Porn can cause depression, even after you quit

Jay Dee

Porn can cause depression, even after you quit

May 15, 2015

I received this question from our Have A Question page a few days ago: My husband used to be addicted to watching pornography, for over a decade. It was a struggle in our marriage for a long time, but he has successfully overcome the addiction.

Porn Can Cause DepressionI received this question from our Have A Question page a few days ago:

My husband used to be addicted to watching pornography, for over a decade. It was a struggle in our marriage for a long time, but he has successfully overcome the addiction. He has been porn-free for over a year. I thought all our problems would be solved once he achieved this. Unfortunately, new problems have arisen. My husband is rarely interested in having sex, even though I am interested in it several times per week, if not daily. And when we try to have sex, often times he cannot get–or stay–erect. He will often go soft while still inside me. This is devastating to me, to say the least. Is this just a lasting side-effect of his former addiction? Am I being naive in trusting that he has completely abstained from watching porn? Or is there more going on? FYI my husband is 35 years old and has had his testosterone levels checked (they were slightly low but not abnormally, according to his doctor). Please help me.

Porn and masturbation is an incredibly powerful drug.  It’s highly addictive and rewires your brain.  It teaches you to find new things attractive, you begin to obsess about sex, and you start to become dissatisfied with reality, because it’s less intoxicating than when you’re using porn.  Adding masturbation to porn increases the effects dramatically, because having an orgasm releases a lot of chemicals that further encourage our brain to connect to this activity, it feels rewarded and substitutes feelings of love.

And like any illicit drug, coming off of it can be harsh.  What your husband is experiencing is withdrawal from his drug of choice.  It’s going to suck.  Not going to lie.  This is one of the things that makes porn and masturbation so insidious.  Quitting can make you want to go back to it.  So, let’s take a look at what’s going on.  Keep in mind, I’m not a doctor or therapist, but I’ve seen these symptoms before, some in myself, so I’ll offer what insight I have.  Note: while we’re talking about a husband here, I 100% believe this is applicable to wives who are trying to quit as well.

Quitting is only the first step

Alright, admitting you have a problem is really the first step, but you’ve already past that.  Your husband is incredibly blessed to have a spouse who knows he’s struggling with an addition and is supportive of him quitting.  Many spouses would just say “you’re watching porn? get out”.  Sadly, they miss out on experiencing a husband free from this addiction.

And quitting porn is not easy.  I’ve never been addicted to drugs, or smoked, but I’d imagine it’s pretty similar.  The same chemicals in the brain are involved, the same activity shows up in brain scans.  So, here are some of the symptoms of quitting porn.

Depression

Porn is designed to be more inciting than reality.  To give that up feels like missing out something amazing for the rest of your life.  For a while, reality can be really boring, humdrum, and miserable if the feeling is strong enough.  Imagine your favorite hobby, and add an orgasm.  Imagine partaking in this hobby multiple time a week, perhaps even daily. You begin to look forward to it, to expect it, to need it.  Life becomes defined, not by living, but in passing it by as quickly as possible in order to get to experience your addiction again.  Then, after a decade of this, take it away.  Forever.  This addiction you have now been depending on to get through life, because your brain has been rewired to find reality dull in comparison to porn.

Understand that, and you understand why porn use can lead to depression, and why quitting can drive you even further into depression.

Low sex drive

Low sex drive can be caused by a few factors:

First, there’s the depression which I described above.  It’s really hard to get in the mood when you’re feeling depressed.  I mean, who wants to have sex when existence feels dull and depressing.  So, that’s a libido killer right off the bat.

But also, you have conditioned your body to respond sexually to porn and masturbation more often than to your spouse, so it becomes harder to be aroused by your spouse, by regular sexual interaction.  You’re used to having a perfect image of sexuality, an audio track, be it the perfect music, or at least a very expressive partner, and you’re used to having a partner that is far more exuberant in their sexual activities than most spouses (no offense to most spouses, you’re not trained and coached on how to be).

Lastly, there is the problem of porn causing you to constantly escalate eroticism.  When you watch porn, you get this huge dopamine rush.  Dopamine is the chemical that you get when you are doing something risky, and doing it successfully.  It’s the reward drug.  The problem is, the you get this huge rush the first time, maybe the second, may even the 20th time.  But soon, it’s no longer as exciting.  So, you need to find something more to create the same effect.  Many men find they start looking at things they would never had had an interest in before, but slowly the porn and masturbation starts rewiring their brain, causing them to look for something new, something exciting, something different.  That’s why the porn industry needs to continually produce more and more material, because the same stuff doesn’t work for long.  There is a drive to constantly find something new.

Suddenly, it’s taken away.  You stop.  No more new things.  In fact, you have to backtrack to “normal” sex.  There’s no more dopamine rush anymore, it’s slowed to a trickle, and then stopped.  And now your brain things that sex isn’t rewarding anymore.  So, why bother.  And suddenly, you don’t really want to have sex anymore, because your brain is telling you that it’s not worth the effort.

High sex drive

Some men (no the husband above), go crazy with desire.  They’ve lost their number one way of releasing sexual tension, and now have only one outlet (as they should): their spouse.  Unfortunately, a lot of wives aren’t prepared for this and unknowingly make it incredibly difficult for their husbands to stay clean from porn.  I’m not saying it’s their fault, just saying that they have the potential to be a huge help…or a hindrance.

Anger

Some find themselves getting angry, short tempered.  Their biggest source of stress relief has been taken away, and they don’t know how to deal with it.  It’s a bit like a baby the first time you take away their pacifier.  They don’t know how to deal with reality anymore.

Also, there is a lot of shame and guilt built up.  They’re angry with themselves, but don’t know how to release it.  They feel ashamed, guilty, unworthy of love, and it’s easier to push people away when you feel they can’t love you.

Shutting Down

Some just shut down.  They believe it’s easier to feel nothing than to feel this sense of loss in their life.  They’ll stop talking, stop communicating.  It’s like depression, but in some ways worse, because they feel nothing, not even sadness.  They just disconnect from the world, from their life.

What do you do?

So, how do you help them?

I think the number one thing is to love them.  If you know their love language, that will help.  Continue to tell them you love them, show them you love them, continue to try and connect, to reach out.  Don’t push them, but invite them, give them a safe space to share, to grow, and to heal.

Secondly, I think you need to be patient.  This is a massive change in their life.  Likely larger than you realize.  I’ve tried to explain some of it above, but it’s not really adequate to show you.  It take time.  After a year of no improvement, I’ll be honest, I’d start to worry that he’s not healing.  He needs to learn to talk about it, to receive forgiveness, to move on.  Everything’s not going to be perfect right away, but you should see some progress, I should think.  Perhaps it’s time for him to talk to your pastor, or a trusted elder, or even a friend.  There’s a pretty good chance you can find one that’s gone through this themselves.

But, it can take years to fully recover.  The studies I’ve seen suggest it can take up to 7 years for the brain to rewire itself.  That’s a long, slow, recovery.  But, you can recover.

I do want to say, you can recover though, and life becomes better than ever.  The freedom is absolutely amazing.  Often couples find their marriage experiences incredible growth after dealing with a porn addiction, because it’s been held back for so many years, and no has a chance to flourish.  That was my experience as well.  In fact, we grew so much and so fast that I felt I had to start a blog to help others dealing with sex in their marriage…and here we are.

Your Turn

What’s been your experience with quitting porn?  Have you gone through these withdrawal symptoms?  Are there others I missed that you can share?

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