An Internet helpline launched for the porn addicted

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture
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Pornography is big business, a very, very big and lucrative business for the very reason that it is potentially addictive. With the rise of the Internet, pornography has probably never enjoyed a wider audience than now, with ranks of the curious, the earnest and the addicted growing each day. Now, a British-based company has launched a therapy website to help those addicted to porn break the habit.

The 24-hour, for-pay counseling website, HeLPAddictions.org, was launched as a way to treat porn addicts through an anonymous, Internet-based self-help regimen program. The site’s creators hope it will contribute to the recovery of millions of porn addicts in cyberspace and serve as a model of other porn-addiction treatments.

It is fitting, if not ironic, that the self-help program is Internet based and anonymous. Porn addicts can now reach out for help in the medium they feel so comfortable navigating. Anonymity in porn-addiction treatment is very important, as this form of addiction carries a great deal of shame and guilt. There are not a whole lot of safe and supportive places in which to try to tackle the problem constructively. The prevalent cultural attitude of fellow addicts may be dismissive of attempts to extricate oneself from the addiction, in much the same way that an alcoholic will find it difficult to find validation for his desire for sobriety in a bar.

Faye Blackwell, one of the site's three resident counseling experts, says that there have been an "enormous amount of people" who have inquired about the site since it launched eight weeks ago. Just in the past week, she estimated that 200 to 300 people have shown interest in joining the program.

Blackwell and colleagues wanted to make the program easy and accessible. After logging on to the site and paying the program fee, members receive a 5-step therapy packet, along with downloadable audio files and access to a secure online forum community. More expensive program packages include "accountability software," which allows therapists to monitor the members' porn use, and telephone counseling sessions with one of the site's addiction counselors. Treatment packages range from $145 to $565 depending on the services purchased.

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Terry Gatewood, an addiction specialist at the Sexual Recovery Institute, says that the program covers important recovery information, and the protocol is designed to help porn addicts with the central issue of any addiction: the grieving process. Addiction of any kind is really about an exclusive relationship to the “high" – the feelings of excitement and distraction – that a particular addiction’s products supply. Giving up the addiction is like giving up a best friend – a friend who was always there to provide escape from the stresses, boredom and monotony of daily life.

Experts do not always agree when a habit becomes an addiction. Just as with any other addiction, when the porn interferes with daily life and real, human-to-human relationships, it is a warning sign that there is a problem. Addicts often minimize even these effects, rationalizing away their lack of connection to others or their lack of time as due to other factors.

Porn addiction, like any other addiction, can imperil one’s work and family stability. Thousands of men across the world have been fired because they have been caught viewing porn on work computers, and thousands more have been served divorce papers because they no longer relate to their wives and children, in preference to the hours they spend on Internet porn sites.

The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health estimates that 3 to 5 percent of the U.S. population suffers from some sort of sexual compulsion disorder.

While Gatewood applauded the efforts and education materials on HeLPAddictions.org, he still believes that face-to-face and group counseling is best.

"I would not recommend this as an exclusion to face-to-face therapy because it's that check-in and accountability that is needed when working with addicts, but if someone is in a rural area and can't get to a therapist or a meeting, this may be the best thing they can do," said Gatewood.

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