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How to Stop Watching Porn: 9 Key Steps for Quitting Your Habit

Give yourself a break. Nobody has an inborn knowledge of how to stop watching porn. And getting into the habit is something that many people find all too easy. You're human, just like the rest of us. (We all give into certain temptations, at least some of the time. We all have our own ways of coping with day-to-day life.) But quitting a porn habit is absolutely something that you can do. Regular people continue to prove it every day.

That's why you're here, right? You probably carry hope for your own recovery. And you can probably sense that quitting porn is within the realm of possibility, even if it feels like you have a porn addiction. Well, guess what? You're about to learn some very powerful tips that many people like you are following to end their compulsive use of pornography. You're about to start regaining control of your life.

Just remember: You don't have to overcome your habit alone. If any part of the process is too challenging, please seek help from a professional counselor, therapist, or recovery program. Call toll-free 1-844-810-3700 to find a treatment provider in your area.

1. Forgive Yourself

Looking at pornography doesn't automatically make you a bad person. Even so, it's easy to fall into the trap of feeling shame or guilt about your habit, especially if it's having a negative impact on your life. After all, many people are quick to judge. And you probably judge yourself more harshly than anyone else.

But here's the thing: Anyone who could live in your mind and body, grow up as you have, and experience everything else that's happened in your life would probably make the same or similar decisions. That doesn't mean you can't change things for the better. (Right now, you're learning how to do exactly that.) It just means that, to a large extent, we're all products of our individual traits and situations. Demonizing your behavior is counterproductive.

In fact, practicing guilt or shame is like applying violent force to a problem that requires kindness and compassion instead. Guilt and shame can trap you in a never-ending cycle in which your porn cravings grow more intense over time. Trying to battle your habit with such negative emotions may work temporarily. But your urges are likely to return, again and again. When you give in to them, you'll likely feel even more ashamed, which will lead to more stress and stronger urges.

So if you truly want to learn how to avoid porn, then start by forgiving yourself. You don't need anyone's permission. Self-forgiveness is a powerful first step in creating a life without compulsive porn use. Leave the guilt trips and moral judgments behind. Recognize that pornography obsession is a systemic problem for all of humanity. It isn't yours alone. Be the kind and compassionate person to yourself that you hope others will be.

2. Explore What Truly Matters to You

Right now, you're probably thinking, “I want to stop watching porn. That's what matters to me.” But take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Do you have a clear vision of what you want the rest of your life to be about? Are your personal values well defined? Can you articulate what you hope people will remember you for?

Quitting your porn habit is a worthy goal. But it's important to understand how that goal fits into your overall vision and set of values. So take plenty of time to connect with what your heart is telling you. Find a quiet place where you can be alone and free of distractions. Then, try to answer the following questions as honestly and specifically as you can (without judging your answers):

  • Deep in my heart, what do I care about most in life?
  • What values am I willing to prioritize and stand up for?
  • What do I want people to say about me when I'm gone?
  • What does success mean to me? What does it look like?
  • How are my core values affected by my current situation?
  • When have I felt the happiest or most fulfilled? What was I doing?
  • When have I felt the proudest?
  • Who or what inspires me? Why?
  • What's missing in my life that I really need?

By contemplating those questions, you can develop an inner compass to help guide your future actions and decisions. If you feel stuck or unsure about this step, seek out a good therapist or personal coach to help you. Your core values are what ground you and give you a sense of purpose and meaning. They can be almost anything. Here are just a few examples of what many people find most important:

  • Family and friendship
  • Kindness and generosity
  • Passion and creativity
  • Joy and spontaneity
  • Love and compassion
  • Truth and wisdom
  • Peace and harmony
  • Learning and understanding
  • Achievement and recognition
  • Courage and authenticity
  • Faith and spirituality
  • Trust and loyalty
  • Health and prosperity
  • Fun and adventure

Once you have a clear sense of your core values and what you want from life, write it all down on an index card or something equally portable that can stay with you as a reminder when you need it. Your vision and values will play an important role throughout the rest of your journey. It will also make it easier to commit to your process of recovery.

3. Take Stock of Your Porn Habit's Impacts

Why do you want to quit watching porn? You may already have some very good reasons in mind. But it's often helpful to take a deeper look at the negative effects of porn in your life so that you can gain a better understanding of your core motivations. Taking a hard look at the impacts of your behavior can open the door to recognizing underlying (and unaddressed) issues that might be driving your porn use.

At first, it may feel painful to drag your shadows into the light. But it also may be the best way to dampen their influence. So, when it comes to your life, what have been the consequences of watching porn? For example, some compulsive users of pornography have reported effects like:

  • Wanting to watch more but getting less and less enjoyment from it
  • A general sense of emotional numbness
  • Boredom with—or a complete lack of interest in—actual sexual partners
  • Difficulty getting aroused or reaching orgasm without viewing porn
  • Becoming desensitized to images of abuse or sexual violence
  • A sense of disconnection from other people or reality in general
  • Various family or relationship problems
  • Financial struggles
  • Decreased productivity
  • Troubles at work or school
  • Heightened feelings of loneliness
  • A fear of real intimacy
  • Problems with focus or memory
  • Feeling physically ill
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Irritability

Remember: The point of closely examining the effects of your porn habit isn't to purposely make you feel shame or guilt, although you may temporarily experience those emotions. The point is to help you see the full picture. In Step 2, you created a vision of what you want in life. Now you get to compare that with what you don't want. The stark contrast may provide extra motivation to follow through with your goal of quitting porn.

This process may also give you new insights into your situation. It's possible that you may be experiencing an underlying issue that's affecting your mental health. In that case, your porn habit may be a symptom of something much deeper. If you think that may be the case, then don't hesitate to speak with a mental health professional in your area.

4. Recognize Your Triggers & Patterns of Behavior

This step is where things start getting really practical. It's all about identifying the personal feelings and situations that provoke you into looking at porn websites, magazines, videos, or other pornographic materials. By knowing the triggers of your habit, you can more easily avoid them.

The best way to accomplish this part of the process is to keep a journal of your porn-related cravings and behaviors. Every time you feel the urge to look at porn (or any time you actually watch it), write down exactly what you were feeling, thinking, and doing leading up to that point. For example, maybe you were:

  • Lonely
  • Bored
  • Tired
  • Hungry
  • Stressed
  • Angry
  • Sad
  • Anxious
  • Daydreaming about a sexual fantasy
  • Watching TV
  • Eating junk food
  • Drinking caffeine or alcohol
  • Sitting alone at your computer
  • Playing video games
  • Staying up late
  • Talking about sex with a friend

Whatever you were feeling or doing in the hours or minutes before your urges started, write them down. Keep your journal updated for at least a few weeks so that you can identify any consistent patterns. You may discover that you turn to porn as a way to cope with negative feelings, as a replacement for other needs that aren't being met, or as a temporary escape from an unsatisfying situation.

5. Identify Alternative Habits & Hobbies That You Can Engage In

Since you might be using pornography as a relatively easy escape or “pick-me-up,” it's a good idea to identify some other things that can replace your go-to activity. That way, you'll be better prepared when faced with the dilemma of whether or not to follow through on your urges. Without other activities to choose from, it may be difficult to avoid looking at porn, at least until you're more comfortable with some of the steps later in this article.

So, as part of your efforts to avoid falling back into the same troubling patterns, try to pursue habits or activities that feel healthier or more meaningful. For example, consider things like:

  • Exercising
  • Learning to cook something new
  • Going for a walk outside
  • Gardening
  • Participating in social activities
  • Planning romantic gestures for your sweetheart
  • Cultivating a new friendship
  • Playing with a pet
  • Doing something creative or artistic
  • Reading a new or favorite book
  • Taking a short nap
  • Meditating
  • Doing some household chores
  • Beginning a new sport
  • Learning to play a musical instrument
  • Asking a friend to introduce you to his or her favorite hobby

The key is to choose activities that leave you with a sense of accomplishment or renewal instead of feeling more depleted. On that note, you might be wondering about masturbation that doesn't involve porn. For some people, masturbating can be a trigger that leads to porn use. But other people are able to masturbate without any negative consequences as part of a normal and healthy sex life. So it really just depends on whether or not it's a trigger for you. If it is, then you may want to try abstaining from it while going through this process.

6. Practice Acceptance & Mindful Awareness

One of the most promising forms of treatment for compulsive porn use may be acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). It's based on the idea that trying to avoid difficult feelings or internal experiences only leads to more psychological distress and the amplification of unwanted habits. After all, situations that trigger your urges are inevitable. What matters is how you deal with those moments. So, instead of avoiding your urges, you allow yourself to experience and take notice of them as a curious observer until they pass.

A growing amount of research is generating empirical evidence to support the notion that ACT can be an effective treatment for a variety of mental health issues and addictions. When it comes to problematic porn use itself, the research isn't nearly as prevalent as it is for conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, some researchers see at least a few parallels between the two issues.

In fact, in one randomized clinical trial, ACT helped compulsive porn users reduce their habits by as much as 93 percent.1 Much more research is needed, but those results indicate strong potential for ACT, which should be welcome news for anybody who is trying to quit a porn habit.

So it may be worth applying some of the concepts of ACT to your own situation. If you can, find a qualified counselor or therapist to help you. The major concepts to explore include:

  • Acceptance and diffusion—Allow your urges, physical sensations, and unwanted feelings to come and go without trying to battle against them. Accept them for what they are—without judgment—so that they don't overwhelm you. Try to take a step back from them—as if you are simply watching them pass in front of you at a distance.
  • Being an open and aware observer—This concept is closely related to the previous one. Allow part of your mind to consciously and curiously observe everything that you're doing, thinking, or feeling. Give attention to your inner experiences without letting them define you.
  • Staying in the present moment—Embrace and connect with the here and now. Openly experience all of your internal and external circumstances without judging them.
  • Remembering your values—Review what matters most to you. Notice how your vision and values from Step 2 make you feel in the current moment.
  • Committed action (or non-action)—Align your behavior with your values, even if that feels uncomfortable at first.

The whole process is intended to help you become more psychologically flexible. That is, it can enable you to conduct your life according to your values—without getting caught up in your porn cravings or negative emotions.

7. Control Your Breathing

Along with acceptance and mindful awareness, slow breathing can help you ride out your urges or triggering situations. After all, for a lot of porn users, a rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing are signs of a strong urge to look at pornographic material. So, whenever you experience a craving for porn, try this:

  • Close your eyes
  • Slowly take a deep breath in—for between 5 and 10 seconds
  • Hold your breath for an additional 5 to 10 seconds
  • Exhale as slowly as you can
  • Repeat this process up to 10 times

8. Consider Blocking Your Access to Porn

Give the previous steps a reasonable amount of time to start working. But if you continue to find it too difficult to avoid looking at porn, then take action to block your access to it. Having easy access to pornographic material can, understandably, make the temptation to view it overwhelming for some people. Blocking that access may be hard to do indefinitely, but it may work as, at minimum, a temporary measure to help you while you follow through with the other steps. Consider actions such as:

  • Deleting all pornographic images and videos from your computers, mobile devices, and hard drives.
  • Destroying all of your pornographic magazines, CDs, DVDs, and videotapes.
  • Unsubscribing from porn websites and pornographic magazines or mailing lists.
  • Using anti-porn, accountability, or parental control software or filters on your computers and mobile devices. Examples include Qustodio, K9 Web Protection, eSafely, Norton Family, Covenant Eyes, Anti-Porn, and Net Nanny. Get someone you trust to install and set up the software for you so that you won't know the passwords to unlock them.

9. Get Outside Help

Always remember that support is available to help you overcome your porn habit. You don't have to deal with it all by yourself. In fact, you'll probably stand a better chance of succeeding if you get some extra help. Consider possibilities like:

  • An accountability partner—Approach somebody you trust and know will be supportive and discreet. It could be a friend, your spouse or partner, or someone else in your community that you respect. Be completely open and honest with him or her while talking about your goal of quitting porn. Ask for support and the ability to reach out during your moments of struggle.
  • A therapist, counselor, or life coach—Find a licensed professional who has experience with helping porn users and/or sex addicts work through their issues. A professional with knowledge of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be particularly helpful. If you're in an unsatisfying sexual relationship, then seeing a sex therapist or relationship counselor with your partner may also be beneficial.
  • A 12-step support group—The 12-step approach continues to work for all kinds of people. See if an organization like Sex Addicts Anonymous hosts meetings in your community.
  • Online resources and platforms—Explore websites such as Your Brain On Porn or NoFap for additional ideas and the support of other recovering porn users.
  • An addiction recovery program—Many rehab facilities offer treatment programs for people dealing with compulsive behaviors such as problematic porn use.

Ultimately, your goal should be to make progress. You don't have to be perfect. Nobody knows how to stop watching porn in a way that is both immediate and permanent. It's a journey. But you can definitely make it happen, especially if you get some help. Find professional treatment options in your area by calling toll-free 1-844-810-3700 today.

References

1 Crosby, Jesse M., "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for the Treatment of Compulsive Pornography Use: A Randomized Clinical Trial" (2011). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. Paper 999.