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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.

Signs of addiction

  • • Experiencing overwhelming cravings to view porn
  • • Spending large chunks of time watching porn
  • • Frequent masturbation
  • • Losing attraction or interest in sex with spouse/partner
  • • Delaying/losing sleep
  • • Spending more time in isolation
  • • Lying to hide the behavior 
  • • Feeling guilty or ashamed 
  • • Losing interest in hobbies/interests
  • • Falling behind on responsibilities 
  • • Unable to focus on anything else

Porn Addiction and the Brain

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.

Porn Addiction in a Relationship

For some couples, a discovery about porn addiction happens when one spouse notices a significant change in their spouse’s behavior.  You may be concerned about your spouse’s behavior but are unsure whether he/she is addicted to porn. Or you may know for sure but are not yet ready to address the problem. Maybe you have seen your spouse watching porn, but he/she excuses the behavior and denies having an addiction. Regardless of where you fit in, the best strategy to protect your marriage is to be knowledgeable about porn addiction and its impact on your relationship.
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. For some couples, a discovery about porn addiction happens when one spouse notices a significant change in their spouse’s behavior.  You may be concerned about your spouse’s behavior but are unsure whether he/she is addicted to porn. Or you may know for sure but are not yet ready to address the problem. Maybe you have seen your spouse watching porn, but he/she excuses the behavior and denies having an addiction. Regardless of where you fit in, the best strategy to protect your marriage is to be knowledgeable about porn addiction and its impact on your relationship.

Some signs of a porn addiction: 

  • • Pornographic pop-ups and ads on shared devices

  • • A cleared browsing history or finding porn on your spouse’s browsing history

  • • Becoming easily frustrated or moody 

  • • Low self-esteem and increased feelings of inadequacy, especially for women who are addicted. 

  • • A lack of physical and emotional intimacy in the relationship

  • • Changes in your sex life:

    • • You spouse may not be interested in sex, or may not initiate sex as often as he/she used to.

    • • A sudden shift in sexual preferences. For example, a person with an addiction to porn may try to live out unrealistic sexual experiences they’ve seen online.

    • • Major red flag: If your spouse becomes demanding about having their needs met in a certain way during sex and ignores your discomfort. 

  • • Excessive use of technology, like staying up late on his/her phone or laptop

  • • Spending excessive time alone without an explanation or constantly demanding privacy  

  • • Falling behind on responsibilities and is unable to account for how he/she is using their time
On its own, each of these signs may not signify a porn addiction. But you know your spouse and your relationship best. With that in mind, observing a combination of these behaviors in your spouse over time does warrant concern.
Research shows that pornography use leads to lower relationship satisfaction and quality. It is also linked to divorce. What is it about porn that harms relationships?  

  • • Breaks Trust: Usually, a person who views porn does not want their spouse to know. Their attempts to hide the behavior by lying, being evasive, or spending increased time alone can create suspicion, disconnection and a lack of trust in the relationship.

  • • Decreased Sexual Satisfaction: Viewing porn creates unrealistic expectations about sex and intimacy in the mind of the viewer. He/she may begin to compare their spouse’s appearance and behavior against fantasies created in porn, which are heavily photoshopped and scripted. Porn also focuses on the self-gratification of one spouse and objectifies the other, while a healthy sexual relationship centers the pleasure and comfort of both spouses.  

  • • Lack of Emotional Intimacy: Porn depicts sex as a physical act only and eliminates the need for a couple to connect emotionally. Emotional intimacy is key to a satisfying sex life. The closer a couple feels to one another, the more trust and acceptance they build in the relationship, which makes it easier to be relaxed and open with one another during sex. Porn undermines this emotional connection.  

  • • Promotes Violence: Porn normalizes sexual aggression especially towards women. In one study analyzing violence in best-selling porn, 88.2% of the scenes contained physical aggression while 48.7% of scenes contained verbal aggression. Aggression was usually directed towards females while perpetrators were typically males.(1)
Finding out (or even suspecting) that your spouse is addicted to porn can be an incredibly overwhelming experience. 

  • • You may feel sad, betrayed, angry, confused, disgusted, or rejected. Make space for your emotions. Accept them rather than ignoring or repressing them. This is an important step in your own coping and healing. 


  • • It’s common for the spouse of a porn addict to blame themselves for their spouse’s addiction. Know that your spouse’s addiction is not your fault. Although it may seem like porn addiction is rooted in sexual desire, many people addicted to porn use it to cope with uncomfortable emotions, like stress, anxiety, or feeling lonely. 

  • • The most important thing that you can do is to find support for yourself. Call a helpline like Naseeha Mental Health or NISA Helpline. If you can, start seeing a therapist. You’ll need help working through your feelings, making decisions for your well-being, and beginning your own healing process. If therapy is not accessible to you, look for support groups in your area or virtually, or confide in a trusted friend.

  • • Take some time to understand the nature of a porn addiction. Despite being aware of its harmful impact, addictive behavior is difficult to stop. It’s likely that your spouse has made attempts to stop watching porn but failed. It’s also possible that your spouse’s porn habits preceded your relationship with him/her. Understanding the addiction is not about making excuses for your spouse. It’s about recognizing that his/her behavior is caused by a combination of factors, and that it will take more than just willpower to stop the addiction.  It’s also about making an informed decision regarding your relationship together. If you decide to support your spouse towards recovery, your knowledge about the addiction can help you be there for him/her.
It’s important to address your concerns about your spouse’s behavior in an open and honest conversation with him/her. If you come to the conversation with the intention to listen and understand your spouse, your discussion can create an opportunity for deeper honesty and intimacy in your relationship. 

  • • Give your emotions space.

    • • It’s normal to feel anxious about this conversation. You might be worried about your spouse’s reaction, or how the conversation will impact your relationship.

    • • If you’re certain that your spouse has a problem, you might be feeling overwhelmed, angry, and hurt. 

    • • Write them down. How does your spouse’s behavior make you feel?  

    • • Write down a few “I” statements that you can share with him/her. Doing this can ground you and help you better articulate yourself during the conversation.

  • • Spend time thinking about what you’d like to discuss with your spouse and rehearse if you can. See this resource on tips for how to prepare for the conversation.

  • • Focus on the present. It can be easy to get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts and to worry about the future of your relationship, or getting preoccupied with past behaviors. It can help to focus on how you are feeling, and what you can do to address the issue one day at a time. 

  • When you do choose to talk to your spouse about your concerns, try the following tips: 

  • • Choose a time when you know you’ll have privacy and when you both have not had a rough day with other stressors. 

  • • Start the conversation calmly and directly. Make sure that you come to the conversation with the intention of understanding your spouse, not blaming or accusing him/her. Tell your spouse that there’s something on your mind that you’d like to share with him/her. Share your observations about his/her behavior, and the concerns that this has raised for you. You can use some of these statements to get started. 
    • • I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately, and I’m worried about you. 
    • • The thing that matters most to me in this conversation is that we are honest with each other. 
    • • I know this is a difficult topic to talk about, but I want to talk to you about porn. I’ve been reading about the harmful effects of pornography addiction and how common it is, and I wanted to discuss this with you. Can we talk about it together?
  • • Focus on helping your spouse feel heard and understood by you–this is the backbone of good communication between a couple, especially with a sensitive topic like this one. This issue can make or break your entire discussion.
    • • This can be really hard. Keep in mind that listening and understanding doesn’t mean agreeing – it simply means trying to learn things from the perspective of your spouse rather than assuming what they think or how they feel. 
    • • For example, you may think that being addicted to porn means that he/she doesn’t value their marriage to you. But by listening, you may find that they do value the marriage but are struggling to quit porn for other reasons.
  • • Ask open-ended questions, like: 
    • • When did you first see porn? How were you exposed to it? How did you feel?
    • • Are you viewing porn now? If so, how frequently?
    • • What are you seeking when you use porn? What does it mean to you?
    • • How do you feel before, during, and after watching porn? 
  • • Be honest about your feelings. Tell your spouse or spouse how you feel about porn. How does it make you feel about yourself? About the relationship? Remember to use “I feel” statements by saying “I feel/felt [insert emotions] when [describe situation].”
  • • Come to an agreement.  It’s important for each spouse to be clear about what they are or aren’t willing to do going forward. 
    • • What do you each need from one another? Is the addicted spouse committed to recovery? What kind of support is he/she willing to accept? Understand that recovery from addiction is a journey that requires not only commitment from the addict, but an action plan, a support system, and accountability. 
    • • Porn, both discovered and discreet, impacts a marriage. It can be incredibly helpful to see a marriage therapist together. Are you both open to this?
    • • You’ll likely need to have multiple conversations to work through these questions. Schedule a time with your spouse so that the conversation doesn’t get put off. If you decide to stay in the relationship, this will be an ongoing conversation in your marriage.
If your spouse is unwilling to talk about the issue, it’s still important for you to get the support that you need and decide what actions to take.
There are many paths forward once you’ve had the difficult conversation with your spouse. Some couples may decide to stay together and work towards recovery. They may find a way to heal and grow even stronger from this experience. For other couples, the best decision may be to end the relationship. Know that there is no right or wrong decision to make in this situation. The best thing you can do is to find support during this time so that you can work through your feelings and make a decision that is right for you. You can support your spouse’s recovery in a few different ways:  

    • • Make Duaa to Allah SWT to help your spouse on their journey to recovery. 
     
    • • Help your spouse identify a qualified professional they can turn to for help, including seeing a marriage counselor together. 
 
    • • Help him/her identify an accountability partner. 
 
    • • Know that recovery is a process and usually takes several months to years. Read the previous section of the toolkit titled “Support for Those Addicted to Porn” to understand what the journey of recovery could look like from your spouse’s perspective.
 
    • • Your spouse will experience periods of sobriety, and he/she will likely relapse in between. Discuss how you will support one another when a relapse happens. These suggestions can help.
 
    • • If he/she is open to it, help your partner identify and eliminate triggers. 
 
  • • It will take time and effort to rebuild the trust between you. Set aside at least 15 minutes each day to connect with each other. You can talk about the highs and lows of the day, and if you are both open to it, this time can also be used to check in on how your spouse’s recovery is going.
Finally, know that your spouse’s recovery is their responsibility, first and foremost. Even though you can be supportive, recovery is only possible if he/she is committed and willing to accept help from others. You should not be working harder than your spouse to help her/him to recover. 

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