There are many opinions when it comes to porn consumption and the potential negative effects of pornography. Like many conversations around sexual behavior, there is often a lot of nuances to consider because people are not a monolith, and everyone’s mental and sexual health is unique. If you’re wondering if porn consumption and depression are inevitable, the short answer is no. That being said, there are some interesting connections that are worth examining around porn and mental health.
Pornography, Masturbation, and Mental Health
While there is no evidence that watching porn causes depression, it’s not uncommon for people to turn to sources of pleasure such as food, shopping, exercise, and porn, as a means to cope with mental health struggles.
When someone experiences depression, neurologically, the serotonin levels in their brain are low. Serotonin is one of the main neurotransmitters linked to depression. Pornography, which can derive pleasure in the form of arousal and orgasm, can produce a release of serotonin which can make a person feel pretty good.
In fact, orgasms can be great for those struggling with depression! The hormones that flood the body during orgasm can be euphoric and a welcomes reprieve from depressive symptoms. Unfortunately, if your depression causes a drop in libido, which is common, then it may be harder for you to access those feel-good chemicals.
It’s also worth noting that not everyone will experience a euphoric effect, especially those who grew up in sex-shaming households where internet pornography and masturbation were portrayed as impure or told sexuality is only to be shared with your spouse. For those with sex-shaming experiences, pornography and masturbation can bring up more feelings of shame, guilt, and self-loathing instead of embodied pleasure.
Pornography and Depression
Many people engage in pornography consumption and many of those people who consume porn likely struggle with some level of depression, given the statistic that just in the United States, 7.1% of the population has a major depressive disorder diagnosis. That number doesn’t include those who don’t have affordable access to medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment so the number is most likely even larger.
One common symptom of depression is isolation. Someone struggling with depression might isolate because they don’t have the physical and mental energy to socialize, they feel as if they are a burden, or feel that they are not worthy of connection. This can result in someone isolating themselves from friends, family, and romantic relationships. For example, it might feel more energetically accessible to stay home and watch porn than to socialize when your depression is telling you no one wants to spend time with you.
If you find yourself consistently watching porn instead of making real life connections, it may be worth looking at why that is and be mindful of any ways porn is disconnecting you more than it’s helping you cope with depression.
Can Depression Cause Porn Addiction?
You may be asking yourself, “Isn’t it a bad idea to cope with anything that could potentially become addictive?” Well, it depends. It’s important to remember that everyone is wired differently and leaning on pornography, or really any activity/substance that has the potential to become an addiction, isn’t inherently bad.
For example, if someone comes home from a long day of work and pours a glass of wine, the people in their life likely won’t start organizing an intervention. Of course, if that person feels they won’t be able to function unless they have a drink as soon as they get home, that’s a different story. It all comes down to whether your coping mechanisms are negatively interfering with your day-to-day life, responsibilities, and relationships.
Just because porn can become addictive to some, doesn’t mean it will to everyone who consumes it. Everyone’s relationship with pornography is different and many factors are at play when assessing someone’s risk of porn use becoming a compulsive behavior.
When to Ask for Help
If you feel watching pornography and depression have been all-consuming, it may be time to ask for help from a mental health care professional. Depression can be debilitating and you shouldn’t have to suffer.
Working with a certified sex therapist or mental health professional who specializes in depression can help you both treat the symptoms of depression and keep an eye on viewing porn so that it doesn’t evolve from a non-harmful coping mechanism to something more concerning. You might even join a support group for others struggling with depression to build more connection and community with people who understand to some degree what you are going through.
When it comes to viewing pornography, there can an overwhelming amount of judgmental, sex-shaming information online and from people in our inner circles. Be sure to stay away from anecdotal armchair psychology opinions that can exacerbate any symptoms of depression you already feel. Only you know the best ways to cope with your symptoms and you also will likely be the first to know when those systems of coping are no longer serving you.