5 minute read

The Relationship Between Porn and Depression: Is It Real?

Last Updated: June 17, 2022

Sam Guzman
Sam Guzman

Sam Guzman has been on the Covenant Eyes team for the last five years. He is the author of The Catholic Gentleman: Living Authentic Manhood Today and the founder of the blog and podcast of the same name. His writing has appeared in various publications and he is a frequent guest on podcasts and other media outlets. Sam is also a co-author of Transformed by Beauty, which teaches how beauty can help you heal from the wounds of pornography. He is currently an intern finishing his Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife and five kids.

Have you ever felt strangely sad and gloomy for days, like the world is suddenly colorless and oppressive? Have you ever felt a certain heaviness like there’s an elephant sitting on your chest?  

Have you ever lost interest in the things you like to do or suddenly wanted to avoid people you normally like spending time with? Have you ever felt there is no hope for the future or that sleep is the only thing you’re interested in?  

If you’ve ever felt any of those things, you were most likely experiencing depression.  

A Closer Look at Depression

According to the Diagonostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V)1, a Major Depressive episode is marked by a simultaneous occurrence of five or more of the following symptoms within a two-week window:  

  • Depressed most of the day, nearly every day  
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day 
  • Significant weight gain or weight loss when not dieting 
  • Insomnia or continual drowsiness nearly every day  
  • Physical agitation or lack of activity nearly every day 
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day  
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day 
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day  
  • Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent thoughts of suicide without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide 

If you’ve experienced a depressive episode, you’re not alone. Depression is incredibly common. According to the National Institute for Mental Health1, an estimated 19.4 million American adults have experienced at least one significant depressive episode in the last year.  

Just because it’s common, though, doesn’t mean it’s not serious. Depression can harm your relationships, impair your ability to function at work, lead to physical health conditions, and even trigger suicidal thoughts or other forms of self-harm. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that, “Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among people ages 15-44.”2  

It’s important to note that depression exists on a spectrum of severity, with some mild depressive episodes passing quickly and others becoming a recurrent and worsening pattern that can be debilitating. If you’re not sure how severe your depression is, seek a diagnosis from a licensed mental health professional.  

Porn Use Associated With Higher Rates of Depression

So, what does depression have to do with porn? Research is increasingly demonstrating that there may be a relationship between depression and porn.  

One study of college students found that pornography use more than three times per week was correlated with higher rates of depression.3 A similar but different study conducted with college students found that compulsive pornography use was associated with an increase in negative mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.4  

Researchers studying Swedish adolescents found that teens who viewed porn regularly were twice as likely to experience depression.5 And in 2019, a study found that excessive pornography use was associated with increased rates of depression in both men and women.6

What Came First? Depression or Porn Use?

Now, it’s important to note that these studies remain inconclusive about which comes first, depression or porn.  

Does Depression Lead to Porn Use?

It is completely possible that depression could lead to porn use and that someone experiencing depression could turn to porn to experience relief from their depressive symptoms. It is, after all, a generally accepted fact that deficiencies in serotonin the brain can lead to depression and other mental health conditions.

Further, brain scans have revealed that porn releases serotonin, dopamine, and other neurochemicals associated with pleasure that could temporarily soothe the pain of depressive symptoms. So, it’s entirely possible that depression could come first.  

Or Does Porn Use Cause (or Deepen) Depression?

However, other research has found has found that porn use is associated with an increase in negative mental health conditions like loneliness, anxiety, depression, neuroticism, and even physical symptoms like headaches.7 In other words, even if depression, in some cases, comes first, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that using porn will only make depression worse, not better.

It’s also entirely likely, according to this research, that someone who isn’t depressed to begin with could become depressed after watching porn.  

Porn and Depression: A Toxic Mixture 

Here’s the point. Porn and depression are related, and together, they are a toxic mixture. If you’re depressed already, porn will only make your depression worse. Sure, it might make you feel better for a moment, but in the long term, it will increase your loneliness and depression and trap you in a compulsive cycle that will only increase your feelings of hopelessness.  

If you’re not depressed already, porn use could easily lead you there. Porn has been shown to increase isolation, harm relationships, contribute to feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness, increase anxiety—and yes, contribute to depression.8  

Take Steps to Get Help and Break Free

The good news is that depression is entirely treatable. There are many effective therapies for depression—from brain stimulation therapies to meditation and exercise to various psychotherapies—and many who’ve experienced even severe depression have made a full recovery.9  

Treatment might look different based on the severity of your depression, but it could include individual therapy, diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes, or group therapy. Sadly, many who experience depression don’t seek help. If you or someone you love is experiencing depression, take steps to seek help as soon as possible.  

Depression is experienced by millions of Americans each year. If you’re suffering from depression, you’re not alone. One thing is certain: Porn won’t cure depression, and research demonstrates that it could actually contribute to it or make it worse.  

If you or someone you love is experiencing depression, it is nothing to take lightly. Depression can be serious and debilitating. Seek help from a licensed mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. Then, consider porn’s potential impact on your depression and take steps to rid it from your life. While quitting porn may not be a cure for depression, quitting now may improve your mental health in a variety of ways.  


  1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression
  2. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression
  3. http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTotal-DSDX201711022.htm
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7835260/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6327603/
  6. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10720162.2019.1645061
  7. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nicholas-Borgogna/publication/330222606_Is_Scrupulosity_Behind_the_Relationship_Between_Problematic_Pornography_Viewing_and_Depression_Anxiety_and_Stress/links/5d028377299bf13a3853c2d1/Is-Scrupulosity-Behind-the-Relationship-Between-Problematic-Pornography-Viewing-and-Depression-Anxiety-and-Stress.pdf
  8. https://medcircle.com/articles/porn-addiction-side-effects/
  9. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression/treatment-management