just posing nude. By the 1950s, underground pornographic films had actors and actresses performing real sex acts in front of the camera.
The pornographic film industry exploded in the 1970s. Rated X drive-in theaters emerged in both urban and rural areas of the U.S. Films such as Deep Throat and Debbie Does Dallas made millions of dollars at the box office. In 1971, Midnight Cowboy became the first and only rated X movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year.
Thirty years later, In the early days of the Internet, free newsgroups such as “alt.sex” or “alt.lesbian” sites provided users with access to a massive amount of pornographic images. Around 2007, the most popular porn website launched under the name “Pornhub.” Today, Pornhub has an estimated 50 million registered users and over a billion pornographic videos uploaded for immediate viewing.
The definition of pornography continues to be highly subjective. To some, pornography is simply pictures or videos of naked men and women doing nothing but posing. Alternately, most people consider pornography as pictures or videos of people performing implied or explicit sexual acts. Consequently, when porn addiction is generally referred to, the definition typically involves someone who spends an abnormal amount of their free time watching sexually explicit videos on the Internet.
What Are the Symptoms of a Porn Addiction?
Pornography addiction and sex addiction are not listed as mental health disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM). The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize porn addiction as a mental illness, either. Consequently, no conclusive criteria for diagnosing a person with porn addiction exists.
Some psychiatrists are not convinced that porn addiction is an actual “addiction.” Instead, they view it as more of an obsession with pornographic materials. A few neurological studies suggest that porn addiction may, in fact, be related to the compulsive aspect of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
People with OCD cannot stop thinking about specific things, such as whether they turned the stove off or if knick-knacks on a shelf are evenly spaced apart. These thoughts cause severe anxiety until this anxiety compels them to act on these thoughts by checking and re-checking what is worrying them. Psychiatrists speculate that individuals addicted to porn may find that watching porn is a compulsion that gets rid of obsessive, anxiety-ridden thoughts.
How do you know you might have a pornography addiction that needs psychological treatment? Signs of a problematic porn addiction often involve the following:
- Watching porn on your tablet or phone in social or public situations where anyone can hear and see what you are viewing.
- Watching porn has disrupted your professional and/or personal life (staying up all night because you couldn’t stop watching porn and being late for work; or, neglecting your spouse or children due to watching porn)
- Thinking constantly about being able to watch porn uninterrupted after work, late at night when everyone is asleep, etc.
- Trying repeatedly to cut back on watching porn but failing to do so
- Falling behind on bills because of spending too much money renting porn videos on the Internet, buying porn videos, or subscribing to live Internet porn cams.
How Common is Porn Addiction? Porn Addiction Statistics in the U.S.
Since porn addiction is not a mental illness that is included in the DSM-5, it can only be investigated via self-reporting surveys sent to Internet users. For example, a Kinsey Institute survey sent to Internet users in 2002 found that nine percent of the thousands who responded said they had “unsuccessfully attempted to stop watching porn more than once.”
A more recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) study estimates that rates of hypersexual disorder, which includes porn addiction, engaging in excessive cyber/phone sex, or excessive masturbation, maybe as high as six percent of all adults in the U.S. This is probably due to the substantial increase of porn websites over the past decade and the pervasiveness of pornography on the Internet and deep web.
Studies examining the discrepancies between men, women, and porn addiction have consistently found that three times more men than women watch porn regularly. A small but statistically significant decrease in watching pornography appears in research surveys questioning men and women in their 50s. The demographic that watches the most internet porn is men between 18 and 49 years of age. Women prefer written pornography and videos while men prefer pornographic images and videos.
Porn Addiction Therapy: Dealing with Porn Addiction
A study using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to examine anatomical changes in the brain discovered that sexual compulsion disorders produce the same physical and chemical changes in the reward centers of methamphetamine and cocaine addicts. The brain’s mesolimbic regions (reward centers) are also implicated in gambling and eating addictions.
Does this mean porn addiction is a true addiction in the drug and behavioral sense of addiction? In some ways it is, especially if the person experiences classic substance abuse withdrawal symptoms such as severe depression, anxiety, and “cravings” when they try to abstain from watching porn.
When porn addiction dramatically interferes with your work, family, and social life, you may be using porn to forget about unresolved psychological issues. Relationship problems, self-image insecurities, or symptoms of major depressive disorder can lead to a porn addiction. However, watching porn as a way to deal with mental health issues and escape the real world only works to reinforce unrealistic sexual expectations regarding yourself or your partner. Excessive porn consumption can leave you feeling guilty, ashamed, and irrationally resentful toward your spouse or significant other.