Effects of a 7‑Day Pornography Abstinence Period on Withdrawal‑Related Symptoms in Regular Pornography Users: A Randomized Controlled Study

David P. Fernandez1 · Daria J. Kuss1 · Lucy V. Justice1 · Elaine F. Fernandez2 · Mark D. Griffiths1

Archives of Sexual Behavior

Comments: A strangely unsettling study with peculiar results, which we struggle to make sense of. The researchers claim they found no withdrawal symptoms during 7 days of abstinence, except among those who had reported daily (or more frequent) porn use. 7 days was chosen because withdrawal symptoms for most addictions manifest within 7 days. However, problematic porn use may be different from other behavioral addictions because participants can orgasm by other means, including by fantasizing about porn they’ve recently watched. So they get a partial “fix.” Also, perhaps less frequent users don’t begin to crave porn until they get bored with their own imaginations.

The participant sample was a poor one for the purpose of the study. It was non-clinical, 64,2% female, and participants only had to have used porn at least 3 times a week in the past 4 weeks to qualify for the experimental group. The researchers note that their “sample had relatively low levels of PPU [problematic porn use].” Indeed, the researchers acknowledge their sample’s:

specific sample characteristics (i.e., non-clinical, majority female sample of undergraduates from a sexually conservative country, most of whom were using pornography 3–4 times a week [61.4%], had PPCS scores below the clinical cutoff of 76 [84.7%] and had no intrinsic desire to quit their pornography use [89.8%]). These findings may not generalize to clinical samples, non-clinical samples with higher FPU or PPU, predominantly male samples, samples from more sexually liberal countries or samples composed solely of pornography users intrinsically motivated to quit their pornography use.

These results may mean that, unless one is porn-dependent (has serious PPU), one doesn’t suffer withdrawal symptoms. That conclusion would be consistent with the addiction model.

Incidentally, the addiction model holds that even without noticeable withdrawal symptoms, someone may be addicted if they suffer negative consequences despite which they can’t quit. It would have been interesting to know if these participants were able to masturbate to orgasm without porn (or porn fantasy).

Studies reporting evidence of withdrawal symptoms in porn users can be found here.


Little is known about whether withdrawal-like symptoms manifest when regular pornography users attempt to abstain from pornography. The present study used a randomized controlled design to examine whether (1) negative abstinence effects that may be potentially reflective of withdrawal-related symptoms manifest when a non-clinical sample of regular pornography users attempt to abstain from pornography for a 7-day period and (2) these negative abstinence effects would only manifest (or manifest more strongly) for those with higher levels of problematic pornography use (PPU). A total of 176 undergraduate students (64.2% female) who were regular pornography users (defined as having used pornography ≥ three times a week in the past 4 weeks) were randomly assigned to an abstinence group (instructed to attempt abstinence from pornography for 7 days, n = 86) or a control group (free to watch pornography as usual, n = 90). Participants completed measures of craving, positive and negative affect, and withdrawal symptoms at baseline and each night of the 7-day period. Contrary to the confirmatory hypotheses, there were no significant main effects of group (abstinence vs. control) or group × PPU interaction effects on any of the outcome measures, controlling for baseline scores. These findings indicate that no evidence of withdrawal-related symptoms was found for abstaining participants, and this was not dependent on level of PPU. However, exploratory analyses showed a significant three-way interaction (group × PPU × past 4-week frequency of pornography use [FPU]) on craving, where an abstinence effect on craving was found at high levels of PPU only once past 4-week FPU reached the threshold of daily use. While these exploratory findings should be interpreted with caution, they suggest that abstinence effects could potentially manifest when there is a combination of high PPU and high FPU—a hypothesis that warrants investigation in future prospective abstinence studies.