Torah-based Help for Porn Addicts, Free and Confidential

Jews 'caught in the shmutz' and unable to shake off the 'yetzer hara' can find support with Guard Your Eyes. It will even snitch to the rabbi for you.

When E. found religion in his early 20s, he discovered that he was able to break many of the “bad habits” he had acquired while growing up in a secular environment in Boston. Except one.

“I don’t have a tremendous urge to eat cheeseburgers,” says E., who moved to Israel after college and now lives in a settlement with his wife and children. “But with this, no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t able to stop.”

For E. and many observant people, it can be challenging to even say the word “pornography,” let alone seek treatment for a sex addiction. But just as Internet made erotic content more accessible, it also expanded the 24-hour support options for sex addicts who might be too shy or ashamed to seek out conventional therapeutic treatment. And crucially, these options for help are anonymous.

Now on the road to recovery, E. says he received the encouragement and tools he needed to fight his addiction at www.guardyoureyes.com, which bills itself as the leading resource in the Jewish world for those “caught in the shmutz.”

Not only the observant can feel 'evil inclination'

Launched in the United States in 2007, Guard Your Eyes has grown from a small personal website into an online community of 10,000, not all of whom are still active members. The site, which is funded by private donors, includes resources in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, and French - all offered anonymously and free of charge.

The site has a strong religious bent, with numerous references to “yetzer hara” ("evil inclination"), but founder Yaakov N. says that the number of secular members has grown in recent years and that he has started to advertise Guard Your Eyes more widely, including on non-religious websites.

"Anyone can use it, as long as you’re a bit spiritually inclined,” he says.

An Israeli-born computer programmer who grew up in the United States and now lives in the Jerusalem area, Yaakov declined to give his full name, saying that he prefers to remain anonymous because “nobody in my community knows I do this, and I don’t want people to look at me differently if they found out.” He says he created the website because he, too, struggled with temptation but found methods to keep strong and wanted to share them with others.

The public face of the organization is CEO Yechezkel Stelzer. Born in Argentina and raised in Israel, Stelzer served as a psychologist in the Israel Defense Forces and has worked with at-risk youth across the country. He joined forces with Yaakov a few years ago after observing firsthand the side effects of pornography consumption in Israeli society.

“We’re concerned about the strength of the family unit, and it certainly raises the chances of divorce,” he says. (As chairman of the Atid Echad, or “One Future,” party, Stelzer ran for Knesset in January on an anti-pornography platform but dropped out two days before the election, when it became clear that his party would not pass the minimum threshold.)

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, a New Jersey-based expert on addictions, calls online pornography a “plague”. He says he knows of many people who have benefited from the services offered by Guard Your Eyes, for which he serves on the advisory board.

“Right now this is the only effective tool that we have,” Twerski said in an interview. “Psychotherapy does not help when there’s an addiction without a support program, and Guard Your Eyes provides that support program.”

Accountability software that snitches to the rabbi

The Guard Your Eyes approach is based on the premise that there are different levels of dependence, Stelzer said. The website offers preventative tools, such as Web browser filters and accountability software that sends a report of Internet activity to a friend or rabbi, as well as treatment options for full-blown sex addiction.

There are also resources for the spouses of sex addicts and for those who suffer from "unwanted same-sex attraction." (On the Hebrew site, homosexuality is listed as a reason for seeking treatment through "medications and injections," though only as a last resort.)

Other resources include chat rooms for men and women - about 10 percent of the site’s members are women, says Stelzer - as well as daily inspirational emails, guidebooks, a telephone hotline and 30 weekly phone conferences with “captains,” recovering addicts themselves who are based in the U.S.

One of the “captains” is Steve, who lives in New Jersey and leads members through the 12-step program popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous and adapted for sex addiction. He says between 20 and 40 men call in to each session from around the world, including Israel, the U.K., France, South Africa, and China.

“We call this a disease and it doesn’t have any bounds,” Steve says. “These are guys of all ages, from late teens to their 60s, religious, secular, married, still single, divorced, whatever.”

The 12-step program is rooted in concepts found throughout the Torah, according to Steve. “The main point of the program is to break away from being compelled to follow the desire for lust, and to develop a new attitude toward life and a new relationship with our Creator,” he says.

While it is hard to quantify the success of the Guard Your Eyes approach, Seltzer claims his team has helped “a few thousand people” break free from their addiction.

M. hopes to be one of these success stories. A 17-year-old student at a religious high school in London, she told Haaretz that she started “acting out” at age 11 by logging on to chat rooms and flirting with strangers. Later, she engaged in more raunchy conversations and sent explicit photos of herself to her chat partners. She says she turned to Guard Your Eyes after her parents discovered her “double life” and has been “clean” for the past six months.

“Every time I felt an attack of lust I knew where to go,” she says. “Because the website is international, there are people on at all hours, and I’d get a reply within a half hour. I couldn’t have done it without the people there.”

Dreamstime.com
Emil Salman