“My life is no longer about me, but about what I can do to improve wherever I am”

Porn addiction is not a clinically diagnosed condition. But that doesn’t stop swathes of men - for it is predominantly men - of all ages across the world becoming seemingly addicted to watching porn.

Erectile dysfunction amongst young men is on the rise, but opinions are divided as to whether this is as a result of porn or simply masturbation.

Studies have shown that pornography constitutes about 25 per cent of all search engine requests and affects the brain in much the same way as drugs. 

It has the potential to ruin relationships, sex lives and cause mental health problems but for many men, it’s seemingly impossible to give up. Yet some have.

There is a community of ‘PornFree’ men on Reddit where those who’ve successfully given up porn help those struggling with an addiction. It’s different from the famous ‘NoFap’ community, whose members have given up masturbation altogether.

“The NoFap crowd is a little more ‘out there’ compared to the PornFree subreddit,” regular poster Jack* explained to The Independent

“I reckon people would relate more to the latter, because we don't believe masturbation itself is a bad thing, just modern pornography where men can have more virtual partners in an hour than they would have experienced in a lifetime when our brains first evolved.”

And the men who’ve overcome their addictions genuinely want to help by passing on their advice.

“My goal in communities like these is make people feel OK to deal with this situation,” PornFree member Jason*, who’s recently passed the two-year porn-free mark, told The Independent. “That it's fine to have [a porn addiction] and acknowledge it. 

“Because from an outside perspective, and this is speaking from experience, it's extremely isolating.”

Like many members of the community, he didn’t tell anyone he knew about his addiction but sought solace online: “I was too afraid to be viewed as something lesser,” Jason explained.

A lot of the men have very similar stories and reasons for finally deciding to give up porn. For some, it’s the exhaustion of feeling like a slave to something you can’t control: “The major impetus for me to give up porn was because I was tired of being on the hamster wheel of addiction,” 44-year-old Dave* from Florida told The Independent.  

For 21-year-old Jacob* from Idaho, it was the realisation that porn was ruining his relationship, leaving his girlfriend feeling “insecure and emotionally neglected.” 

“It was a wake-up call when I was at risk of losing someone I loved,” he explains, adding that he didn’t want porn to be a coping mechanism when he had problems and he also hoped going porn-free would improve his sex life. 

George, who is college-aged, turned to PornFree after first getting involved in the NoFap community but then realising it was too extreme: “I decided to switch to PornFree because I'm starting to believe masturbation is healthy and porn is the problem,” he explained to The Independent.

The men talk about porn in the way a recovering alcoholic talks about drink. And much like trying to quit any addiction, it’s not easy.

For Dave, who’d been watching porn for over 30 years, it was “exceptionally difficult.” He started watching porn at the age of 12, which isn’t unusually young. Jacob was a similar age - he first discovered porn aged eight or nine, but didn’t start watching it properly until he was 13.

“Giving porn up has been one of the most challenging things I've ever done,” he says. “Today I rarely watch porn and have made a very significant amount of progress in my recovery, but unfortunately I am still not recovered entirely and occasionally have ‘relapses.’” 

Saw this on r/pornfree and thought it belonged here.

Jacob explains that relapses for men giving up porn can manifest themselves in various ways - some people miss work or school and go on porn binges, for example, much like someone falling off a diet decides they might as well plough through a whole packet of cookies after having just one. 

“Personally, my relapses consist of watching one to three videos a day for no more than three days at a time,” Jacob admits. “It really is an addiction for me, but fortunately, one that doesn't hinder my life.”

But George, who’s been watching porn since he was 11 and hasn’t fully given it up, found quitting porn far easier than stopping masturbation, and he plans to give up the latter again when he has a girlfriend.

“[Giving up porn is] still harder than quitting cigarettes or any other common addiction these days because watching porn is so easy to do at virtually no monetary cost,” he points out. 

George measures how long he goes without watching porn in “streaks” and believes giving it up is twice as hard as quitting heroin.

However all the men who are successfully living porn-free lives are now almost evangelical about the benefits of quitting porn.

Jack says he’s “better off without it on so many levels.”

“I'm more confident, emotionally sensitive, energised and overall more content with life,” says Jacob. He adds that his sexual performance has improved, he has a deeper appreciation and respect for women (and all people) and a clearer brain too.

One of the main ways Dave’s life has changed since quitting porn is that his relationships with his family members have “improved greatly.” 

He says he’s “more committed to personal growth,” sleeps better, has improved focus at work and is no longer running from his fears either: “My life is no longer about me, but about what I can do to improve wherever I am.”

And they all credit the forum on Reddit with their success.

“The PornFree community has been a beacon of hope, motivation, and encouragement for me,” admits Jacob. “It helped me realise my unhealthy habits, welcomed my shortcomings and provides a community of people who are in the same boat as you. 

“The most helpful thing about the PornFree community is the relief that I'm not alone, and I have an outlet to get help and have discussions with other porn addicts.”

The PornFree community is significantly smaller than the NoFap one, with 29,000 subscribers compared to 227,000. But it’s surprisingly tight-knit and extremely supportive.

“In the early days of my recovery, it was very important in knowing that I wasn’t alone and in connecting with others for support,” says Dave.

All the men we spoke to say they would absolutely recommend giving up porn to everyone, and it would be hard to hear their stories and not feel admiration.

Jacob believes quitting porn require you to be honest with yourself: “Admitting you're addicted, deciding what content to eliminate from your life and sticking to a strict personal code are all very difficult,” he says, adding that giving up porn has many mental and physical benefits for everyone, whether addicted or not.

Dave agrees, but thinks simply giving up porn isn’t enough: “People who give it up really need to examine why they were consuming it to begin with. They need to replace its use with more positive habits. 

“They need to make connections with real people. Working on improving relationships with people is essential for long term success.”

At the end of the day, masturbation is natural and both men and women have been doing it for millennia (probably). Porn, however, especially how we know it now, is a thoroughly modern invention.

George told The Independent how many of his young male friends had been thinking of getting viagra to cure their erectile dysfunction. But after he suggested quitting masturbation or porn, their problems went away.

But for George himself, the mental challenge is the main reason for trying to quit porn: “ By allowing yourself to embrace some pain of quitting porn, you will be more willing to embrace other pains like being assertive to people, doing hard work, working out and other things you usually don't want to do. 

“Also, why watch porn when you could be outside meeting girls? That'd make a man much happier in the long term than some kinky pixels on a screen.”

*Names have been changed

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