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Porn Habit vs. Porn Addiction: Is There a Difference?

Original article HERE

What’s the difference between being addicted to porn and merely having a porn habit? Habits are behaviors that have become automatic over time. Addiction involves a deeper change in your neurochemistry. Habits might be changed with enough motivation and willpower. Addiction keeps you trapped despite wanting to quit—and facing negative consequences.


Here are some key differences that often distinguish habits from addictions:



This is not an exhaustive list—keep reading for more.


This question is important because many people today insist that porn addiction is not real. Some fall into the opposite extreme of calling any porn use an addiction. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Porn is very addictive. But not everyone who watches porn is addicted to it. Understanding the difference between something that’s merely an unwanted habit and something that’s an addiction will help you understand your relationship to porn—and the steps you need to take to overcome it.  


Understanding Terminology


There’s a wealth of literature devoted to understanding human behaviors and motivations, including what drives people to pornography. You can get into the weeds very quickly, and you find a lot of conflicting information. That’s why, rather than distinguishing between porn habits and porn addiction, Dr. Kevin Skinner prefers to talk about levels of porn addiction.


For our purposes, we’re using “habit” in a non-technical sense. By habit, we just mean something that you do often enough that it becomes automatic. Habitual porn use means that you regularly find yourself watching porn, without necessarily making a conscious decision to seek it out.


When we speak about “addiction,” we’re referring to something a bit more technical. The behavior has become neurologically ingrained. Usually, there are deep-rooted psychological and even biological factors involved in the formation of the addiction that make it difficult for the person to “just stop.”


Characteristics of Addiction Vs. Habit


So, what are the characteristics that distinguish porn addiction from a mere porn habit? Researchers Sussman and Sussman have helpfully surveyed the literature on addiction and identified five characteristics typical of an addictive behavior, as opposed to a mere habit.1 Keep in mind, they are looking primarily at literature related to substance abuse. But it nonetheless applies to behavioral addictions like pornography as well.


1. Feeling Different


Sussman and Sussman’s first indicator of addiction is the individual feels somehow abnormal prior to consuming the substance:


“Anecdotally, many self-described addicts have reported feeling “different” from others long before developing readily identifiable addictions. This includes feeling relatively uncomfortable, lonely, restless, or incomplete.”


This describes someone who is in a negative emotional state, and they turn to pornography to “feel normal.”


In our work with helping people overcome porn, we have found that emotional trauma, abuse, or other painful experiences often lie in the background of addiction. People who have suffered some kind of trauma tend to be more vulnerable to addictive behaviors.


2. Preoccupation


If something is just a habit you may not spend much time thinking about it. However, if you’re addicted, the behavior becomes an obsession. You may spend time thinking about porn even when you’re not actively viewing it.


Tolerance

Another aspect is increased tolerance—it takes increasingly graphic or deviant types of content to achieve the same level of arousal. Experts agree that escalating porn use is a key indicator of addiction.


Cravings


A second aspect of preoccupation is cravings. You’re not just thinking about porn when you aren’t watching it, you’re craving porn.


Withdrawal


Porn addicts often experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit. We have written extensively about withdrawal symptoms and how to manage them.


3. Temporary Satiations


“Satiation” refers to a feeling of comfort or normality that you cannot experience apart from watching porn. Sussman and Sussman say:


“After acute engagement in an addictive behavior, some period of time may occur in which urges are not operative, addiction craving is ‘shut down’, only to return soon.”


In other words, you get a temporary fix from watching porn, but before too long, you start needing it again.


4. Loss of Control


Some people with porn addiction report feeling out of control with their behavior. For some, this realization motivates them to get help. But many resist the idea that they are out of control and insist they can stop—even if they can’t.


Loss of control may manifest in impulsive or reckless behaviors. Some porn users lose track of time and can continue binging on porn for hours at a time.


5. Negative Consequences


A corollary to loss of control is often negative consequences. What types of consequences might someone experience from porn?


  • Damaged relationships – we talk at length about the effect of porn on relationships.

  • Missed opportunities – porn can get in the way of your goals.

  • Career implications – watching porn at work can have serious consequences.

  • Legal repercussions – escalating porn use may involve illegal content.


When someone persists in watching porn despite the consequences, this is a crucial component of addiction.


Is Porn OK If I’m Not Addicted?


So, what if your porn use does look more like a habit than an addiction? Are you in the clear to keep clicking? I would not recommend it. First, have you actually tried quitting? You may not realize how deep of a hold pornography has on you if you haven’t made a serious attempt to quit.


There are other negative effects of porn you should consider. Pornography has deep ethical problems that you need to take seriously. Even mainstream pornography sites have been implicated in sex abuse content. Furthermore, the porn industry contributes to the objectification and marginalization of women.

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