Breaking the Porn Habit: Helpful Advice

Can you walk away from pornography?

Posted Apr 25, 2016

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Source: iStock

Recently, the makers of the Stop Procrastinating app, a time management and Internet filtering/blocking tool, conducted a non-scientific survey of 2000 men who self-identified as being hooked on porn but overcoming their compulsion. The authors of this survey do not tell us where they found their test subjects (perhaps from their own clientele), the demographics of the men surveyed, how they defined being “hooked on porn,” or how they defined “overcoming the issue.” Nevertheless, based on responses to their survey, they generated an online infographic that does offer some highly useful advice for breaking the porn habit. For instance:  

  • 76 percent of the men surveyed said that recognizing the damage porn was causing made them want to change their behavior.
  • 75 percent of the men surveyed said that adopting a clear-cut action plan for quitting porn was integral to their success.
  • 65 percent of the men surveyed said that developing an understanding of their triggers for porn use was a key to their success.
  • 70 percent of the men surveyed said that they installed an Internet filter/blocker to help them stay away from online porn.

Other popular action steps were finding an accountability partner, filling suddenly available free time with exercise or an enjoyable hobby, talking about compulsive porn use in group therapy or some other porn-focused support group, visualizing success, and meditating as a way to calm the mind and combat triggers.

Although Stop Procrastinating’s survey was nonscientific and (most likely) motivated by commercial interests, their results align rather closely with the recommendations commonly provided by therapists (such as myself) who work regularly with men and women struggling with online behaviors – not just compulsive porn use, but compulsive gambling, spending, gaming, romancing, social media, and the like.

Note: Using porn is not, in and of itself, a problem. Most people are able to use porn recreationally without ever becoming hooked or experiencing related problems, just as most people are able to drink alcohol without becoming alcoholic. That said, some people do struggle with porn use, just as some people struggle with alcohol.

In general, the first action step when working with porn-hooked clients is helping them understand and accept the connection between their online compulsivity and their current life problems — relationship woes, reprimands at work or in school, anxiety, social isolation, depression, lowered self-esteem, declining physical health, sexual dysfunction, etc.

Typically, these individuals have become so thoroughly enmeshed in their online sexual life that they’ve lost touch with the real world. They’re like drug abusers who “lose themselves” in substances for hours or even days at a time — compulsively using even as their lives fall apart.

Once the client understands and fully accepts the nature of his or her online compulsivity, an action plan is put in place. In my practice, I typically recommend a three-tiered boundary plan, constructed as follows:

  • The “inner boundary” lists bottom line problem behaviors the client wants to quit. For instance, a client might say, “I can no longer look at porn on my computer, my smartphone, or any other digital device. I can no longer cruise social media sites looking for erotic pictures and videos. And I can no longer participate in video chat because for me it’s like a live-action porn site.”
  • The “middle boundary” lists slippery behaviors and other triggers that might cause the client to backslide into inner boundary behaviors. For instance, a client might say, “I need to be careful if I’ve had an argument, if I’m feeling ‘less than,’ if I’m bored, if I’m on my computer when nobody else is around, etc.”
  • The “outer boundary” lists healthy and enjoyable activities the client can turn to when he or she feels triggered toward porn use. For instance, a client might say, “Instead of looking at porn, I can clean the house, play with my kids, read a book, hang out with friends, go to the gym, brush the cat, etc.”

Once this clear plan for success is in place — preferably put in writing and signed as if it’s a legal contract — it is much easier for compulsive porn users to recognize an impending binge and head it off at the pass.

Beyond this, installing an Internet filtering/blocking software is highly recommended. These products need to be installed on all of a compulsive porn user’s digital devices — tablets and phones, as well as computers and laptops.

Typically, protective software offers a variety of preset filtering levels, ranging from settings appropriate for young children to settings appropriate for adults who are struggling with a particular online activity. The better products also offer monitoring and reporting features, meaning a compulsive porn user’s therapist and/or an accountability partner is notified when he or she uses or even attempts to use a digital device in a prohibited way.

Each year, I post updated reviews of the best protective software products on my website. This year, three products top my list.

  • Net Nanny. $39.99 per year for one device, $59.99 for up to five devices, $89.99 for up to ten devices. Net Nanny offers superb filtering and blocking, excellent time management, and very good monitoring and reporting features — all of which are easily adjustable. This means the product works well for all age groups, including adults. One minor flaw is that notifications to accountability partners are available only via email. It would be nice if accountability partners could opt for texts, too.
  • Qustodio Parental Control. Qustodio can be downloaded and used for free, but that version does not have the full set of features. For complete protection, compulsive porn users definitely want the premium version – $44.95 per year for up to five devices, $79.95 for up to ten devices. Qustodio’s filtering and blocking features are very good. Time management is excellent. Monitoring and reporting are also very good.
  • WebWatcher. WebWatcher is a very good program, on par with Net Nanny and Qustodio, but it’s also really expensive at $99.95 per year for each digital device. WebWatcher is great about capturing the content of emails and IMs, logging keystrokes, and providing actual screenshots. The filtering and blocking features are also very good, as are the time management and monitoring and reporting features.

In closing, I think it is important to state that protective software does not guarantee success. In fact, compulsive porn users can nearly always find ways to circumvent even the best of these products. (For instance, they can simply purchase a new device, without the protective software, and use that one to surf for porn.)

As such, these products should be viewed as helpful tools rather than infallible enforcers. In other words, they work best in conjunction with other elements of healing, such as a concrete and well-defined plan for quitting, an understanding of what triggers the desire to use porn, and helpful support in therapy and/or porn-focused social support groups. Most of all, of course, the individual needs to feel and embrace a desire for change.