An addiction is a pattern of behavior that is difficult to control or stop, despite a person knowing that the behavior leads to negative consequences. Whether it’s viewed occasionally or often, porn is harmful and Islamically prohibited. A key marker of a porn addiction is when a person finds it incredibly difficult to stop watching, even when they want to. People with an addiction to porn often feel that they cannot control their urges and that their urges control them instead.

Many people, including those with addictions, wonder why porn addiction is difficult to overcome. Isn’t it as simple as just stopping the behavior? The reality is that porn harms the brain over time. It physically changes how our brain works. Let’s take a look at how this happens.

  • • Deep inside our brain, we all have a reward center that contains a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is released into our brain every time we do (or anticipate doing) something that we enjoy, like eating dessert or spending time with loved ones. 
  • • Viewing porn also causes the brain to release dopamine, but at unusually high levels. After watching porn, the rush of dopamine tells your brain: “Hey, this is a good thing! Keep doing it.” With repeated exposure, your brain will even release dopamine in anticipation of viewing porn again. Just expecting to view porn will result in the rush of dopamine!
  • • With time, your brain does what it is supposed to do – when it likes something, it makes those chemical pathways stronger. So, our brain alters itself to crave and find those pleasurable experiences again.
  • • As these cravings increase in the brain, they disrupt the part of the brain that helps a person make healthy decisions and control their impulses–the CEO part of our brain called the Prefrontal Cortex. This change in our brain is one of the key markers of addiction.
So even if a person may want to stop watching porn, the part of their brain that helps them make the right decisions and stay away from porn is compromised. The more that a person gives in to their desire to view porn, the stronger their cravings become. They start building tolerance–they need more of the behavior to reach the same dopamine “high.”  Porn consumption has similar effects on our brain as other negative behaviors, like smoking tobacco. The key difference is that tobacco is expensive and requires an I.D. whereas porn is available anywhere with an internet connection, completely free of charge! Easy access to porn makes it even more difficult for addicts to give up their habit. It also makes it incredibly easy for those who may “occasionally” watch porn to fall into addiction.  Learn more about how the brain is changed during addiction here.

Signs of Porn Addiction - Children and Teenagers

As parents, the idea of our children watching pornography is the last thing we want to think about. The reality is that growing up in the digital era provides easy access to a variety of content from an early age. Statistics around exposure to porn, whether intentional or accidental, show that the average age at which a child is exposed to pornography is between 11-13 years old. Findings from the Young Muslims survey show that 58.3% of Muslim young adults were exposed to explicit material between 11 to 14 years old.1 So the key is to get involved, stay informed and use preventive strategies from a young age! 

Signs of a porn addiction in your adult children (college students or older) are the same as the ones outlined earlier in the toolkit. For children and teenagers, the signs might also look like:

Signs of Porn Addiction – Children and Teenagers
  • An obsession with sexual behavior
  • An unusual curiosity about sex 
  • Academic and/or behavior problems at school
  • Losing interest in hobbies/interests
  • Unusual sleeping habits (i.e. sleeping late, waking late)
  • Symptoms of depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Excessive isolation in their bedroom
  • Lying to hide the behavior
  • Signs of premature sexual activity 
  • Unusual or unexplained credit card charges
  • Increased pop-ups or inappropriate emails on the computer
  • Computer screen changes quickly when you walk into a room
  • Increased secretiveness or defensiveness
During adolescence, the tendency to make impulsive decisions and seeking out novelty make teenagers especially vulnerable to porn addiction. Childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse, witnessing violence, or instability in the home can also make a child or teen more vulnerable to addiciton. Porn changes the brain, and given that the brain is still developing during these years, addiction becomes even more likely. Check out this infographic about the impact of pornography on the brain and behavior of teens.
  • Be mindful of your emotions
    • Pause. Don’t Panic. Take a few deep breaths. It’s important that you approach your child with wisdom and understanding, so take the time to prepare yourself for the conversation. If your child feels judged or attacked, it’s less likely that they will open up to you or allow you to help. Take your child/teenagers out for a drive or a walk where it can be easier to have the conversation. Also, realize that this will be an ongoing conversation with your child, and it’s your role to model positive communication in each conversation.
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  • Educate yourself. 
  • Begin the conversation with compassion. 
    • Approach your son or daughter in a calm manner and let them know what you have found on their device, or that their behavior is concerning to you. If they have opened up to you about their porn habits, thank them for being brave enough to let you know. Reassure your child of your love for them, and that your intention is not to punish them but to understand what they are going through and to help them. 
  • Ask questions and practice active listening. There could be a variety of reasons why your child is viewing pornography- accidental exposure, depression, stress, anxiety, loneliness, curiosity, peer pressure, etc. Try to understand their reasons, so you can help guide them. If they are talking, listen and don’t interrupt. You can ask the following questions: 
    • When did you first come across porn? How did you find it? Did anyone show it to you? 
    • How often do you view porn now? 
    • How do you feel after seeing such content?

 

  • Normalize feelings of healthy sexual attraction. Allah SWT created us with a body and gave us the ability to experience sexual pleasure, but He also set boundaries for us to experience pleasure in a healthy way. Especially if you have not discussed sex and intimacy before, now is the time to teach your child that having sexual urges is normal. Your son or daughter needs guidance about how to channel their sexual urges in healthy ways. It’s important to have multiple conversations about this and let your child know that this is something you are willing and open to discussing with him/her. Check out resources by author Firoza Othman for guidance, including her book, How to Talk to your Muslim Child about Sex. Discuss the difference between sex and pornography in a way that is appropriate for their age.
  • • Make a plan of action. It’s important that you learn about the impact of pornography so that you can help your child understand addiction and process what they’ve experienced as a result. Walk through the steps outlined in the “Support for Those Addicted to Porn” section of this toolkit and discuss a plan to begin recovery. If your child is old or mature enough, ask him/her what kind of support they would like from you. You can propose some of these ideas:
    • • Having daily or weekly check-ins about their progress, and using an app like Fortify to stay on track. 
    • • Helping him/her understand their triggers and managing them.   
    • • Helping your child to find a mentor for accountability
    • • Being willing to explore questions your child may have, no matter how uncomfortable the topic may be
    • • Let them know you will block access to porn, and set rules around the use of tech devices in the home. 
    • • Assist them in finding professional help
  • • Protect your home from porn. Update parental controls on devices, install porn blockers and limit device usage. Keep all devices in common areas of your home (not in their bedrooms!).
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  • • Read The FYI’s Digital Parenting Toolkit for practical tips on how to have a more proactive role in directing your child’s social media presence and use. Have conversations with all of your children about internet safety, the risk of coming across inappropriate content, and that you want your children to let you know if/when they come across such things. 
  • • Plan non-screen activities for your family throughout the week. Boredom is a common trigger for porn among young people. Especially on weekends when your children have more free time, enroll them into group-based activities or nurture their hobbies and interests through sports leagues, arts and crafts, youth groups, etc.
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  • • Encourage open dialogue and communication, especially around topics like love, sex, relationships etc.  If they intentionally or accidently view pornagraphy, you want your child to feel comfortable turning to you rather than friends or Google. Developing good communication skills with your children is critical for their growth, and for your ability to guide them in the right direction. This requires parenting them with patience, courage, and companionship. 
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  • Realize that recovery from porn addiction can take from several months to years. Addressing your child’s porn addiction, no matter their age, will be an ongoing conversation. Let your son or daughter know that you are there for them when they are struggling with anything. Have regular conversations about what he/she is viewing. As a parent, your role is to provide ongoing support and compassion during your child’s journey to recovery. Make sure that you are well informed and supported so that you can be their guide on the journey.

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