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How Can I Stop Viewing Pornography?
By Jared Hawkins, Extension Assistant Professor
Many people want to stop looking at pornography but find it difficult due to its addictive nature (Love et al., 2015). Luckily, researchers and therapists have found several effective strategies for reducing pornography use. If you’re trying to avoid pornography, consider some of the following research-based and clinically tested strategies. As it may feel overwhelming to try many of these strategies at once, just pick one or two to focus on for now.
- Seek out research-based information about the addictive influence of pornography use (Love et al., 2015; Spencer, 2019). This can help you understand how your body responds to pornography and why it can be difficult to quit. Search for books or articles written by researchers or clinicians to find credible, less biased information.
- Write down your goals and envision your ideal future self. Thinking about your desired future can help counteract the natural human tendency to sacrifice what you want in the future for what you want now (Lembke, 2021). For example, you can ask yourself, “If I don’t want to be viewing pornography in 5 years, do I want to be viewing it now?”
- Incorporate filters and other technology tools to limit access to pornography (Henry et al., 2022). Creating barriers to access can reduce impulsive pornography use (Lembke, 2021). Additionally, apps such as Fortify provide education, tools, and resources to help you reduce pornography use. Search online for the tools most relevant for your situation.
- Identify how pornography fits into your routines and then modify your routines accordingly (Spencer, 2019). For example, if viewing pornography sometimes follows scrolling through Instagram at night while home alone, consider replacing that time with hobbies or activities with people or in other places.
- Identify underlying emotions that lead to pornography use and develop alternative coping mechanisms (Butler et al., 2018; Cardoso et al., 2022). For example, if you view pornography to avoid or cope with difficult emotions, such as sadness or loneliness, consider how you may meet those emotional needs more directly, such as seeking support or spending time with close relationships.
- Develop healthy habits that promote self-care (Spencer, 2019). Adequate sleep, diet, and exercise, among other self-care practices, can help you reduce and manage emotional distress and pornography use.
- Identify thought patterns that lead to pornography use (Skinner, 2017). When you notice these thoughts, mindfully acknowledge them and then redirect your attention (Hayes & Levin, 2012).
- Develop the habit of practicing mindfulness. Daily meditations can improve your mental health and help you respond mindfully when experiencing urges to view pornography (Fraumeni-McBride, 2019).
- Form and strengthen relationships with supportive people. For many people, viewing pornography is a way to cope with a lack of meaningful connection, so spending quality time with friends and family meets this emotional need directly.
- Seek out therapy professionals who have experience working with unwanted pornography use (Sniewski et al., 2018). Experienced therapists can provide support and help you identify and meet your core emotional needs. To start, ask people you trust for referrals, search Psychology Today by issue area (e.g., sexual addiction, Internet addiction, etc.), or find an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist. Many therapists offer free consultations. In consultations or initial sessions, ask about their level of experience helping clients reduce pornography use and don’t be afraid to keep searching if they are not a good fit.
- Attend support groups (Hall & Larkin, 2020). Many people find it helpful to join a supportive and understanding community, check in with an accountability partner, and work the twelve steps of addiction recovery.
- Increase self-compassion (Hall & Larkin, 2020). Many people cope with the distress of shame by viewing pornography, so giving yourself grace can stop the shame cycle. If you feel hesitant to give yourself grace, remember that self-compassion does not mean you are making excuses, but it does give you the space to learn and improve.
- Practice a growth mindset rather than an all-or-nothing mentality (Dweck, 2008). Some feel that they’re “starting over” if they have “slipped up.” In reality, any time away from pornography is helpful. Be sure to celebrate the small wins.
- Focus on the present. Trying to succeed one moment at a time can empower you to make positive choices, especially if the prospect of avoid pornography for the rest of your life feels overwhelming.
Reducing pornography use can be difficult, and it can be easy to feel discouraged. However, reducing or quitting pornography use is possible with committed action and adequate social support. Choose to have hope and remember that avoiding pornography will get easier over time with less exposure, more social support, and each positive habit you develop. To learn more, check out these resources:
Dopamine Nation, by Anna Lembke
The Porn Trap: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Problems Caused by Pornography, by Wendy & Larry Maltz
- Butler, M. H., Pereyra, S. A., Draper, T. W., Leonhardt, N. D., & Skinner, K. B. (2018). Pornography use and loneliness: A bidirectional recursive model and pilot investigation. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 44(2), 127-137.
- Cardoso, J., Ramos, C., Brito, J., & Almeida, T. C. (2022). Predictors of pornography use: Difficulties in emotion regulation and loneliness. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 19(4), 620-628.
- Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset. Ballantine Books.
- Fraumeni-McBride, J. (2019). Addiction and mindfulness; pornography addiction and mindfulness-based therapy ACT. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 26(1-2), 42-53.
- Hall, P., & Larkin, J. (2020). A thematic analysis of clients’ reflections on the qualities of group work for sex and pornography addiction. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 27(1-2), 1-11.
- Hayes, S. C., & Levin, M. E. (Eds.). (2012). Mindfulness and acceptance for addictive behaviors: Applying contextual CBT to substance abuse and behavioral addictions. New Harbinger Publications.
- Henry, N., Donkin, L., Williams, M., & Pedersen, M. (2022). mHealth technologies for managing problematic pornography use: Content analysis. JMIR Formative Research, 6(10), e39869.
- Lembke, A. (2021). Dopamine nation: finding balance in the age of indulgence. [New York, New York], Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
- Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of internet pornography addiction: A review and update. Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388-433.
- Skinner, K. B. (2017). Treating Pornography Addiction. K. Skinner, Corp.
- Sniewski, L., Farvid, P., & Carter, P. (2018). The assessment and treatment of adult heterosexual men with self-perceived problematic pornography use: A review. Addictive Behaviors, 77, 217-224.
- Spencer, T. J. (2019). Couple Recovery from Problematic Pornography Use: A Phenomenological Study of Change Moments and Common Factors (Doctoral dissertation, Utah State University).