National Edition

Adolescent addiction: When pornography strikes early

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1 2014 4:00 a.m. MST

Fight the New Drug's Todd Blaquiere talks with Eastmont Middle School students about pornography in Sandy, Utah, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. Fight the New Drug is a non-profit organization that educates teens about the dangers of pornography by presenting them with the science as well as providing a free recovery program for those who are struggling with addiction.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

WALES, Utah — Justin was 11 when he first saw pornography.

He'd been looking for remote-controlled cars and found a cool YouTube video showing one making a huge jump.

He watched it repeatedly on his home computer, trying to ignore the sketchy video suggestions popping up on the side. But when his friend showed him the pornographic website those sketchy videos brought up, he was instantly hooked.

"At that moment, I wanted more," said the 18-year-old Justin, which is not his real name. "I looked up more. It was a constant need. I had no idea what it was. I was never happy with what I found. Even if it met my sexual preference, it didn't make me happy. I (just started) clicking and clicking and clicking and never stopped."

He's been struggling for years. He is just hoping he can stay in his latest inpatient facility in central Utah long enough to make some real changes.

"The urge to stop has been there for two to three years in treatment," he says. "It just hasn't reached the point where it's strong enough to overcome the temptation."

Justin is just one in a growing body of teenagers who find themselves unable to function because of an increasing appetite for pornography — which was often first found during an innocent Web search on a home computer. Experts say the age of first exposure is continuing to fall and is currently around 11 or 12 years old.

Not every adolescent who struggles with pornography will need something as drastic as a stay in an inpatient treatment center, and even if they did, the huge price tag is prohibitive for many.

For other teens, the struggle is still so private and hidden that the thought of opening up and asking for help is an impossible obstacle. Access to funding to begin an online treatment program is out of the question.

In an attempt to tackle both these problems, Fight the New Drug, a nonprofit group founded as an awareness campaign on the dangers of pornography, will publically release a free online recovery program in mid-January at www.fightthenewdrug.org.

The online recovery program, "Fortify," consists of 55 animated video lessons about brain science, addictions and self-analysis tools to help teens break out of an addiction.

Currently, Fight the New Drug said that it has more than 6,500 teens preregistered for the program.

"We're trying to give them what they need to get strong enough to move on,” said Clay Olsen, founder and executive director of Fight the New Drug. He terms this an “accountability partner” for struggling teens. “If their addiction is more in the early stages, our program should give them the necessary tools to move past it. If their addiction is what we consider a full addiction, then we give them the necessary tools to move past that into professional (help)."

Despite the ongoing debate in the medical world about whether pornography use should be considered an addiction, Olsen doesn't get caught up in the rhetoric.

Fight the New Drug has gotten thousands of emails from kids since its launch in 2010, many from kids wanting to join the movement to "make anti-porn cool," and many more expressing their own struggles, which, to them, look and feel exactly like an addiction.

Younger and younger

At least two or three days a week, for eight hours a day, licensed clinical social worker Matthew Bulkley talks with kids who are struggling with pornography. He helps many work past feelings of guilt and shame, and then teaches them how to manage negative emotions in positive ways — without turning to pornography.

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