8 minute read

Why People Watch Porn: 7 Reasons It’s Appealing

Last Updated: December 31, 2021

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. During that time, he also served as a worship leader, Bible teacher, and pastoral assistant. He's now an educational content creator at Covenant Eyes and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Rexford, Montana with his wife Ruby.

Why do people watch porn?

Does it seem obvious? Um, hello?  It’s porn. But if you stop and think about it,  sex is normally something you do, so why would you want to watch someone else? Why are people so readily drawn to images and videos of sex?

Even if there are ready answers to those questions, why do so many people keep watching porn, even though it damages their personal relationships and contradicts their religious beliefs?

The great philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He meant that you need to ask deep questions about life and purpose in order to have a fulfilling and meaningful existence. We might adjust that to say, “The unexamined porn habit is not worth quitting.” By this I mean that the person who never bothers to ask, “Why do I watch porn?” or “Why do I like porn?” is unlikely to escape the pornography trap.

If you’ve ever wondered why people watch pornography—or why you do—even when it’s against their best interest, you’ll be surprised at the answer! Someone in bondage to pornography is usually caught up in many layers of motivation. Here are seven reasons people watch porn.

1. Porn Feels Good

Humans are biologically wired for visual stimulation. This means that when we see sex, we’re sexually stimulated. In fact, the mirror neurons in our brains mean that when we watch a sexual act, we mentally experience many of the same sensations as the person having sex. And that feels good. Research—and let’s be honest, personal experience too—shows that sexual pleasure is one of the biggest draws to porn.

This seems obvious, and many people assume that’s it, case closed. No kidding porn feels good, why else would you look at it? But evidence shows that this only scratches the surface.  In fact, there’s a growing body of research that indicates that sexual pleasure might be just a small part of the picture.

2. Porn Seems Harmless

In The Porn Trap, therapists Wendy and Larry Maltz say that most people became involved with pornography “because it seemed simply to promise a harmless good time.”¹ Porn seems to offer a safe outlet for sexual energy, as well as sexual curiosity, unmet fantasy, and self-exploration.²

Everyone knows that sexual relationships are fraught with risk. What safer way to explore sexual pleasure than through porn? Some have even argued that porn reduces the amount of sexual violence and unsafe sex.

But the data doesn’t bear this out. Research shows that porn warps our brains. It actually desensitizes people to sexual violence and can even lead to erectile dysfunction.

A growing number of neuroscientists and psychologists are recognizing the dangers of porn. See “Brain Chemicals and Porn: How Porn Affects Your Brain.”

3. Previous Exposure to Porn

Another reason people watch porn is simply because they’ve seen it before and they like it. Pornographic images leave an imprint on your brain that is like a tattoo—porn is difficult to forget about once you’ve seen it.

People are being exposed to pornography at younger and younger ages. This makes them more vulnerable to porn throughout their lives. Recovery expert John Fort writes:

Several studies show that when people are exposed to sexually explicit content during childhood or adolescence, they have a significantly higher risk of developing problematic pornography use later on. Similarly, studies find the younger a child is when first exposed to pornography, the greater their consumption of pornography tends to be as adults.

With the Internet, porn is almost impossible to avoid completely—even if you’re not looking for it. This is a big reason why so many people keep turning back to it. Simply looking at porn creates a greater desire to look at porn.

4. Lack of Real Relationships

Sexual desire and sexual curiosity are wired into human beings. It can motivate even a chronically indecisive and overly cautious person to enter a committed marriage relationship. But something is changing. Not only has the average age of marriage gone up,³ but studies indicate fewer people are involved in relationships period.4

This shift away from real relationships correlates with the dramatic increase in porn consumption. Whether they don’t want to or can’t is unclear, but today’s generation is less inclined to find committed relationships than ever.

A recent college graduate writes:

In college, I was amazed at the lack of commitment displayed by girls and guys my age. Everyone was afraid to commit to a significant other, and I couldn’t understand why. Sure, some people will cheat and betray their partner, but this isn’t the norm. So why are so many millennials single and afraid to mingle—or, more accurately, afraid to commit? I believe that porn is one of the biggest reasons.

Relationships are always risky. All of us want to be close to others on some level, but many of us don’t want to be vulnerable. We want a real relationship, but we want to be the ones in control. For some, porn gives this tantalizing illusion: “connectedness” without the risk of real relationships.

5. Porn Is Used to Cope

When people have sex, their brains release mood-altering chemicals that leave them feeling relaxed and happy.  This is one of the reasons sex is so important for married couples. Something similar happens when someone watches porn (although the end result is different).

Nonetheless, many people turn to porn as a coping mechanism for emotional and psychological needs. This can be very dangerous, as it easily leads to addiction. Here are just a few examples.

Coping With Boredom

Lots of people report watching porn to cope with boredom. Covenant Eyes author Lisa Eldred writes, “One survey of a Catholic high school found that 90% of the young men admitted to viewing pornography at least occasionally… and for 48% of them, boredom was the biggest trigger.”

A 2021 study in the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors journal found boredom to be a motivating factor for both men and women.5 When life seems dull and it feels like there’s nothing better to do, porn is only a click away.

Coping With Anxiety

Many people struggle with anxiety. For some, porn seems like a good form of medication. The sexologist Dr. Eli Coleman considers compulsive porn use to be “driven by the need to reduce some type of anxiety, not by sexual desire.”6

Anxiety is a frequent withdrawal symptom experienced by those trying to quit porn. Sex recovery speaker and author Dann Aungst writes:

When the only thing that creates enjoyment is an activity (porn) that overstimulates the dopamine receptors, anxiety sets in when the dopamine is low. It’s kind of like a junkie having withdrawal symptoms.

This creates a cycle of increased anxiety when they try to quit porn, making recovery extremely challenging.

Coping With Depression

Along with anxiety, depression is another big factor for many people who turn to porn. Because it’s so readily accessible, it’s an attractive option for people too depressed to seek out healthier options. While real relationships, counseling, and therapy are much better options long-term, porn is much easier to find in the short term.

Unfortunately, when porn is used for mood regulation like this, it can lead to further depression. One therapist recounts this experience of a patient dealing with porn addiction:

At this point, it was clear to me, based on evolving research and years of clinical experience, that Roberto’s porn use, which he engaged in more for emotional regulation than sexual pleasure, was a likely driver of his sexual dysfunction, his relationship struggles, and his depression.7

6. Porn Is Addictive

You may think, “Well that makes sense, but what about situations where porn is damaging relationships and causing greater anxiety and depression than if they stopped?”

The reason many persist in their porn habit despite the problems is that porn is addictive. Porn is what neuroscientists call a “supernormal stimulus”—something so powerful our brains don’t quite know what to do with it.8 Porn creates patterns in the brain similar to the patterns seen in the brains of drug addicts. Porn bonds the viewer chemically to the images that are seen. It creates raging dopamine urges that make people crave it.

It also diminishes willpower, so even someone who regrets watching porn afterward is helpful to resist the temptation when it comes.

Learn more with our post, Why Is Porn So Addictive? 4 Reasons It’s Tough to Resist.

7. Porn Makes False Promises

In his book, Closing the Window, Dr. Tim Chester examines the spiritual motivations for looking at porn. These are related to the false promises that porn makes regarding deeper spiritual desires.

1. Respect

If someone feels inadequate or rejected, their hearts often crave respect, and porn offers the fantasy of respect. In the fantasy world, the viewer is adored by fantasy women or men. Porn gives an eroticized world where they can capture the attention of others by their sexual prowess. They enter the fantasy, and for a brief moment, can feel respected.

2. Refuge

We noted earlier that porn is often used as a coping mechanism. In times of hardship or fear of failure, porn provides a fantasy world without failure: you always get to have the hot girl or guy you desire, or you get to be the hot girl or guy. For many, porn provides this erotic escape.

3. Reward

Porn appeals to some of our worst instincts. One of these is a sense of entitlement to rewards. Real relationships require humility and self-sacrifice, but porn says “you deserve this regardless.” This sense of entitlement can drive people back again and again to the fantasy world. Porn showcases its “trophy” men and women across the screen—a reward so rarely found elsewhere.

4. Revenge

In times of frustration and anger, some turn to porn as an act of revenge against another person (like a spouse who is unwilling to have sex) or against God (who isn’t giving them the life they want). Looking at porn can be a tantrum against the world. It’s a false sense of empowerment for those who feel helpless.

5. Redemption

In times of guilt and self-loathing, the fantasy world of porn offers false redemption. If someone is feeling guilty, pornography says, “You’re okay just the way you are. Nothing about you needs to change.” If someone is stuck in self-hatred, porn can be a way of punishing themselves. “This is the shameful life I deserve.” Porn becomes a way to indulge a dark world of self-pity.

These are the false promises of porn, that can play into the reasons why someone keeps going back to it. Just one of these might ring true for some people. For others, several or all of them ring true.

For a more comprehensive list of false promises that porn makes and their appeal, see counselor Brad Hambrick’s article 19 Possible Motivations Triggering Your Porn Consumption.

How to Help Someone Stop Watching Porn

These reasons for watching porn can make quitting seem hopeless. If someone you love is trapped by porn, it may seem like nothing will change their desire for it. But don’t lose heart—at Covenant Eyes we talk with people every day who decide to confront their reasons for looking at porn and start the journey toward quitting for good. Here are a few steps to help someone stop watching porn.

Educate on the Dangers of Porn

Let’s face it: a growing percentage of the population sees no problem with looking at porn. At Covenant Eyes, we’ve spent a lot of time creating free resources to help raise awareness about the problem of porn. Here are just a few that you can share:

  • Your Brain on Porn: This ebook looks at five ways porn warps your brain, as well as the Bible’s teaching on how to break free.
  • Porn Stats: This compilation of carefully researched statistics identifies the dangers of porn and the impact it’s having on our culture.
  • The Benefits of Quitting Porn. This blog post is a helpful summary of the benefits of quitting porn.

Equip With Resources for Quitting Porn

Once you’ve convinced someone that porn is bad, you don’t want to leave them feeling trapped and discouraged! We’ve also put together ebooks, email challenges, and video content that goes through the recovery process:


¹ Wendy and Larry Maltz, The Porn Trap, 12.

² https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/202105/new-research-8-common-reasons-people-use-porn

³ https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/visualizations/time-series/demo/families-and-households/ms-2.pdf

4 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-016-0798-z

5 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32730047/

6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6352245/

7 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-and-sex-in-the-digital-age/201607/the-reasons-someone-looks-porn-matters-is-why

8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3050060/