What “counts” as porn?

In porn addiction recovery communities, people will often ask questions about whether or not something that they accidentally viewed, intentionally viewed, or masturbated to should be “counted” as using porn.

Often, these questions are accompanied by worries about whether the incident “counted” as a slip-up or relapse, and whether they lost progress towards their sexual health goals. On the following page, we will answer your questions about what “counts” as looking at porn for somebody who is a NoFap member or anyone who is recovering from porn addiction or problematic porn use.

What is porn?

According to Oxford Languages, “pornography” is defined as “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” In practice, what counts or does not count as porn has been a matter of contentious societal and legal debate for years. In 1964, a United States Supreme Court Justice purportedly had trouble defining “hard-core pornography,” writing “I know it when I see it.”

Today’s porn, with its endless abundance online, is very different from the “pornography” of prior generations. While society has certainly gravitated towards an increased use of sexual media in popular culture, porn addiction recovery initiatives are generally uninterested in cultural wars. At NoFap, we’re focused on what a recovering porn addict should generally choose to abstain from for the purposes of recovery.

So, what “counts” for porn addicts in recovery?

To an extent, it does not matter if that thing that you viewed and masturbated to online is technically porn. What matters is why you chose to engage with it. Did you engage with it to stimulate erotic feelings? In other words, even if it isn’t technically porn, are you treating the material pornographically?

In a sense “porn” can be in the eye of the beholder. For example, a photograph of a foot or an armpit might be disgusting to some people and highly arousing for others. There are entire message boards devoted to swapping photos of feet and armpits – and would most people technically define such material as pornographic? Probably not. But is it helpful to engage in such material for recovery from porn addiction? Probably not.

Remember what is important for recovering porn addicts.

If you are engaging in media with the intention of eliciting a sexual response, it probably isn’t an excellent idea for porn addiction recovery. Such conduct often reinforces your prior problematic habit. Watching a movie containing nudity for entertainment doesn’t “count,” but intentionally watching a film for the purpose of a sexual thrill is probably not helpful for porn addicts in recovery. Following this perspective, masturbation to erotic fiction, softcore images, non-porn pictures that you fine sexually exciting, and animated porn could all classify as potentially negatively impacting recovery from porn addiction.

Accidental or inadvertent exposure to sexual media doesn’t “count” as a slip-up, just so long as you don’t continue to engage with it. You might not have control over your first thought or exposure to porn, but you control the action you take in response. Click here for more information on what “counts” as a relapse for a recovering porn addict.

The next time you wonder whether something would “count,” instead focus on whether engaging in it will benefit your sexual health goals. Consider:

  • Why am I looking at this?
  • Am I treating this material in the same way that I treat porn?
  • Is engaging in this behavior helping me reach my recovery or sexual health goals?

Instead of spending too much time thinking about what counts as porn or what doesn’t, instead focus on living a fulfilling life and making conscious decisions to take actions that align with your goals. If you are a porn addict in recovery, dwelling on potential “porn substitutes” might be analogous to searching for ways to circumvent your recovery parameters. Engaging in such non-porn material often leads porn addicts right back to excessive, out-of-control porn use. To sustainably recover from porn addiction, it is probably beneficial to stay as far away as possible from masturbating to sexual media for the foreseeable future.

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