When people ask Dan Gray how business is going, he never knows quite how to respond. Try asking a funeral director the same question and you'll know how Gray feels.
"It's very good," Gray says finally, but then he adds, "It's too bad that it is. I wish it weren't."
Gray is a therapist and co-founder of the LifeStar Network, which specializes in treating pornography addiction, and business is booming.
"We see so much pain," says Gray. "I'd prefer we didn't have so much business."
Porn is the new drug, much cheaper and more available than crack. You've seen the statistics. According to the Familysafemedia website, every second more than $3 million is spent on porn, 28,258 people are viewing porn on the Internet, and 372 Internet users are typing adult search items into search engines. Revenues in the porn industry top revenues for Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink combined.
If Gray were in almost any other line of work, you would congratulate him on his good fortune and uncanny timing in the business world, and yet he never envisioned any of it. Who did?
When he graduated from the University of Utah with a master's degree in social work, Gray went to work for the LDS Church's adoption program for 13 years. On the side, he started a small private practice that wound up treating men who were struggling with same-sex attraction issues. In the mid-'90s, Gray and business partner Todd Olson opened a clinic that specialized in the treatment of sexual addictions and compulsive behaviors.
"There weren't a lot of clinics for that at the time," says Gray.
Their timing couldn't have been better. The Internet rose up and took off a short time later and porn use soared. Imagine establishing a weight-loss clinic just before fast food and McDonald's became popular. The Internet provided instant, free, private access for porn, something that had previously been difficult, costly and awkward to acquire.
"We had programs that were already up and running, so we were ahead of the curve," says Gray. "It was serendipitous or divine intervention."
Today, Gray and Olson have 35 affiliates around the country that are licensed to provide their LifeStar program, including their Salt Lake clinic. They give speeches regularly on the subject and are consulted by leaders from a number of churches.
The porn plague shows no signs of slowing and continues to entrap more and more of the population.
Women are increasingly falling into the porn trap — Gray says one-third of those who use porn are women.
The average age of kids when they view their first pornographic images is 9. Many kids are carrying porn with them in their Droids and iPhones. "There are young men sitting in geometry class looking at it," says Gray. "This is not to mention the sexting that is going on."
Many of those with addictions to porn are highly productive, driven people caught up in "the shame cycle." As Gray explains it, "In a religious community like this, when people find themselves trapped in porn and act out, they experience shame and remorse, so then they kick into the control phase of the cycle where they hunker down and become even more productive and achievement-focused and do many good things as compensation for the shame they are feeling.
"There are a lot of high-functioning people who are addicted and maintain this double life for many years. Eventually it corrodes their self-esteem and self-worth. It takes its toll on them. They become distant in their relationship with their spouse. The spouses say a lot of the same things: 'I just don't know my husband.' 'He feels like he's a thousand miles away.' 'We're just not connected.'"
When Gray is talking about his work, he often employs martial terms — "battle," "fight," "war." "It is very fulfilling to be part of this battle to combat these evil influences and see clients beat the odds and find healing," he says. "We have a strong sense of mission, and it's hard work. We have nine staff members at our clinic and we all feel the same."
Ultimately, recovery is not merely abstinence or sobriety, he believes. "It's doing life better," says Gray.