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How Addicted Are They? Levels of Porn Addiction

Last Updated: September 16, 2022

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. He has also served as a Bible teacher, pastoral assistant, and music director at his local church. He's now the editor of the Covenant Eyes blog and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina with his wife Ruby and daughter Winslow.

Have you ever noticed how many different approaches there are to overcoming porn? Even in closely connected Christian circles, we find completely different—even contradicting—recovery programs and advice.

There are many reasons for the differences, and some have to do with deeply held convictions about how God works to change people. However, I believe one often-overlooked reason for the different approaches to quitting porn is that different people experience different levels of bondage to porn.

Not everyone who watches porn should be considered “addicted.” The occasional temptation to browse porn is very different from a constant, habitual struggle. So it stands to reason that different kinds of temptation require different kinds of accountability.

Jim Cress, a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, says, “Things that were formed in intensity in my life will be changed through intensity in my recovery.” The road to recovery will look very different depending on the individual’s struggle. As an ally for someone in the fight against porn, understanding what kind of grip porn has on them will greatly enhance your ability to help them.

The Problematic Porn Usage Scale

Over the past few decades, as more psychologists and sociologists have taken interest in the effects of porn, they’ve tried to find ways to categorize the way people use it.

One group of researchers created the Problematic Pornography Consumption Scale (PPCS). It uses six different factors to help determine the point at which porn becomes “problematic.”1

  • Salience—How big of a role does porn play in this person’s life?
  • Mood Modification—Do they use porn to self-soothe when they’re feeling stress or other emotional difficulties?
  • Conflict—Do they keep watching porn despite problems it causes in their life?
  • Tolerance—Do they need to keep increasing the amount or extremity of porn they watch to achieve the same effect?
  • Relapse—How quickly do they revert to watching porn after resolving to stop?
  • Withdrawal—What withdrawal symptoms do they experience when trying to quit porn?

Of course, at Covenant Eyes we believe that any amount of porn is problematic and should be avoided. The problem with the PPCS is that it assumes there’s an OK amount of porn to watch—essentially, how much porn can you get away with?

Still, the concept of a scale for “how bad is it” is very helpful, both for those trying to quit porn and for their allies. Where someone is at in these six areas make a huge difference in their battle against porn.

Dr. Skinner’s 7 Levels of Pornography Addiction

Dr. Kevin Skinner takes a different, and I believe more helpful, approach. He takes the same sorts of factors into account, but he sees addiction to porn as a spectrum. The higher someone’s level of addiction, the more radical measures they’ll need to take to recover.

In chapter two of his book, Treating Pornography Addiction: The Essential Tools for Recovery, Dr. Skinner describes seven levels of addiction to pornography.

Let’s take a look.

Level 1: Limited Exposure

Dr. Skinner calls this the “mildest form of involvement with pornography a person can have.” This person has only seen porn a handful of times at most. What they did see was probably by accident, and they didn’t keep watching.

Level 2: Growing Curiosity

“The challenge at this level is that there is a growing curiosity,” says Dr. Skinner. This person still has spent little time watching porn, but what they’ve seen has sparked curiosity. He adds, “The time spent thinking about or viewing pornography is still relatively limited, but the growing interest can escalate quickly.”

Level 3: Borderline Compulsive

At this level, someone begins to show signs of addiction. They feel they can control their behavior but probably give in to urges to watch porn about once a month.

Dr. Skinner adds, “Fantasizing is also a part of the battle at level three. As their mind tries to avoid thinking about pornography, they still find themselves fantasizing about viewing it…it is common for individuals at level three to start spending extra time and energy fighting off thoughts of pornography and the desire to view it.”

Level 4: Increasing Impact on Life

Moving past level three, we see porn beginning to affect other areas of life. “It may be impacting their ability to focus on tasks for work, school, family life, or relationships,” explains Dr. Skinner. This is generally a person who has struggled with porn for many years.

With this level, you also find more fantasizing than at level three. He goes on, “They are viewing pornography a few times each month and are looking at more hard-core types of pornography.”

Another common feature of level four is increased withdrawal symptoms when they resist the urge to look at porn. For more, see 10 Symptoms of Porn Addiction Withdrawal (And How to Manage Them).

(At levels three and four, the ally relationship becomes increasingly important. It’s not enough to have email reports; you need to have regular check-ins and accountability meetings).

Level 5: Pornography in Daily Life

The difference with level five is, “There isn’t a day that goes by when they don’t think about looking at pornography or give in and look at it.” At this point, porn has taken a firm grip on the individual, and it has started to dictate other parts of their life.

Withdrawal symptoms are more intense and difficult to manage. At level five, someone can usually hold back from porn for only a few days before giving in again.

Level 6: Pornography Dominates Life

Pornography has now moved from the periphery of daily life to a central place. Dr. Skinner says, “At level six, compulsive behaviors and actions are common. Individuals at this level are likely to feel out of control.” Additionally, “There is also a good chance this level of involvement with pornography has created many situations where a person has had to lie to cover up [their] activities.”

By the time someone gets to level six, they’ve made some serious sacrifices to porn. At Covenant Eyes, we’ve spoken with people who’ve lost marriages, high-paying jobs, and friendships, and some have even gone to prison.

 Level 7: Out of Control

At level seven, porn has become a ticking time bomb in an individual’s life, if it hasn’t already exploded. Even serious consequences may fail to deter this person.

Their life is controlled by porn. The types of pornography they consumed have likely become very extreme or even illegal. In many cases, they move on from pornography to act out in other sexual behaviors.

Accountability for Different Levels of Addiction

When you agree to be an ally for someone, you should try to understand their level of involvement with porn. Is this someone at level one or two who wants to avoid temptation? Have they moved on to level 3 and 4 and are struggling with compulsive desires to watch porn? Has porn gained a more consuming hold on their life, so that temptation is a daily struggle?

At levels one and two, simply installing accountability software like Covenant Eyes on your devices will likely deter porn-watching. However, the higher the level of addiction, the more frequently they will need accountability check-ins.

For someone who has reached levels six or seven, quitting porn will require consistent, dedicated effort, and the willingness to take extreme measures. Higher levels of addiction will especially benefit from qualified counseling or even an intensive treatment program.

For more, see How to Quit Porn: 6 Essential Steps.

5 Basic Questions to Help Determine if Someone Is Addicted to Porn

Dr. Peter Kleponis is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist and an expert in the area of porn addiction recovery. He has five simple assessment questions to ask:

  1. Are you preoccupied with porn and sex? Do you think about it a lot, even when you’re not viewing it?
  2. Do you use porn to escape negative feelings? I.e., do you turn to porn when you’re sad, lonely, or depressed?
  3. Have you developed a tolerance for porn? (Has your porn increased, even in the amount of porn you watch, or the kinds of porn you watch—violence, BDSB, etc.)
  4. Are you dependent on porn? Does it feel like you need porn just to deal with your normal responsibilities?
  5. Do you take great risks to view porn? I.e., have you viewed porn at work or in a public place? Have you continued looking at porn despite the consequences?

Beáta Bőthe, István Tóth-Király, Ágnes Zsila, Mark Griffiths, Zsolt Demetrovics, Orosz Gábor, “The Development of the Problematic Pornography Consumption Scale (PPCS),” The Journal of Sex Research 55 (2017). 10.1080/00224499.2017.1291798.

Kevin Skinner, Treating Pornography Addiction (GrowthClimate, Inc: Provo, 2017), 24-30.