One of the go to suggestions for pornography addiction treatment is an abstinence period. A period of time free from all sexual behavior or to stop watching pornography.
The average duration is 30 days free of any type of sexual behavior, including:
- Sexual intercourse
This is to allegedly “reset” the brain and dopamine pathways from a biological perspective.
It can also be a great way for couples to reconnect. It allows them to work on emotional intimacy and non-sexual physical intimacy.
Finally: A Study on Those Who Stop Watching Pornography
Despite this being a rather commonly “’prescribed” treatment plan, there is actually very little research on whether this is a scientifically sound practice.
Additionally, one of the markers of addiction is the experience of withdrawal. Many who argue against sexual addiction being a real phenomenon will say that there is no such thing as withdrawal from pornography use despite anecdotal evidence from those who abstain.
Some previous studies have noted that people who attempt abstinence from pornography experience withdrawal symptoms such as erotic dreams, irritability, attention disturbances, depression, mood swings and brain fog.
While these could be attributed to withdrawal from pornography, the authors of the study we are currently discussing state that these negative emotional effects could be the result of simply abstinence from sexual behavior and not necessarily withdrawal.
The Study: Background
This study, published this year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, was a randomized controlled study that looked at the effects of abstaining from pornography for a period of 7 days.
The authors hypothesized that there would be differences between the abstaining group and the control group on the following measures: craving, positive affect, negative affect, and withdrawal symptoms. They also hypothesized that there would be an interaction between the group (control or abstaining) and Problematic Pornography Use.
Psychology Undergraduate students at a university in Malaysia.
The authors do note that Malaysia is a conservative country when it comes to sex and pornography that does have laws that restrict pornography use.
The participants had to meet several criteria:
- They had to be at least 18 year old.
- They had to be regular pornography users.
176 students made the cut with 86 in the abstinence group and 90 in the control group.
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The control group was asked to continue engaging in their sexual behavior as normal.
The abstinence group was asked to stop watching pornography. But they weren’t required to abstain from masturbation or partnered sexual activity.
All subjects were asked to note, on a daily basis, the following things:
- Frequency and/or duration of any sexual behavior, measured daily
- Pornography use, daily frequency
- Duration of daily pornography use
- Masturbation without pornography, daily frequency
- Alternative sexual activity, daily frequency
- Efforts at abstaining from pornography, daily
- Pornography craving, measured daily
- Daily positive and negative affects
- Withdrawal symptoms, experienced daily
Creating a Baseline to Stop Watching Pornography
Prior to the start of the study, the authors assessed the following baseline measures:
- Previous 4-week frequency of pornography use
- Past 4-week average duration of pornography use per session
- 4-week frequency of masturbation without pornography prior to the study
- Prior 4-week percentage of pornography use that was accompanied by masturbation
- Previous 7-day frequency of pornography use
- Past 7-day duration of pornography use
- Baseline abstinence effort
- Craving for pornography
- Baseline positive and negative affect
- Problematic Pornography Use
- Intrinsic desire to quit or reduce pornography use
- Moral disapproval of pornography
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The Results of the Study to Stop Watching Pornography
There were no significant differences between the abstinence and control group on measures of craving, positive affect, or withdrawal symptoms. There was also no significant interaction between the group and Problematic Pornography Use.
Problematic Pornography Use and Gender
There were significant differences in the results based on gender.
Male subjects had significantly higher problematic pornography use and 4-week frequency of pornography use than female subjects.
The study also looked at the data based on Problematic Pornography Use (PPU) Scores.
When the PPU scores were low, there were no differences between the groups but when the PPU scores were high, there were significant differences on the experience of craving.
The hypotheses of the study were not confirmed. There were no significant main effects of the group on all measures.
This is in contrast to previous studies that used self-report measures where subjects reported experiencing withdrawal symptoms. The authors do note that their study used nonclinical samples and the previous studies had subjects who identified with PPU.
The study found no evidence of negative abstinence effects among pornography users who viewed pornography at least three times per week. The authors then suggest that for the average pornography user there is no withdrawal when engaging in a 7-day abstinence period.
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The fact that the study used a non-clinical sample means that the results might not be generalizable to people with Compulsive Sexual Behavior who try to achieve abstinence.
This study also contained more female subjects that other studies that have looked at this phenomenon.
From a clinical perspective, as someone who treats Problematic Sexual Behavior, these types of studies are helpful.
In this field there are some therapeutic interventions that seem like gospel despite not having a large amount of scientific evidence to back them up as a best practice.
It is exciting to see abstinence and withdrawal being studied so we can determine, in the future, if a 90-day abstinence period is actually an evidence based best practice.
Reference: Fernandez, D.P., Kuss, D.J., Justice, L.V., Fernandez, E.F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2023). Archives of Sexual Behavior. Doi.org/10.1007/s10508-022-02519-w
Do you feel your sexual behavior, or that of someone you love, is out of control? Consult with a professional.
Have you found yourself in legal trouble due to your sexual behavior? Seek assistance before the court mandates it, with Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.
Are you looking for more reputable data-backed information on sexual addiction? The Mitigation Aide Research Archive is an excellent source for executive summaries of research studies.