Breaking Free: How Buddhism Helped Me Conquer Porn Addiction

5 mins read
Published on May 24, 2023

Editor’s note: It is rare to share about porn addiction so openly, may this piece help those struggling out there. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, Joshua is not the author’s real name. This is a two-part article. The second part is here.

TLDR: Joshua shares how his porn addiction brought him on the path of the Dhamma and how the four noble truths spoke to him as he began his Dhamma journey.

​​​​I have been a porn addict for most of my adult life. It started when I was a teenager, and I would spend hours on the internet watching adult videos. It was like a drug for me, and every time I binged on it, I felt a temporary sense of pleasure and satisfaction. But as soon as the pleasure was over, I was back to feeling empty and unsatisfied, and the cycle would begin again. I felt disgusted at myself after watching it.

Here is my story of how I struggled with porn, how the Dhamma helped me overcome the addiction.

This is not professional advice and is not meant to replace support/help for those who need professional help. Do seek it out if necessary.

When Porn becomes a daily habit

As I grew older, I found that I was spending more and more time watching porn and engaging less time in real-life activities. I would fight for time to be alone so that I could watch it.

I was subsconsciously objectifying my female friends especially if they wore tight fitting clothes. This was unnerving to me. I wasn’t looking at human beings anymore but rather potential mates. I was slowly spiralling out of control.

I tried to understand why I was developing such a crazy tendency for porn. I could not pinpoint any reason as to why I would be hooked on it other than the engulfing lust that hits me from time to time. The search to understand why led me to the Dhamma.

My arrival in Dhamma

I heard about how Buddhism could help people break free from addiction, so I decided to give it a try. At first, I was skeptical.

How could something so ancient and spiritual help me overcome something so modern and destructive? Anyway, I am an ‘educated’ Singaporean who rejects traditions and begrudgingly participates in customs. This was something foreign to me.

However, the paralysing hold porn had on me led me to surrender the prejudices I had against the Buddha/Buddhism. I was tired of the cycles of lust and guilt.

I started by listening to Buddhist talks and the suttas that covered the topics of lust and desire.

I found many parallels with what Addiction Psychologist Gabor Mate, talked about. Gabor shared that addiction is like a cycle where the person is simply trapped like a child that never grew up or matured. We need to ask the right questions, ‘It is not Why the addiction but rather Why the pain?’.

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Both the Buddha and modern addiction psychology pushed me to enquire deeper, what pain am I avoiding? My initial ‘failure’ to uncover why I am addicted as mentioned above, was me just scratching the surface and not diving deeper.

The four noble truths and porn

I had to confess to myself that I had an addiction problem because I had a deep feeling of emptiness and dissatisfaction. I wanted to be loved. I was using pornography to fill a void, but it was never going to be enough.

Only by facing and transforming my suffering, could I then address the ‘symptom’ of the problem. The Buddha’s four noble truth stared me in the face.

1. There is suffering (I am suffering from this porn addiction)

2. The cause of suffering is desire (I cling to porn because I desire to be loved and fulfilled)

3. There is an end to suffering (My addiction to porn can end and I can break the cycle)

4. The way out of suffering is the noble 8 fold path (My desire for porn ends when I pursue a moral path capable of making me feel contented without the need for porn)

The realisation felt as if a rock that weighed me down had suddenly started to float. I could break free.

As I read, I started to understand the concept of the “three poisons” – desire, aversion and ignorance. I realised that these were the same forces that kept me trapped in my addiction.

Desire makes you want more and more and like the Buddha said that ‘there is no ocean vast like tanha (craving)’. It is always never enough. Aversion makes you push away things you dislike. The frustration and unhappiness with my feelings of emptiness and not feeling loved, made me push them away by pursuing pleasure. Ignorance is the lacking wisdom and knowledge of the way out. Not being aware of the power one can have over the defilements instead of being led on by them.

Tackling the dangers of sensual desires

I started by tackling the desire and aversion portion of the problem, as I believed that ignorance would slowly fall away as I developed my wisdom. One sutta that really resonated with me was the Bhayasutta.

It states,

“Seeing the danger in grasping,

the origin of birth and death,

the unattached are freed

with the ending of birth and death.”

The danger of grasping onto this habit of pornography to find pleasure in life would ultimately lead me to many rounds of suffering or birth and death.

See also  What is Mindfulness in Buddhism?

I started to practice mindfulness and meditation to become more aware of these negative thoughts and feelings. Removing the triggers was key. I started to recognise them for what they were: empty, fleeting states of mind. 

Outside of my mind, it also helped to change my environment to support my return to normalcy. I opened my room’s doors at all times so that the fear of shame/being discovered was always there if I decide to surf porn.

In addition, I avoided placing myself in situations where I was exposed to attractive females in close contact. This included giving up drinking and avoiding nightclubs where dancing in close proximity could put my desires into overdrive.

Taking on the five precepts was a saviour for me.

The fifth precept, to not drink and participate in activities with intoxicants, was a struggle. However, I reflected that if mindfulness was already so hard to cultivate in meditation, why was I willingly impairing my mindfulness every Friday night?

Those friends who encouraged me to drink were not helping my recovery and I had to eventually let go of those social circles to build my mindfulness. It was not easy. But it had to be done.

Hanging out with Dhamma friends I made in Buddhist circles helped me transition out of my old friendship circles. Night chats revolved around tea and iced lemon tea, with deep reflections on life. I slowly uncovered that everyone has their own struggles.

Hearing a fellow Dhamma friend share his struggles with womanising made me realise how rare it was to have deep conversations without a need for social lubricants (alcohol or smoking). Being present is all you need. It is amazing how the Dhamma brought us together. Walking the path towards lesser defilements.

I am grateful for how the Dhamma showed me the way out of addiction and into a freer life.

Thanks for reading my story. I will share in the next story 5 practical ways that helped reduced my porn addiction.


Wise Steps:

  • If there is a bad habit that we wish to quit we need to find changes in the environment and the social circles we keep
  • Addiction is extremely tough, but with friends, loved ones, and the Dhamma, we can slowly break through our clinging
  • Seek professional help if your welfare is being compromised severely by addictions like pornography.
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