For many people, experiences of depression seem to be linked to the usage of pornography. That is to say that for many people depression and porn seem to go hand in hand, and this can lead to the question of whether one causes the other, or perhaps if one contributes to the other.
Several psychological studies have been published seeking to answer this question, and there has been no conclusive evidence that porn use causes depression, or the opposite, that depression causes porn use.
Nonetheless, it is certainly true that for many people, the experience of depression is linked with porn use. If causality is not established, what are we to make of this high level of correlation for many people?
Because pornography is sometimes associated with these negative perceptions of self, it can also contribute to depression feelings. When we feel inadequate, isolated from the world, ashamed or guilty, or perhaps helpless and hopeless against our compulsive behaviours, these are all emotional triggers for depression feelings.
For many people, depression leads to compulsive and addictive behaviours. This is for good reason: when we are suffering more than we can handle, we look for anything that will help relieve those bad feelings. And sometimes we can get “hooked” on whatever we find that seems to work best.
We can become dependent or addicted to both healthy and unhealthy things. Dependence is not inherently wrong or bad. Many people, for example, are “addicted” to healthy exercise and they feel out of sorts if they don’t get their normal workouts in.
Compulsive and addictive behaviour becomes particularly distressing when we feel out of control with it, or when we feel ashamed by our chosen strategy. They also become distressing if the behaviour is actively harmful: unfortunately, some of the most powerful things which can give us a temporary state of calm, or relaxation, or peacefulness can be very destructive in the long run. Drugs and alcohol are a primary example of things that provide satisfying temporary benefits at the risk of longer term problems.When navigating pornography and depression it can be useful to understand the severity of your porn use, and to determine if it has started to feel compulsive or addictive.
Because there’s no clear, general direction of causality between these two the journey of understanding and healing will be different for everybody.
Some key questions to better understand the relationship between you, your depression, and your pornography use are the following:
How does pornography help me? Does it give me feelings of entertainment, distraction, or relaxation? Does it fill my time in an easy, safe way? Does it give me a feeling of aliveness amidst numbness or dullness or fogginess?
How does pornography hurt me? Does it give me feelings of shame or guilt, or isolation and disconnection? Does it emphasize the feeling of unmet desires in life? Does it affect how I view myself, others, or the world?
Does my pornography use feel out of control? Is it compulsive or addictive?
Therapy, of course, can help to answer these questions. By bringing this set of questions to your therapist, you can give your conversation a framework to understand the interaction between pornography and depression.
Perhaps you’ll find that porn has been a useful coping tool for a depression that is caused somewhere else. Perhaps you’ll find that the use of porn itself has played a role in creating depression feelings. Perhaps the interaction between the two is something in between, that you can learn to navigate better by understanding the specifics of your own situation.