A new Yale study sheds light on what may be the most effective strategies for curbing porn use.

The study, which will be published the January edition of Addictive Behaviors, found that pornography users who had not previously tried to cut down on usage had higher levels of self-efficacy — self-confidence in their ability to follow through on a specific task — than those who had tried to curb the habit multiple times. Likewise, participants who were categorized as “hypersexual” had lower self-efficacy than those who were categorized as “non-hypersexual.” The questionnaire created by the study’s authors could be a useful clinical tool for patients seeking to reduce pornography use, said Shane Kraus, a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Medicine and one of the study’s authors.

“This [questionnaire] might be something that you could [use to] assess [a patient],” Kraus said. “That could be a gauge for treatment or just for self-exploration.”

Kraus said that the inspiration for the study came from wanting to see how specific strategies could help individuals who want to cut back on pornography usage without completely abstaining. The researchers applied ideas and strategies from work on traditional substance use disorders, he added.

First, the researchers created an online, 21-item questionnaire. Each item was a strategy participants could use to decrease their own pornography usage. One thousand, two hundred ninety-eight participants, all male pornography users, rated their confidence from 0 percent (“Not At All Confident”) to 100 percent (“Completely Confident”) in using each strategy successfully. Strategies ranged from “record the date and the length of time you spent watching porn after each session” to “do not keep a large stash of porn available” to “use a computer only when someone else close by can see the monitor.” Kraus said that these strategies were drawn from his experiences as a clinical psychiatrist, and mirror harm reduction strategies.

After administering the initial 21-item questionnaire, the researchers dropped 13 items that received extremely high self-efficacy ratings, overlapped significantly with other items or were not true self-control mechanisms. The questionnaire’s remaining eight items were used to assess participants’ confidence in their ability to cut down on porn usage.

Lead author Carolyn Tompsett, a professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University, said that this questionnaire is a new tool for scientists studying disordered pornography use.

Nicole Prause, a research scientist at UCLA, said that the study was a good first step.

“It’s a questionnaire design study, so it’s not particularly making any strong claims. In general I like the broad approach when people don’t make these strong statements,” Prause said. “I’m always concerned when people jump in and talk about sex addiction, as if it were a thing that exists when it clearly does not have good support and certainly isn’t in any diagnostic manuals.”

The study does not explicitly refer to pornography use as an addiction or disorder.

According to Tompsett, the fact that excessive pornography use is not categorized as a disorder in the Diagnostic Statistics Manual, a commonly cited resource for psychiatric disorders, does not mean it does not negatively affect people.

“For some people, [pornography] can be destructive and maybe [they] need some help to reduce their behaviors,” Tompsett said. “Whatever you want to call it, if it’s negatively impacting their life, then they probably need some help.”

Prause said that because individuals often attempt to reconcile their own behavior with what they report in studies, she wished to see the study bolstered by performance data, with participants actually seeing whether these strategies worked, and reporting back.

Kraus also said that he was interested in having the study replicated with participants who were actively seeking treatment, while Tompsett said she wanted to see if participants with high self-efficacy would actually reduce porn use.

According to a 2008 study in the Journal of Adolescent Research, nearly nine out 10 male college students and nearly one-third of female college students watched porn.