In today’s world, sex and porn addicts are as likely to experience their addiction online as in the real world. The era when strip clubs, singles bars, adult bookstores and theaters, public parks and restrooms, and notorious street corners were the venues of choice for sex and porn addicts are gone. Sure, those places do still exist, and plenty of sex and porn addicts do still visit. But these days, sex and porn addicts are far more likely to facilitate their addiction via hookup apps, sexting, porn sites, dating sites, webcams, social media, and other online services than they are to cruise around town looking for ways and places to act out.
Simply put, sex and porn addiction have become online addictions, heavily facilitated by the mostly anonymous, highly affordable access to sexualized content and contacts that digital devices provide. And because we live so much of our lives online these days – emails for work, texts with our spouse and kids, webcamming with grandma, Zoom meetings for work, Open Table for dinner reservations, keeping up with old friends via social media, navigation apps to keep us on the right road, and much, much more, sex and porn addicts can’t simply walk away from the internet as a way of staying sober. Life just doesn’t work that way anymore.
The good news is there are protective software products that can filter/block content that sex and porn addicts struggle with, while still allowing these individuals to use technology in other ways. These products can also create reports for an accountability partner, so an addict in the process of recovery can’t run off the rails without someone who supports his or her recovery knowing about it. (Most recovering sex and porn addicts find this type of accountability incredibly helpful in terms of maintaining sexual sobriety.)
As recently as a few years ago, filtering/blocking and monitoring/reporting were the primary things to look for in a protective software. As we’ve increasingly entered the smartphone era, however, other features are needed, most notably limitations on app usage, real-time filtering of web pages, and the ability to remotely track the location of a device (and therefore the user of that device).
Before we delve into features that recovering sex and porn addicts should look for in a protective software product, we want to acknowledge that installing one of these products on an addict’s digital devices is not a guarantee of sobriety. In fact, most sex and porn addicts can, if they so desire, find ways to work around the protections – using a friend’s device, purchasing and using a new device in secret, restoring factory settings, downloading new browsers, etc. Still, we recommend installing protective software because it does put a barrier between the addict and active addiction, and this barrier will at least slow down an addict long enough to think about potential consequences and reach out for help. Installing protective software is actually one of the first things we do with clients at our Seeking Integrity Treatment Center, where we work with sex addicts, porn addicts, and paired substance/sex addicts.
Protective Features to Look For
Not all protective software products are created equally, nor are they intended to protect the same populations. The primary features that addicts should look for are filtering and monitoring capabilities. However, in the smartphone era, secondary features have become increasingly important. At the very least, recovering sex and porn addicts should seek the following:
- Customizable Filtering and Blocking: Nearly all protective software products offer some degree of filtering and blocking. Often, they have preset levels ranging from settings appropriate for young children to settings meant for teens and adults. The better products allow customization with whitelisting and blacklisting of specific sites. IMPORTANT: You want a filter/blocker that analyzes web pages in real time. What this means is that you could access a fan fiction site without any trouble, but you would still be blocked from any eroticized stories on the site.
- Monitoring and Reporting (Accountability): Accountability is especially important for recovering sex and porn addicts. Generally, your accountability partner will get reports at regular intervals showing how much time you spent online, where you went online, and who you interacted with. The better products offer real-time notification if you attempt to use your digital device in a non-sober way. Some products will also monitor and report on texts, downloads, uploads, search engine requests, instant messages, apps, usernames and passwords, etc.
- Time Management: Time management features let you set an amount of time or certain times of day when you can (and can’t) use your devices. The best products can be customized to allow or prohibit the use of certain programs and apps at various times of day.
- Location Tracking: Sex and porn addicts carry their phones with them everywhere they go. Recognizing this, most protective software products now come with location tracking. Betrayed partners love this feature, as it helps them know where you are at all times.
- App Limits: There’s an app for everything these days, including apps for viewing porn, sexting, flirting, hooking up, etc. There are even apps that are designed to hide other apps. So what might at first glance look like an innocuous game could actually be a porn or hookup site. Most apps are fine for most recovering addicts, but plenty of apps are not. You will want a protective software that blocks access to apps you use as part of your addiction.
- Easy to Install and Use: The best protective software products are easy to install, easy to customize, and easy to modify. You also want to be able to globally configure the software, meaning you put the settings in one device and they automatically transfer to your other devices.
- Compatibility/Licensing: Not all protective software products work on every digital device. In fact, many are quite limited (and therefore not recommended, as sex and porn addicts usually have a wide array of devices). It is important to make sure the product you buy works on all of your devices. It is also important to see how many devices the license covers. Ideally, you want to cover all of your equipment with only one license.
There are numerous products designed to protect people, including sex and porn addicts, in the online universe. As stated above, these products are not created equally.
- Net Nanny. Net Nanny Family Protection Pack costs $54.99 per year for up to five devices, and $89.99 per year for up to twenty devices. The software is usable on Windows, Android, Mac, iOS, and Kindle devices. Net Nanny offers all the features recovering sex and porn addicts look for, including social media monitoring, and it is easily customizable.
- Qustodio Parental Control. Qustodio costs $54.95 per year for up to five devices, $96.95 per year for up to ten devices, and $137.95 per year for up to fifteen devices. The software is usable on Windows, Android, Mac, iOS, and Kindle devices. Like Net Nanny, Qustodio offers all the features that recovering sex and porn addicts look for. It is also easy to use.
If you think your significant other or anyone else you care about might be sexually addicted, help is available. Residential treatment for sex addiction is available at Seeking Integrity: Los Angeles, as are online workgroups for male and female sex addicts. Seeking Integrity also offers online workgroups for betrayed partners and couples.