BYU senior Emi Bass came home from serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and began to date someone she considered to be a wonderful boy. He eventually opened up to her about his struggle to overcome pornography use.
“It affected his self-confidence, and he had wrapped so much of himself in this struggle,” she said. Without a lot of options for education on the topic, she turned to Google, searching for resources on how best to support someone struggling with pornography usage. She said at the time there was essentially nothing except fiery, scare-tactic sermons that may have been based in good intentions but were unhelpful. As a result, she founded The Un-Alone Club and serves as president of the organization.
Including The Un-Alone Club, the Utah Valley area has a number of in-person and remote resources for those struggling to overcome habitual pornographic use or pornography addictions.
These resources include in-person support groups and organizations, online courses taught by licensed therapists and experts and virtual options such as apps, social media pages and podcasts.
The need for resources
Benjamin Edelman, a former associate professor at the Harvard Business School, released a report titled “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?” The 2009 study highlighted Utah as the state with the highest number of online pornography subscriptions.
At the time, Utah topped all other states by having 5.47 online porn subscribers per 1,000 people. Utah and Mississippi were the only two states with subscription rates higher than 3.6 users per 1,000 broadband internet users. While this study is older, it demonstrates Utah’s history of high pornography use.
In March 2016, Utah became the first of 16 states to declare pornography as a public health threat. Former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed the resolution, which passed in the state House and Senate with unanimous votes of approval. The resolution states, “The Legislature and the Governor recognize that pornography is a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.”
The resolutions from these 16 states do not ban pornography, nor do they designate any money to combat it. However, the statements call for education, research and policy changes to address “the pornography epidemic.”
Some of the resources available in the BYU community and Utah Valley area include online and in-person content, groups and courses.
The Un-Alone Club is a BYUSA recognized group and has been growing in popularity. Club president Bass realized she needed to do something herself when one of the preliminary articles she found said if a man was using porn then “he is an addict, which means he is a liar.”
Bass said she was struck with inspiration and decided she would create the club, seeking to provide a stigma-free environment.
“People really jump to label people as addicts. There’s a huge difference between harmful habitual use and addiction,” she said.
The four main pillars of the organization are no shame, hope, community and validation. The club’s first focus is to be a shameless, stigma-free environment with no baseline standard of worthiness to attend, Bass said.
Bass has seen friendships made among club attendees and loves the group’s sense of community. Validation is a crucial part of the healing process, she said. Pornography use creates isolation, and The Un-Alone Club “preaches the ideal” riddance of porn usage but “honors the real” struggle of the task, Bass said.
Two of the club’s highest priorities are the safety and confidentiality of members, so they meet anonymously over Zoom every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. The virtual meetings allow for cameras to be off, with aliases used for names. Bass said she has loved seeing people start on Zoom as an “iPhone user,” then become comfortable enough to provide a photo and finally feel comfortable turning their computer camera on, allowing other participants to see them.
The club posts all of its meeting information, Q&A notes and inspirational messages on its Instagram page. The club also sends all content through an email list because “it is very common for someone who struggles to delete Instagram because porn is so accessible on Instagram,” Bass said.
Bass described her experience working in The Un-Alone Club as amazing. She said the people who are working so diligently to overcome their pornography habits are uncannily emotionally intelligent. It requires faith and vulnerability to join the club’s meetings by using their computers or phones to seek support and help, she said.
“You can’t not feel the Spirit at our meetings. The spirit of repentance is so strong,” Bass said. “They are filling their time with honest discussions. It’s just so powerful every single time.”
The Un-Alone Club’s meetings are mainly filled with different guest speakers and discussion leaders. Jade and Chandler Rogers have been guest speakers as the co-founders of the app, Relay.
Relay focuses on the belief that connection is the opposite of addiction; the app puts users into groups where they find accountability, motivation and daily emotional checks.
Jade agreed with Bass about stigma playing a large role in why porn use and addiction are so hard to stop.
“People feel like it’s their own problem to solve, but I think it’s so interesting God did not put us on our own individual planets, our own individual earths,” she said. “He put us on Earth together. All the people in our lives add to our progression and God made it that way intentionally.”
That belief was foundational for the Rogers as they created Relay. They’ve teamed up with many Church leaders and licensed therapists in the Utah Valley area to help get Relay to more people. The app’s usage is growing as bishops, therapists and users share it with clients and people they know.
“One of our users told us Relay was talked about over the pulpit at a stake conference they were attending,” Jade said.
Chandler came up with the idea of Relay after struggling with pornography for many years. Jade said she enjoys sharing how their relationship has been strengthened by their team effort and communication.
“I think it’s really valuable for people to hear from a married couple how they navigate a porn addiction,” she said. “Chandler told me only a couple weeks after we started dating, so I’ve had to navigate that through dating and our marriage.”
Bass wanted the couple to talk about accountability, tying back into the purpose of Relay. Rogers loves speaking about her experience as a supporter at different events because it puts everything into perspective again and again.
“Sharing our experiences hopefully benefits other people, but for me, it really puts the ups and downs into perspective. There’s a purpose behind it all and helping others know a healthy marriage is still possible continuously reminds me of how grateful I am to be Chandler’s wife,” she said.
The Rogers have spoken and shared their story with Greg Dunford’s therapy groups. Dunford is one of Relay’s expert advisors who has helped children, teens, adults and couples.
Dunford is a licensed counselor in sexual addictions and betrayal trauma therapy who has years of experience leading physical and virtual therapy groups. He and his wife, Julie, are serving as missionaries for the Church’s addiction recovery program.
Greg works alongside Julie in many of his professional endeavors and they have taught many couples counseling and healing courses together. Feeling, healing and dealing are their three main focuses.
First, Greg recognizes it can be difficult to sit with the discomfort or temptation when it comes.
“Moving through the temptation and pain instead of turning to a coping mechanism shows your brain that the craving won’t destroy you. You can sit with it, understand it, feel it and breathe,” he said.
He wants clients to understand how to recognize and channel their sexual energy rather than resisting it until it they can’t do anything else but turn to masturbation.
Then comes the Dunfords’ main lesson: Sex is good. Sex is not bad.
“Sexual energy is from God and is a beautiful gift that we have stewardship over. The ability to manage our sexual energy in healthy ways is meant to be a blessing,” Julie said.
God’s timing and healthy sexuality should be a person’s focus instead of a focus on a belief that after marriage a green light turns on for whatever an individual desires.
“It’s a timing issue. The idea that we shouldn’t talk about sex or sexual feelings until right before or right after marriage is such a disservice to all of the Church’s youth,” Greg said. The Dunfords said the youth of the Church deserve to be prepared and taught about sexual energy with love and honesty.
Teaching how to deal with pornography use begins with teaching agency, Julie said. In their courses, the couple emphasizes overcoming addiction is not about cold-turkey mindsets.
“If someone is watching pornography three times a day, it does no good to jump past first getting it down to two times a day. We want them to fully use their agency,” Julie said.
Greg added, “This is about taking control into your own hands and not thinking about that future day when you go on a mission or you get marriage or any other arbitrary day.”
Bass and the Dunfords agree shame is a large part of the problem because shame keeps people in addiction.
Julie said she is frustrated by the specific shame surrounding women who deal with a pornography problem.
“God made women’s bodies to be reproductive and experience pleasure,” she said. “The idea that ‘girls can’t be sexual’ is completely false and so shameful.”
The Dunfords have met and counseled hundreds of people through their professional careers and tell those who are concerned about porn use that “hurt people, hurt people. And healed people heal people.” They hope to continue helping clients understand that sexuality can be beautiful and healthy if it’s managed appropriately.
This interactive map shows the different meeting locations and times for various support resources. For those who struggle to overcome pornography, the map shows many available organizations including The Un-Alone Club (green), Relay (purple), the Men of Moroni (orange) and the Sons of Helaman (blue). (Made in Google Maps by Ingrid Sagers)
Resources for those who support
What is an effective accountability partner? What role does a spouse or parent play? Are they the same thing? These are frequent questions the Dunfords have heard during their experiences helping those who are trying to find ways to be helpful when someone is being hurt by using porn.
Rogers believes Relay is a great resource for supporters because it provides more accountability partners. For those who are trying to overcome their addiction and habitual use, Relay creates a reliable, transparent group of people working to better themselves. The weight of accountability does not have to rest solely on spouses, parents or children.
“Others become involved in wanting your partner to succeed and overcome their addictions,” Rogers said. “Relay gives supporters a place where their loved one can feel cared about by people who understand them.”
Bass collected a list of resources which include licensed therapists’ recovery courses and couples’ podcasts. These virtual resources can be found here.
Dunford’s years of experience have shown him addicts and supporters both need to have an understanding of trust betrayal.
“When a man tells a woman he has this big problem, he’s just hit that woman with a truck: She’s broken,” he said. “Guys sometimes think, ‘if I just stop looking at porn, I won’t hurt her, everything’s gonna be fine.’ What they need to do is validate her pain and acknowledge sincerely that what he has done has hurt her.”
He has seen supporters spend years wrapping themselves around their loved ones. He said, “It oftentimes becomes such an unhealthy, codependent relationship.”
Julie Dunford believes one thing must be very clear for a supporter: “It is so important, it is so critical, that an individual who is in betrayal trauma and is supporting someone else has their own revelatory, personal relationship with God.”
Rogers emphasized how different each individual and couple’s experience is while overcoming pornography’s grasp. She hopes Relay and her marriage story can both be tools to help those who are struggling.
“Since the beginning of our relationship, the view was very clear to me: Chandler is a good man and I realized I would be so honored to walk with him on this journey,” she said. “That’s a personal experience for our marriage, but the game-changer as a supporter was asking God to always help me see things as He does.”