PornHelp.org turns one year old today. It’s not a huge milestone in the grand scheme of things, but for us it feels nonetheless like a good moment to reflect briefly on what we’ve achieved, lessons we’ve learned, and our goals for PornHelp’s next year(s).
We started PornHelp with a simple mission: to clear, current, create a comprehensive reference for people looking for help quitting porn. That mission was grounded in real and painful experience. Several years ago, we went looking for help quitting porn. But, back then, online resources were scattered, vague and beyond our cultural, geographic, and economic circumstances. Nothing we found collected and explained our options for finding help quitting porn in a clear, neutral, non-judgmental way.
We failed to find the help we needed back then, and as a result our compulsive porn use continued to consume our lives. Our actions caused pain and loss, and hurt everyone we loved. We didn’t want others who were lonely, scared, and desperate to quit porn to encounter the trouble finding help that we did. So, we founded PornHelp in hopes of preventing others from following in our footsteps.
One year on, there’s reason to conclude our mission is on the right track. If our web host’s analytics are accurate, in our first year over 14,000 “unique visitors” accessed PornHelp. Even if only a tiny fraction of those visitors came to the site seeking help for their or someone else’s porn use issues, we count that as a success. (If you’re one of those people, please let us know - we love feedback!) Concurrently, our visibility on the web has grown. We continue to rise in Google results for searches related with quitting porn, helped along by fellow members and organizations in the porn recovery community who have generously linked our site to theirs. We have also grown a healthy following for our Twitter account (@PornHelpdotorg), which tweets current news and issues relevant to our mission. And, we regularly respond to requests for help sent directly to us and via online forums.
There have been growing pains, too. We have found, to our surprise, that there is a vocal minority of mental health professionals who mock the existence of pornography addiction and doubt the legitimacy of people's struggles with porn. This has been disheartening, not just because the evidence of compulsive, destructive porn use is overwhelming and heartbreaking, but also because when examined, these critics’ objections to the “addiction model” tend to be far more nuanced and esoteric than their attention-grabbing proclamations would suggest. We’ve written about the “controversy” these critics have stirred up in some of the blog posts below.
In the year ahead, PornHelp will continue to focus on its primary mission of helping people find the resources they need to address their problem porn use. Our hope remains to someday establish an around-the-clock toll-free hotline or chat feature on our site, so that people struggling can make an instant, anonymous, judgment- free connection with another human being who understands their pain. For now, though, we here at PornHelp remain committed to providing the most helpful resource we can to pornography users who have reached the end of their rope and need reassurance that they are not alone.
Thanks to all who have supported PornHelp’s mission so far. To our second year and beyond!
Today we hope to open a discussion about porn and religion. (PornHelp neither endorses nor opposes any religious doctrine - see our statement here). This is a huge topic. Many of its facets exceed the scope of our learning and insight. So, we’re going to throw some thoughts out there and ask our readers to weigh in. Hopefully, you all will.
We resolved to try and tackle this topic after tweeting an opinion piece from a Minneapolis newspaper which makes impassioned and overtly religious arguments about the dangers of pornography use. We shared the piece because it appeared in a large-circulation publication in a major American metro area, and because the author spoke about his firsthand experience counseling young men struggling with problematic pornography use. Whether or not our readers shared the author’s religious sensibilities, we thought his piece made a worthwhile contribution to the public discussion.
Soon after we tweeted the piece, we became aware of criticism of that same article by skeptics of pornography addiction. What struck us about these criticisms was that they pointed, among other things, to the author’s religious bona fides as evidence of his lack of credibility. We’ve seen this before. Some critics dismiss concerns about porn’s impact on individuals and society at large as “moral panic”. They tend to discount individuals’ reports of problem porn use as largely driven by religion-induced shame. And, they count the pornography counseling efforts of faith leaders like the author in the piece we shared as misguided, and potentially harmful to their parishioners insofar as religious beliefs may lead them to diagnose porn use problems where none exist.
These objections raise some issues we find interesting, including the role religion does play, and ought to play, in the public discussion of pornography, how religion influences pornography use and feelings about its use, and the considerations in addressing problem pornography use through a religion-inspired lens.
Like we said, all really huge topics. So, we’re going to try to tackle this in bite-sized chunks.
Today, we start by offering up some basic statistics. These figures show (perhaps unsurprisingly) that religion and pornography both play a large role in American public and private life. (For the time being, we limit our discussion to pornography use and religion in America, because most research on the topic has studied U.S. porn users). They also lead to some baseline conclusions that we invite others to discuss and expand upon in the comments section.
Some statistics about religion in American life
According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2014, approximately 77% of the U.S. population identified itself as religiously affiliated, with the vast majority (70.6% of the total U.S. population) identifying as Christian (including Catholic), and the remainder consisting of small minorities of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and various other religions.
Among the 23% of non-religiously affiliated Americans, the bulk (15.8% of the U.S. population) were noncommittal about identifying with an organized religions (though roughly half of those considered themselves religious, but merely unaffiliated), while the remainder were evenly split between self-identified agnostics and atheists.
Religion occupies a “very important” place in the life of just over half of all Americans. A large majority of Americans considers religion at least “somewhat important” in their lives.
Some statistics about pornography use in America
Pornography, defined broadly as material designed and used to stimulate sexual arousal and aid masturbation (which we equate to Potter Stewart’s “know it when I see it” standard for obscenity), is a fixture of American life, too.
According to an exhaustive survey of American pornography viewing habits and attitudes released last year by the private polling firm Barna Group (available here), 33% of all Americans, male and female, seek out porn at least monthly, 20% of all Americans seek it out at least weekly, and 6% of all Americans seek it out daily. Men comprise the greater portion of porn users. 11% of Americans males 13 and over (that’s roughly 12 million male teens and adults) use porn daily. Over half (roughly 60 million) use it at least monthly. 1% of American females 13 and over (roughly 1.4 million female teens and adults) use porn daily, and 7% (roughly 10 million) use it weekly. The vast majority of users consume porn via the internet. Personal sexual arousal is the most often cited reason for using pornography (accounting for 2/3 of men, and over 1/2 of women).
According to Barna, pornography use is higher among non-Christians than Christians, though the degree of difference in porn use habits between those groups may be difficult to pin down, given the potential for underreporting of porn use among Christians. Indeed, many of the numbers cited above, though collected by reputable organizations with long track records, risk some softness around the edges. What it means for religion to be “very important” will vary across survey participants, for example. That said, they’re the best numbers we could find thus far. If others want to cite different statistics, please do so in the comments.
Looking at these raw numbers leads us to a few conclusions. First, given the prevalence of religious faith and pornography use in America, it seems logical that Americans should demand that their religious leaders weigh in on the topic of pornography use. Porn use is just too common of a human activity in this day and age to expect otherwise. Second, given the central role that American religious institutions stand to play in the public discussion of pornography, it seems important that they be well-informed and disseminate accurate and useful information and guidance. We would expect that guidance to encompass practical and spiritual considerations, and that it should therefore be grounded in both scientific fact and religious doctrine. (The turbulent confluence of these veins of guidance, we suspect, is the crux of the issue for many critics of religious counseling about porn.) Third, given the first two conclusions, it seems to us both illogical and counterproductive to use a person’s standing in the religious community, alone, as a basis for criticizing his expression of views about pornography. We should fully expect, and encourage, institutions that play an “important” role in the majority of Americans’ lives to participate in the public discussion of pornography. After all, if the numbers show anything, it’s that neither religion nor pornography is going away anytime soon.
This is a topic that begs for discussion. Thoughtful comments welcome.
We tweeted out two articles today, here and here, that are worth reading. One focuses on the stories of two men in Oregon who struggle with porn use, and how they’ve begun to tackle their problem. The other discusses pornography addiction from the point of view of mental health counselors in California. We like these stories because they reach a similar, and important, conclusion about the importance of connecting with other people as a first step to addressing problematic porn use.
People who struggle with porn use have a hard time asking for help. It’s embarrassing to admit that porn has taken control. Often, it feels like the only people trusted enough to keep a porn use problem secret are also the ones who would be most hurt by the revelation. And, for many, porn is a crutch, a shield against negative emotions that feel impossible to face.
We know that struggle firsthand. We lived the delusion of problem porn use. We made attempts to find help for years, only to give up again and again when it seemed too risky to reveal ourselves in an online forum, too painful to reveal our problem to loved ones, too impossible to get away from our lives to a treatment center or faraway therapist, too alien to talk to a faith leader outside of our background. It didn’t occur to us that “sex addiction” groups could help us, or that 12-step groups for people dealing with other addictions would welcome us. We didn’t realize that even if there weren’t any resources nearby, we could connect with people around the world by Skype, or conference call, who share our difficulties. We allowed ourselves to believe we were alone in our struggle, that telling someone about our problem would be unbearably humiliating and destructive, that if we couldn’t help ourselves, no one could.
That delusion nearly destroyed our lives.
We founded PornHelp to prevent you from wandering alone through the dark hell of compulsive porn use like we did. If you are struggling with porn use, the resources listed here exist to help you make a connection with another person who understands. It doesn’t matter which person you choose - a member of a 12-step group, a faith leader, a therapist, or a fellow problem porn user. It doesn’t even matter, for now, how you connect - in person, by phone, by Skype. The only thing that matters is that you make the connection. Now. Right. Now.
Still doubt there's help for you? Then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here for you. We care about you. We will help you find someone to talk to. You are not alone.
Here at PornHelp, we spend a lot of time thinking about a seemingly simple question: what is porn? As with any question of that ilk, its minimalist construction belies its deep complexity. Answering it entails not just identifying porn’s characteristics, but also (among other things) its origin, its purpose, and its impact. There are scholars who spend careers studying porn, and for good reason. In thinking about what porn is, we can’t just begin and end with Potter Stewart’s famous observation that we know porn when we see it. Recognizing and labeling porn as “porn” is just the tip of the iceberg.
Today, we thought we’d engage in a little thought experiment by putting ourselves in the shoes of a pornographer. If we made porn, what kind of porn would we create? What would we want it to do? How would we define success? By exploring these questions, we hope to gain insight about why some people develop porn use problems.
Let’s get some basics out of the way. We wouldn’t create porn for the fun of it. Sure, everybody wants to do what they love and love what they do, but for most working stiffs, the job is about a paycheck. If we were pornographers, we suspect it wouldn’t be any different. We’d make porn to make money. Simple as that.
With profit as our basic motive, we’d approach porn as a product, no different from toasters or vacation deals or gym memberships. Our goal would be for people to consume our product in a manner that turns us a profit. And, we’d probably - at least at first - aim to develop a product that appeals to the largest market segment: young and middle-aged straight men.
We’d ask ourselves: how can we make money from porn? As we’ve written here, we’d learn that we’re not going to turn a profit by getting our customers to pay for it. That business model is dead. Instead, our money would be made mostly in ad-clicks and user data. Our revenue would depend on getting our customers to click links that result in payments to us from other sites, and on keeping them on our site long enough to reveal things about themselves that make it easier for us to predict what other links they’ll click in the future, so that we can show them ads they’ll click, or sell their data to others.
Our business, in other words, would be intensely focused on understanding and influencing customer behavior. Our success would depend on keeping customers on our site, clicking, for as long as possible now, and getting them to come back later. How would our product play into that equation? By responding to what brings customers to us in the first place: helping them masturbate. Our porn would be designed to create and sustain our customers’ sexual arousal. We’d pay close attention to variables such as the age, race and body type of performers, and the sex acts that are shown, in order to get the perfect, most reliable, mix to keep our target demographic aroused and on our site.
But, here's a hitch. Masturbation tends to culminate in orgasm, and also with our customer leaving our site. But when a customer left the site, we would lose the chance to make money from that customer’s visit. So, we’d need to strike a balance between making our porn respond to our customer’s desire for sexual arousal while also not, shall we say, pushing him over the edge too quickly. It would be like a casino - the longer the customer stayed the more money we would make, so we wouldn’t want to make him blow his wad (sorry, had to) right out of the gate. Instead, we would want our customer to have a good enough time with us to keep coming back, but not so good that we lose the opportunity to make money on this visit.
To achieve that balance, we would invest heavily in real-time customer data mining technology to track every customer’s behavior on our site. We’d measure how much time customers hovered over links, the sequence in which they viewed areas on the site, and the characteristics of the porn they seemed to prefer. This information would, in turn, help us tailor each customer’s experience to keep him on our site now, and to get him to come back later.
Ultimately, our goal for each customer would be to maximize the number and duration of that customer’s visits to our site, limited only by three variables: (1) that customer’s time constraints (which we would aim to innovate around by offering new and more convenient means of access to our product), (2) that customer’s ability to control his urge to become sexually aroused and masturbate (which we would aim to reduce by delivering satisfying - but not too satisfying - product, by tailoring ads to him, and by selling his data to others who would do the same); and (3) by that customer’s physical capacity to sustain and repeat sexual arousal (which we would aim to increase by delivering well designed porn to get and keep him aroused).
So, let’s recap. We’d be in porn to make money. Our money would come from our customers' ad-clicks and site-use data. Since our customer behavior would be our profit center, we’d invest heavily in understanding how to influence it. Our principal means of influencing customer behavior would be by developing and delivering porn that kept customers clicking and visiting now, and inspired them to return later. Our porn’s core attribute would be its ability to create and sustain sexual arousal reliably, but not so effectively as to short circuit the duration of a customer visit. We would monitor our customers’ behavior to gather data that would allow us to refine our product offering to maximize the number and duration of visits for each customer.
Sound Machiavellian? Maybe. But it’s hardly uncommon. There are plenty of comparisons. Vacation resorts, online retailers, travel aggregators, digital media companies - all of them invest in analytics to help them influence customer behavior. Why would porn be any different? Answer: it wouldn’t. Or more precisely, it isn’t. People don’t produce porn for the fun of it. They do it because there is money to be made influencing your behavior through the power of your sexual response.
Longer-form writing from the PornHelp team on current topics relating to problem porn use and recovery.