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Men Therapy What are Porn Reboot Communities

What Are Porn Reboot Communities and Why Do Men Turn to Them?

There are as many definitions of pornography as there are categories of the subject in question.
These definitions range from artistic expressions of what it means to be human, to depictions of
depraved acts that should never see the light of day. Others see porn as a capitalistic
commercialization of human bodies, while others argue that it provides a valuable source of
income for performers. Some see porn as debasing, others trumpet it as empowering. We will
avoid these dichotomous views and proceed with a definition that focuses on the individual as is
fitting in a psychotherapeutic context. Therefore, pornography in this article is defined as “any
sexually explicit material aimed towards sexual arousal” (Chasioti & Binnie, 2021). This
definition centres the client and acknowledges the client’s interpretation of the material being
consumed.

The following terminology will also be used in this series of articles:
● Internet porn: this article focuses on pornography that is consumed via the internet.
● Internet porn use: this neutral term will be used to refer to the consumption of internet
porn. It is intended to be value neutral, describing the act without judging it as either
positive or negative.
● Problematic porn use: this term applies to internet porn use that results in problems in a
person’s life. It may be defined as a problem by the individual, a relative or friend, or a
healthcare provider.
● Self-perceived problematic porn use: we will use this term in place of the term porn
addiction. Porn addiction is not a formally recognised diagnosis (Grubbs & Perry, 2019).
However, in a psychotherapy context, the problematic nature of porn use may be
determined by the client.
● Self-help online communities: this catch all phrase refers to websites, online groups, and
support forums that are used by individuals trying to quit porn use. Examples of
porn-focused self-help online communities include NoFap, PornFree, Porn Reboot, and
Reboot Nation.

Introduction to Porn Reboot

A common approach to quitting pornography and masturbation centres on what is referred to as
a “Reboot”—a period during which an individual abstains from viewing porn, masturbating,
achieving orgasms, or any combination of the aforementioned activities (NoFap, 2016). The
proposed benefit of this process is a purported “reset” of the brain with the goal of reversing the
effects of “porn addiction” (self-perceived problematic porn use).
NoFap is a website that has given rise to a movement centred around support groups for giving
up pornography and masturbation. Founded in 2011, the site asserts that it is a sex-positive,
secular and science-based organisation (NoFap, 2016). The site’s Getting Started Guide further
states that it welcomes women, though the vast majority of the members on the community
forums are men.
This series of articles will evaluate the claims of the “reboot” approach to quitting porn use
against current research and treatments for behaviours that individuals deem problematic.
Additionally, evidence-based recommendations will be made to help those who want to quit porn
use. This first article in the series will focus on why porn use is a problem for some men in the
first place.

Views on Pornography and Masturbation

There are people who watch pornography and are unbothered by it, and do not consider it a
problem. Whereas other people are distressed by their porn use and report feeling depressed,
ashamed, and even disgusted. What accounts for such varying reactions to porn use? The
following section offers one potential explanation.

The Cognitive Model 101

The way we think about things affects our experience of them (The Beck Institute, n.d.). This is
the theory behind the Cognitive Model, which is the shared foundation of a collection of
psychotherapies called Cognitive Therapies.

Situation + Thoughts = Reaction

This principle can be observed in day-to-day life. For example, if a friend passes you on the
street and does not say hello, your reaction to that will depend on how you interpret the
situation. If you think that your friend did not see you, then you will likely not be bothered by
what happened. However, if you think that your friend deliberately ignored you, then you will
probably get upset (Kennerly et al., 2017). In both scenarios the situation is the same, but how
we think about it affects our reaction.

Friend passes on road without saying hello + My friend did not
see me = Unbothered

Friend passes on road without saying hello + My friend
ignored me = Upset

Note that in each case, the reaction (unbothered or upset) is not fully explained with a simple
consideration of the situation and how you feel about it:

Friend passes on road without saying helloUpset

In other words, our reaction is not directly linked to the situation:

SituationReaction

Sometimes, what we think in the equations above is more than just a single thought about a
single situation. The thought might be part of a web that forms a belief system. For example,
someone might believe “people are generally mean”, which when applied to the preceding
example will result in the same outcome:

Friend passes on road without saying hello + People are
generally mean = Upset

The Cognitive Model Applied to Porn Use

The principles above can be applied to porn use and masturbation. Some people watch porn
and masturbate, and do not have a problem with it. Because they do not have a problem with
their actions, they feel no shame or guilt. Whereas for people who think of porn as something
that is corrupting their mind and body and ruining their life, their reactions might include disgust
and panic. Meanwhile, someone who views porn as a distraction that needs to be done in
moderation (like watching Netflix or playing video games) may feel annoyance or frustration
when they spend too much time watching porn and masturbating, but feel no other strong
negative emotions about it.

Simply put, viewing porn does not directly cause a specific reaction:

Watches pornDepressed

Rather, it is how we think about porn that causes distress:

Watches porn + It is just entertainment = Unbothered

Watches porn + I’m engaging in a sinful act = Ashamed

Watches porn + I’m not accomplishing my goals = Despair

Individual Motivations for Wanting to Quit Porn and
Masturbation

In view of the foregoing explanation, it should be clear that each individual will have a different
reason for porn being a problem in their life. Therefore, each person will also have a different
motivation for wanting to quit porn use. Motivation also affects the emotions associated with the
process, and how men feel when they think they are failing at the task of quitting. The following
sections examine some reasons that motivate men to quit porn.

Self-Mastery

Men who approach porn use with a goal of attaining self-mastery might view quitting as a step
towards self-regulation (Burnett, 2022). For these men, quitting porn and masturbation might be
comparable to going on a diet involving eating fewer sweet treats, or drinking less sugary drinks.
They are fighting a battle against their cravings, and they want to show themselves that they are
in control.

For men with self-mastery as their motivation, quitting porn and masturbation might also be
about self-improvement (Burnett, 2022). The man on a quest for self-improvement is not
satisfied with just eliminating doughnuts, he also goes to the gym and might take up running.
For men motivated by self mastery, frustration and self-criticism might be common emotions.
They may think of themselves as failures when they return to viewing porn or masturbating.
When combined with perfectionist tendencies, the emotional fallout from failing at their goal
might be stronger than any negative consequences of porn and masturbation.

Mental Benefits

Some men associate porn use and masturbation with negative physical effects such as a lack of
energy (Burnett, 2022). For these men, quitting porn and refraining from masturbation is viewed
as increasing their ability to be productive in other areas of their lives. Quitting a habit of
masturbation and ridding themselves of a desire to view porn are seen as the first steps to a
better life.

Central to the viewpoints of some of these men is the belief that sexual energy is transmutable
(Burnett, 2022). That is if they stop expending sexual energy viewing porn and masturbating,
that energy can be channeled into schoolwork, career advancement, improving their physical
fitnesses, or achieving financial independence.

Since their quest to quit masturbating and viewing porn is associated with major life goals, these
men may feel self-judgment when they fail at the task. They may worry that their life will never
improve, and might be depressed as a result.

Physical Benefits

One of the beliefs of some men who follow the NoFap movement is that masturbation and porn
use can lead to erectile dysfunction (NoFap, 2016). The community proposed that porn use can
lead to a condition that they have dubbed Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED). Men’s
distress in romantic relationships can indeed result in sexual difficulties (Chasioti & Binnie,
2021). However, it should be noted that PIED is neither a medical term nor a diagnostic criteria
in the medical or psychology professions. Men who believe that they are experiencing erectile
dysfunction should consult a doctor to eliminate any potential physical problems.

For men who believe that porn is affecting their ability to have and maintain an erection,
abstaining from porn, masturbation, or both is associated with an expectation of improved
sexual performance, attractiveness, and sexual energy (Burnett, 2022). A subsequent article will
discuss the scientific merits of these claims. Taken at face value however, it is clear why men
who associate porn and masturbation with sexual performance would feel anxious and
inadequate when they are unable to abstain from their habits.

Religious Belief

Many religious people tend to strongly disapprove of porn use, but also tend to use pornography
with some frequency (Grubbs & Perry, 2019). For some religious people, pornography use and
masturbation are considered sins. If a behaviour does not align with one’s values, then it is
understandable that engaging in the behaviour will result in feelings of distress. In academic
literature, this is commonly referred to as moral incongruence (Grubbs & Perry, 2019). When
someone with strong religious views on porn engages with porn, the moral incongruence may
produce strong emotions such as guilt, shame, and revulsion. For such men, quitting porn is a
matter of utmost personal importance.

As A Game

In stark contrast with men who view quitting porn as important to their values system are the
men who view it as a game (Burnett, 2022). Such men may engage in popular challenges such
as “No Nut November” which might be approached in a playful or cheeky manner not unlike a
dare between friends. Winning the game might make such men feel powerful, and in control,
while losing will leave them feeling disappointed (but perhaps not depressed).

Objection of Partners

For some men, the motivation to quit porn does not originate with them but with their partners.
These men may not see a problem with their porn use, but their partners might object to this
habit and ask them to seek help for it. Depending on their partner’s sexual history and beliefs
about porn, their reactions might include anger, disgust, hurt, or any combination of those
emotions (Skinner, 2017). If men do not understand or agree with their partner’s views on porn,
this might leave them feeling confused or victimized. And since most men, regardless of how
they feel, want to be good partners, each time they view porn against the wishes of their partner
they may feel remorse, embarrassment, or blame.

Conclusion

This article established that thoughts and belief systems affect men’s reactions to porn use. It
also demonstrated that the beliefs about porn—and not the porn use itself—are the source of
the distress and the motivation for men to try to quit porn use. The next article in this series will
examine and evaluate a common approach to quitting porn: the porn reboot method that has
been popularised by some online communities.

References

Burnett, S. (2022). The Battle for “NoFap”: Myths, Masculinity, and the Meaning of Masturbation
Abstention. Men and Masculinities, 25(3), 477-496. https://doi.org/10.1177/1097184X211018256

Chasioti, D., & Binnie, J. (2021). Exploring the etiological pathways of problematic pornography
use in NoFap/PornFree rebooting communities: a critical narrative analysis of internet
forum data. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 50(5), 2227-2243.

Grubbs, J. B., & Perry, S. L. (2019). Moral incongruence and pornography use: A critical review
and integration. The Journal of Sex Research, 56(1), 29-37.

Kennerley, H., Kirk, J., & Westbrook, D. (2017). An introduction to cognitive behaviour therapy –
Skills and applications (3rd ed.). Sage Publications.

NoFap LLC. (2016). Getting Started with NoFap. https://nofap.com/getting-started/

Understanding CBT. (n.d.). The Beck Institute. Retrieved January 19, 2024, from
https://beckinstitute.org/about/understanding-cbt/

Skinner, K. (2017). Treating Trauma from Sexual Betrayal: The Essential Tools for Healing.
GrowthClimate Incorporated.

Andre Brown

André Brown completed his Masters’s in Counselling Psychology in 2022. His approach to therapy is to provide an environment where clients can freely explore the challenges that moved them to seek help. He also facilitates exploration of the link between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, since the way that we feel, talk about, and think about the world affects the way that we live in it. You can expect André to spend time understanding your views and beliefs from a non-judgemental perspective. He will also challenge you to think deeply about the things which help you, and those which hinder you in achieving your goals. Ultimately, his goal is to equip you with the skills to be your own agent of change long after therapy is completed.