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Men Therapy When No Fap Porn Reboot Fails

When NoFap/Porn Reboot Fails

If you are reading this article, it is likely that you are searching for answers because NoFap or
similar communities have not worked for you. This is not uncommon. Like quitting smoking cold
turkey, attempting to discontinue masturbating and porn use through sheer force of will works for
some but not for most.

Why The Reboot Approach Fails Some Men

Popular approaches, even apparently common-sense ones, do not always work, and in some
cases may be harmful. Even researchers can fall into the trap of mistaking widely-held, albeit
incorrect, ideas as “scientific”. In one paper, the authors frequently referenced low-quality prior
research (Fernandez et al., 2021). They also relied on anecdotal evidence as support for the
reboot approach. Examples of this include statements such as “some researchers have”
(indicating there is no consensus or that most researchers do not concur), “some limited prior
research has suggested” (used to advance ideas that have limited evidence supporting them),
“there have also been a handful of clinical reports” (meaning anecdotal evidence), and “these
findings provide some preliminary evidence” (attempting to assert that the collection of weak
evidence cited somehow amounts to a credible body of evidence). To their credit, Fernandez et
al. (2021) did admit that their paper failed to explore negative side effects of the reboot
approach. Side effects are inherent to any treatment, and should be weighed when evaluating
treatment options. Some side effects of the reboot approach are discussed later in this article.

Different Goals Results in Different Experiences

Since every individual comes to a NoFap community with a different goal, this can sometimes
lead to conflict and poor experiences. On the Reddit platform, it is not uncommon to see a
discussion on the NoFap community (called a subreddit in Reddit parlance) that includes
accusations that a participant (called a Redditor) has misunderstood the point of NoFap. Some
posts on this platform even devolve into accusations of sabotage aimed at making someone
“relapse”.

When the differences in goals between individuals is taken into account, it becomes clear why
these conflicts occur. For example, we previously identified that some men come to NoFap with
the goal of quitting porn for deeply held religious reasons, while other men view it as no more
than a game where they try to see how long they can keep up a streak. For the latter group,
NoFap might be approached with some playfulness (Burnett, 2022) and their discussions may
be teasing or cheeky. For someone who views their use of porn as a violation of their beliefs and
betrayal of their identity, playful teasing is neither welcome nor tolerable.

Anxiety and Erectile Dysfunction

The previous article of this series highlighted that some communities have attributed sexual
performance issues to porn use, labelling the problem as Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction
(PIED). While this is not a medically recognised diagnosis, researchers have nonetheless
attempted to study it. Multiple studies have attempted to establish a link between porn use and
erectile dysfunction (ED). In one such study (Grubbs & Gola, 2019), the researchers found very
high and extremely stable erectile functioning among sexually active men who consumed porn.
They also found that cases of serious erectile issues were rare. Additionally, it was established
that men who viewed their porn use as problematic were likely to report erectile dysfunction; but
researchers found no direct link between porn use and the reported erectile dysfunction. Where
indirect links were found, they were explained by moral incongruence (which was discussed in
the previous article) and religiousness. This is in line with other research (Prause & Binne,
2023) which found that young or sexually inexperienced men often struggle to accurately
pinpoint the causes of their symptoms. In other words, there might be a correlation between
men who view their porn use as problematic and who also report erectile difficulties. However,
this correlation does not necessarily mean that porn is the cause of their erectile difficulties.

While there is no evidence to support the idea that porn causes ED, there is a large body of
research that established clear links between anxiety and ED (Prause & Binne, 2023). And this
link might explain why some men see their symptoms worsen after they engage with the porn
reboot method and online peer support communities. Engaging in porn reboot and with porn
reboot communities focuses attention on the very thing that the person is trying to avoid,
thereby increasing their anxiety about their perceived faults. In turn, the anxiety leads to
symptoms of erectile dysfunction. For example, the abstinence and reboot approach can make
things worse by increasing anxiety in anticipation of “relapse”, or after it (Prause & Binne, 2023).
Put simply, engaging with the porn reboot method can worsen symptoms of erectile dysfunction
by creating a vicious cycle of anxiety.

Negative Side Effects of the Reboot Approach

The founders and proponents of various reboot approaches and support groups have good
intentions – they want to help men conquer habits that these men view as harmful to
themselves. However, while they are well intentioned, research has revealed that the reboot
approach inadvertently makes things worse (Prause & Binne, 2023). When abstinence in porn
use is the measure of success, engaging in it and in masturbation is perceived as failure. Thus,
many men report feelings of disgust, despair, and hopelessness after “breaking a streak” of not
viewing porn or masturbating.
Another paradoxical outcome is that being hyper focused on control of sexual thoughts and
behaviours actually results in an increase in these thoughts and behaviours. This increase often
results in a feeling of failure (as discussed above) which is accompanied by a sense of shame.
Shame has been demonstrated to increase sexual desires by lowering self-esteem and thereby
weakening resistance to problematic behaviours (Van Tuijl et al., 2021). The overall result is that
reboot participants might find themselves caught in another vicious cycle, where their attempts
to control their thoughts and behaviours result in an increase in those thoughts and behaviours
and worsening distress.

Related to the issue of self-esteem is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the extent to which an
individual believes that they are capable of exerting control over their own behaviour, motivation,
and social environment (American Psychological Association, n.d.). A sense of having lost
one’s self-efficacy can contribute to relapses when attempting to change behaviour (Kennerley
et al., 2017). Additionally, individuals with lower self-efficacy may blame factors outside of their
control for their perceived failures. Common examples from the reboot communities include
blaming the producers of pornography, certain ethnic groups, or the government for failing to
regulate or ban pornography (Prause & Binne, 2023). Labelling oneself as an “addict” has been
associated with lower self-efficacy (Prause & Binne, 2023). So thinking of oneself as an “addict”,
and blaming that addiction on forces beyond one’s control may counterintuitively hinder
recovery.

Finally, a common tactic in the reboot communities is to shame other men for failing (Prause &
Binne, 2023). While well intentioned, this can lead to increased distress and contribute to a
vicious shame cycle as discussed above.

Conclusion

This article discussed reasons why the reboot method and reboot communities do not work for
many men. The reboot method focuses on the wrong symptoms and misdiagnoses the problem.
This is especially true when it comes to the idea of porn-induced erectile dysfunction, which
asserts that viewing porn causes erectile dysfunction. Simply viewing porn does not directly
cause erectile issues. On the contrary, erectile dysfunction has been clearly linked to anxiety,
which can be caused by a number of related or unrelated factors.
The final article in this series will examine-evidence based treatments for problematic porn use.
It will explain potential root causes of problematic porn use, and treatment options that are
backed by sound research.

References

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Self-efficacy teaching tip sheet. American
Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/pi/aids/resources/education/self-efficacy

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

Fernandez, D. P., Kuss, D. J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2021). The pornography “rebooting”
experience: A qualitative analysis of abstinence journals on an online pornography
abstinence forum. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 50, 711-728.

Grubbs, J. B., & Gola, M. (2019). Is pornography use related to erectile functioning? Results
from cross-sectional and latent growth curve analyses. The Journal of Sexual Medicine,
16(1), 111-125.

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

Prause, N., & Binnie, J. (2023). Iatrogenic effects of Reboot/NoFap on public health: A
preregistered survey study. Sexualities, 13634607231157070.

Van Tuijl P, Verboon P and Van Lankveld JJDM (2021) Associations between fluctuating shame,
self-esteem, and sexual desire: comparing frequent porn users and a general population
sample. Sexes 3(1): 1–19. DOI: 10.3390/sexes3010001

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.