6 minute read

Porn and Loneliness: Breaking the Cycle

Last Updated: November 14, 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.

“I’m 18 years old and I have been watching porn since I was 13. It is painful to watch porn, but it is like a drug it is hard to shake off. I do it because I’m lonely and depressed and that it becomes a struggle for me to stop.” – Blog Comment

“When I’m lonely, afraid, or down, it seems I am most vulnerable.” – Blog Comment

“If I had managed to find someone, it would have certainly helped me in my addiction: I would feel less lonely and more encouraged to resist porn. But it didn’t work out that way…” – Blog Comment

These comments were left on our blog by people struggling with loneliness and pornography. And these people are not alone in their loneliness. Psalm 88:18 reflects a similar feeling, “You have distanced loved one and neighbor from me; darkness is my only friend.”

We live in a culture marked by increasing loneliness. The insurance company Cigna’s research group found that more than half of Americans experience loneliness.1 In a 2020 book called Together: The Healing Power of Connectedness in a Sometimes Lonely World, U.S. surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy identified loneliness as one of the greatest health crises of our time.2

Not only do vast numbers of people turn to pornography as a means of coping with loneliness, but some research suggests that watching porn further aggravates the experience of loneliness. Let’s take a look at the connection between porn and loneliness, and how to break free from the loneliness cycle.

People watch porn because they’re lonely.

 Philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal commented that “All the evil in the world is brought about by the inability of man to sit alone by himself for an hour.” That inability to sit alone often drives people to pornography. Watching porn alleviates that feeling of being alone—without all the difficulties that come along with real people.

Studies on the reasons for watching porn identify loneliness as a key motivator, especially when it comes to so-called “problematic pornography use” (porn use that’s clearly self-destructive and out of control).3

Lonely people are primed for pornography (and other addictive behaviors) because our minds and bodies are designed for relationships. In his influential book on trauma, The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk writes:

“[It] is important not to ignore the foundations of our humanity: relationships and interactions that shape our minds and brains when we are young and that give substance and meaning to our entire lives.”4

While it’s helpful to understand the brain science behind porn addiction, we shouldn’t ignore the simpler realities of loneliness. When we lack meaningful relationships, we are vulnerable to destructive behaviors.

Watching porn actually makes you lonelier.

The fact that lots of lonely people watch porn probably doesn’t surprise you (especially if you struggle with loneliness and porn yourself). However, it may be less obvious that watching porn actually makes people lonelier.

Why is this? Because the artificial connection of pornography can never fully replicate the human relationships we were designed for. Researchers at the Institute For Family Studies write:

“[P]ornography exploits the sexual system but only tricks the brain for a while. The user can’t escape the fact that when the experience is over, they’re still alone in an empty room. So, when sexual intoxication wears off, the experience may only end up excavating a deeper emptiness.”5

Porn Creates a Loneliness Cycle

While porn can temporarily relieve the feelings of loneliness, it can never satisfy them. Instead, it fuels addictive patterns of dependence. The temporary relief and then subsequent loneliness create a vicious cycle. The more you turn to porn when you’re lonely, the lonelier you will feel afterward, and the more deeply you’ll feel the need for porn.

As one person shared with us, “I can’t get away from the internet and I can’t get away from my loneliness.” If loneliness motivates porn use, but watching porn increases loneliness, what can you do to break the cycle?

Relationships Break the Loneliness Cycle

The 16th-century theologian Martin Luther commented, “The lonely man always deduces one thing from the other, and always thinks everything to the worst.” Having friends around us is one of the things that keeps us from assuming the worst.

But many people embrace a life of loneliness because they’ve experienced too many unsafe relationships. They’ve been betrayed or otherwise hurt by people they trusted with their lives. If this has happened to you, I’m very sorry. The pain you’ve experienced is difficult to fathom. But this doesn’t change the fact that you need people in your life. You may face unique challenges in seeking these relationships. But you need deep and meaningful relationships to break the cycle of loneliness and the pull of pornography.

So how do you do this?

Find safe people to talk to.

Many people feel trapped by porn because they’re afraid of talking about it with anyone. One woman told us:

“About a year ago I got into pornography. When I first opened up about it I was told this is something women don’t generally struggle with. This only added to the shame and loneliness that drove me back to it.”

Fear of a response like this keeps many people trapped in isolation and secrecy—and loneliness. However, talking about your struggle with porn is key to overcoming it, and the key to overcoming loneliness.

You need to find safe, reliable people if you’re going to open up your life. For many people, this is their closest circle—family members, long-term friends, and fellow church members. However, if you find these close relationships unsafe, you may want to start with a support group of like-minded people.

Take a risk.  

Ultimately, even after you’ve identified safe people to talk with, you’re going to need to step out and take the risk. Human beings are flawed and unpredictable, so this always requires stepping out in faith. Vivek Murthy writes:

“To be real is to be vulnerable, and this takes courage, especially if we believe that others will like us more if we hide or distort who we truly are. Technology can promote this belief by making it easy to pose online as someone braver, happier, better looking, and more successful than we really feel. These poses, in fact, are a form of social withdrawal. They may let us pretend that we’re more accepted, but the pretense only intensifies our loneliness.”6

If you never take the risk of being real, you’ll never know what it’s like to be really known and really loved.

Meet regularly and connect—not just about porn.

To have a meaningful relationship, it’s going to need to be about more than a struggle with porn. You need to share the deeper desires, hopes, and fears, that motivate you.

If you recognize your need for relationships like this, but aren’t sure where to turn, check out some of the great free resources that we offer, including the Allied ebook. You may also want to look at these:


1 Cigna Newsworthy, “The Loneliness Epidemic Persists: A Post-Pandemic Look at the State of Loneliness among U.S. Adults,” accessed on October 5, 2022 at https://newsroom.cigna.com/loneliness-epidemic-persists-post-pandemic-look.

2 Vivek Murthy, Together: The Healing Power of Connectedness in a Sometimes Lonely World (New York: Harper Collins, 2020).

3 Bessel van der Kolk, Body Keeps the Score (New York: Penguin, 2015): 168.

4Jorge Cardoso, Catarina Ramos, José Brito, Telma C. Almeida, “Predictors of Pornography Use: Difficulties in Emotion Regulation and Loneliness,” The Journal of Sexual Medicine 19 (2022): 620-628. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2022.01.005.

5 Mark Butler, “Is Pornography Use Increasing Loneliness, Particularly for Young People?” Institute for Family Studies, July 3, 2018. https://ifstudies.org/blog/is-pornography-use-increasing-loneliness-particularly-for-young-people

6 Quotation found on GoodReads, accessed on October 5, 2022 at https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/17209759.Vivek_H_Murthy.

  • Comments on: Porn and Loneliness: Breaking the Cycle
    1. George H.

      I suffered from rejection by my peers into adulthood. And so, I struggle with loneliness even today, at 61 years of age.

      I have participated in 12 step recovery which helped immensely, but, because most of the people in these groups were as unsocial as I was, fellowship was mostly non-existent, thus lonliness persisted.

      It was not untill I was able to find, by the grace of God, some people who literally loved me out of my loneliness that I was able to completely be liberated from porn use, gain significantly in victory over lust and make great progress in conquering other sins of impurity.

      • Keith Rose

        Thanks for sharing this comment, I’m encouraged by your story. I hope others will experience the same grace and freedom.

        Blessings,

        Keith

    2. Joseph kkliss

      You won’t be interested to know me.9I am from hungary now British since 30 years uneducated but still hungry see what you offer me but how could i pass your exam without me being there?my whole life I’ve struggled sexualy to see God’s comand and now I beleive ive arrived yet without you iam alone Please help find approval for me somehow since I’m 60 alone gone beyond but could be a lie?advice..

      • Keith Rose

        Hello! Thanks for your comment. You can download our free ebooks from anywhere! I believe you can connect to a newcomer meeting with Samson Society also, the time zones are just given for US and Canada so you would need to figure out what time that is for you locally.
        https://samsonsociety.com/#meeting-section

        Blessings,

        Keith

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