ACT for Pornography Addiction

Pornography addiction is very prevalent in society. The ACT method of treating this problem has been studied and has proven to work.
ACT for Pornography Addiction

Last update: 23 June, 2021

The increase in watching pornography presents the problem of addiction to pornography. In fact, even though the diagnostic criteria aren’t very clear, the time that many people spend viewing porn is problematic.

Despite the major importance of problems of sex addiction today, not many studies propose a clear intervention for this type of issue. Actually, this is especially true when it comes to pornography addiction.

The treatment for this type of addiction becomes difficult due to the prejudice and stereotypes associated with using this type of product. In addition, there’s the shame of the person who’s addicted.

In this article, we present an intervention beginning with the acceptance and commitment to deal with the problem of viewing pornography. We’ll also talk about the results of a study that Twohig and Crosby conducted in 2010 for Utah State University.

A person looking at a computer screen in the dark, supposedly with and addiction to pornography.

The Internet and pornography

The Internet touches all aspects of our lives. Even though it seems like a very high number, experts estimate that approximately 12 percent of all internet content is pornographic. In the United States, approximately 13 percent of the population sees pornography on a regular basis.

In a study conducted in Spain in 2019, experts found that the average age to begin looking at pornography is 14 for boys and 16 for girls. Including all ages, researchers calculate that, in Spain, there are a total of 18 million daily visitors to pornography websites.

This is a sexual and masturbatory practice deeply rooted in our society. Because its development seems to be exponential, it’s important to establish good practices for the consumption of pornography. Therefore, knowing how to identify problematic porn use is vital for the 17 percent of people who meet the criteria for addiction.

Porn addiction and mood issues

As with any addiction, the problem isn’t the object of the addiction. Instead, it’s the exacerbated and extreme conduct of the addict that deteriorates their daily life. When the behavior threatens the emotional, social, and occupational functioning of the subject, the behavior has become a problem. 

In the case of pornography addiction, the study of Twohig and Crosby reports about people with certain problems. These include depression, social isolation, deteriorating relationships, job loss, and reduction of productivity. In addition, it’s also associated with financial problems.

Watching pornography isn’t bad in itself. However, there are people who believe that seeing pornography clashes with their moral and personal values. As a result, this causes great discomfort.

Pornography addiction can also cause problems because of the time people spend watching it. Also problematic are the places where it’s not appropriate to watch it, but whose addiction causes the viewing to take place.

Porn addiction and its similarity to other addictions

In order to establish the functioning and diagnostic criteria for pornography addiction, disorders with similar issues have been studied. For example, these are substance abuse disorders, those related to impulse control, and those included in the spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Regardless of where we place porn addiction, the fact is that studies suggest the presence of persistent thoughts that demand the consumption of pornography. The way to escape from these suffocating thoughts is, actually, to consume pornography.

The problem that pornography can pose is directly proportional to the effort the person invests in controlling that urge to view porn. Treatment for this type of addiction is similar to that used with clients with OCD, trichotillomania, and substance abuse. As an example, experts use treatments that work with internal thoughts and experiences and focus on behavioral change, giving directions to achieve that change.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for ending pornography addiction

ACT is the correct treatment for the paradox that assumes the need to view pornography. We can consider it the type of therapy that’s part of the spectrum of cognitive-behavioral therapies. This is because it also deals with thoughts, emotions, and physiological responses. ACT, in turn, uses techniques to achieve behavioral change.

However, ACT makes use of several processes. In this study, there are a total of six that attempt to reduce the effects of the internal experiences that are prevalent, which is pornography viewing. It also increases the voice of other experiences, which may lead to other behaviors. In contrast, they may be different from pornography viewing and related to their values.

The six ACT constructs

  • Acceptance. The addicted individual has to be willing to experience those thoughts, sensations, and emotions without the objective of regulating them. They must simply accept them as they are.
  • Defusion. To not add verbal content to sensations, emotions, and inner experiences. Emotions are only emotions and have nothing to do with who a person is, does, or will do. These emotions must also be free of criticism.
  • One as context. Experiencing those emotions or that impulse to view pornography from the outside. This means that the subject is the context where those emotions take place, but the subject isn’t defined by those emotions in any case.
  • Values. This is an essential point of therapy. Define areas of the subject’s life that are important to them and towards which they’re willing to work and invest effort.
  • Commitment to action. Restructure and work so that the subject is committed to working towards the direction of their values.
 A photo of a woman counseling a man about pornography addiction

Results of the research: is ACT useful for pornography addiction?

Thanks to the participation of six people who appeared to fulfill the criteria for pornography addiction, professionals were able to complete the study. Their use was different. One person only watched heterosexual porn at work. Another person seemed obsessed with homosexual pornography. The other three only viewed it where the porn showed heterosexual sex. However, the last person only masturbated with images of women. All of the subjects were men and all were pornography addicts.

There were eight one and a half hour sessions, each conducted using the ACT approach. The results show how five of the six participants experienced a marked reduction in their pornography use as a result of the treatment. In addition, four of those five maintained those reductions over time. In addition, their quality of life and satisfaction increased after the eight sessions.

This study shows that those therapies based on acceptance of urgency and impulse and action in accordance with the values of each subject are useful for this type of problem. Behavioral therapies or emotion-based therapies are also effective alternatives.

The prevention of pornography addiction plays an essential role so that this disorder doesn’t increase. Therefore, we must confront this social disorder. This has already been done with the consumption of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and cannabis.

In conclusion, talking to children about pornography is highly recommended. This will facilitate safe and controlled access, as well as freedom from shame and moral judgment.

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  • Twohig, M. y Crosby, J. (2010). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a Treatment for Problematic Internet Pornography Viewing. Behavior Therapy, 4, 285, 295.