Problematic Pornography Use May Amplify Individual Differences Leading to Distress

Problematic Pornography Use May Amplify Individual Differences Leading to Distress


In recent years, there has been much debate in the medical/scientific community regarding the potential addictiveness of pornography. While some experts argue that pornography consumption can become an addiction in the form of a compulsive sexual behavior, others disagree and assert that pornography does not involve all of the components of an addiction and that the term “addiction” is too ill-defined to accurately describe this behavior. However, regardless of whether or not it can be addictive, there are instances in which excessive pornography use leads to personal and/or relational distress. For the purposes of the present study, this is referred to as problematic pornography use.

While information about the possible contributing factors and/or causes of problematic pornography use is still limited, two theoretical models propose slightly different etiological courses: the Interaction of Person-Affect-Cognition-Execution (I-PACE) model and the Pornography Problems Due to Moral Incongruence model. The authors of this study sought to clarify the longitudinal associations between the variables associated with problematic pornography consumption using these two models.


The I-PACE model suggests that an individual’s core characteristics and circumstances may predispose them to consuming pornography in a problematic way (e.g., using it as a coping mechanism for stress). Then, even though the positive effects of the behavior may begin to diminish over time, the individual cannot stop because it has become a compulsive behavior, which leads to distress.

Similarly, the Moral Incongruence model proposes a pathway by which excessive pornography consumption may lead to distress known as Pornography Problems Due to Dysregulation. According to this model, a person may have “individual differences” that make them more likely to use pornography in a way that could lead to intrapersonal, interpersonal, and religious distress. Two individual differences that the authors identified as particularly relevant for problematic pornography use were sexual sensation seeking and sexual compulsivity. Furthermore, this model contends that an individual’s perception that their pornography consumption has become problematic increases distress.      


The researchers collected data from 317 individuals who were recruited via the research platform over the course of 6 months in 2017. During this timeframe, participants were asked to complete 7 monthly assessments which were designed to evaluate pornography consumption, individual differences, and distress levels over time. Then, the researchers leveraged a series of mediation/suppression models to analyze the data and determine whether or not there were associations between the examined variables (individual differences, pornography consumption, distress, and the perception that one’s pornography consumption is problematic). 


In the end, the investigators’ findings supported the two theoretical models in that there was a demonstrated association between individual differences, pornography consumption, and distress. They stated, “Specifically, pornography consumption amplifies the relationship between individual differences (i.e., sexual compulsivity and sexual sensation seeking) and distress (i.e., depression and sexual esteem) over a six-month time period.”

On the other hand, the authors did not find an association between pornography use and distress when they did not account for the individual differences of sexual compulsivity and sexual sensation seeking, which led them to believe that pornography consumption is less likely to cause distress in people who do not have these individual differences/characteristics.

Finally, they did not find a significant association between the perception that pornography use is problematic and distress, suggesting that this perception does not mediate or suppress the relationship between pornography consumption and distress.

Discussion & Conclusion

Although the researchers’ findings support the existence of problematic pornography, they remained reluctant to classify pornography use as an addiction, given the lack of empirical evidence on the matter.

They explained, “The purpose of this paper was to investigate the course of a pornography consumption pathology. We argue that our findings do suggest that some individuals – with certain individual differences – may use pornography in a way that leads to deleterious psychological and sociological consequences. As such, our evidence along with evidence proposed by both the I-PACE and Moral Incongruence models – suggests that problematic pornography use exists. Having said that, our model did not necessarily investigate the diagnostic criteria surrounding problematic pornography use. Moreover, we believe it necessary that those who wish to use the term addiction to describe problematic pornography use must provide more evidence regarding the criteria, or what Griffiths calls the “components” of addiction (e.g., salience, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, relapse, etc.). At this time, because the empirical evidence surrounding these components are notably sparse, problematic pornography use is the preferable term.”

These findings add to growing research on the potential pathways by which pornography consumption may lead to distress. Such information is valuable for both patients and providers when determining ways in which to manage problematic pornography use and its potentially damaging effects.


  • Hatch, H.D., Hatch, S.G., Henderson, E., Deichman, C., Johnson, D., Esplin, C., Halstead, A., & Braithwaite, S. (2022). Examining the Problematic Pornography Use Model: A Quantitative Exploration of Dysregulated Pornography Use. The journal of sexual medicine19(1), 132-143. DOI:

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