Like many men addicted to pornography, Max had tried willpower and prayer to stop.
It worked pretty well as long as the 19-year-old was living with other faithful Catholics. But when he returned home after finishing a mission project, he began to flounder — that is, until a friend tossed him a lifeline — a link to “STRIVE,” a 21-day online detox-from-porn program.
Soon after hearing about the program, Max (not his real name) signed up when he learned an anonymous underwriter had provided an added incentive by offering to pay for all new registrations for up to a year.
Since the program was launched in March, thousands of men have taken up the 21-day challenge, with about 100 a day registering, said Chris Cope of Cardinal Studios, which developed STRIVE with Catholic author and speaker Matt Fradd.
In addition, about 40 archdioceses and dioceses, including New Orleans; Orlando, Florida; and Portland, Oregon; have ordered more than 125,000 STRIVE access cards for priests to give penitents in confession or to men going through marriage counseling.
“Priests are very excited about this,” Cope said, “because they can truly meet guys with a plan they can begin that day and get on the path to recovery.”
Fradd, the author of The Porn Myth, a response to the prevalent cultural belief that pornography isn’t harmful or is even beneficial, said the program takes a “body and soul” approach that incorporates the emotional, psychological, neurological and spiritual.
“None of these is opposed to each other. Often, men try to recover by focusing on the psychological or the spiritual. Maybe they just try to pray harder or something. It’s a good idea to pray, but a number of things are required here,” Fradd said.
For example, Cope said, STRIVE helps men understand why they are turning to pornography, what their emotional triggers are and whether their technological devices are working for or against them.
As part of the program, participants are advised to place a filter on their devices. They are given a free trial of Covenant Eyes, an internet service that monitors, analyzes and processes screen activity and sends a report to the user and a designated accountability ally. Although other filters are available, Cope said Covenant Eyes is recommended because it offers the built-in accountability piece, which is a key element of STRIVE.
Participants in the program can remain anonymous when interacting in the online community, but each is strongly encouraged to establish a relationship with a trusted accountability partner.
“Matt says in the program very clearly that if you’re not willing to bring this out into the light to one other person, you’re going to fail,” Cope said. Most men choose someone already in their lives with whom they can share their struggles, such as a friend, priest or spiritual director. But if they don’t have anyone they can ask, he added, they can pair with someone in the online community. Accountability partners touch base daily or weekly via phone, messenger apps or in person, depending on their geographic proximity to one another.
For each of the 21 days, STRIVE participants view a short video that gives them a particular challenge. Among the videos is one in which a former pornographic film actor tells how she was drawn into the industry without even realizing it and then became trapped for 10 years.
Max said the daily challenges were the best part of the program for him because they helped him to embrace and practice the ideas presented in that day’s video. He also appreciated the support of the online community of other men who were struggling with the same problem.
Cope said 21 days was chosen for the length of the program because it provided enough time to cover the major topics and for participants to focus and see substantial change. Additionally, he said, “We felt like 21 days is a good length of time where men would commit, but it’s not overwhelming.”
Since STRIVE’s launch, participants have posted more than 14,000 comments in the program’s online community. “Overwhelmingly, guys are saying, ‘This is exactly what I needed,’” Cope said.
Still, he added, “The cool thing about the challenge is it’s not a silver bullet. There is no quick fix to this, but it lays out those things in their life they really need in place.”
Fradd concurred. “Freedom is one day at a time,” he said, “not a destination you reach after 21 days.”
He said after a talk he gave to young adults in the Archdiocese of New York recently, a number of men approached him to say they had taken the course and gotten a lot out of it. “Some said they haven’t looked at porn since they began STRIVE. Others have, but said they feel a new sort of courage knowing they don’t have to be enslaved by it.”
Max said the program reordered the way he viewed his addiction.
“It actually helped me to become less shameful over it and to recognize that not only more guys struggle with it than I realized, but it also helped me see that many of the natural desires involved with it are not bad. It helped me to have a plan in place to come at this better.”
He said he has seen a huge reduction in the number of times he has struggled with pornography and experienced less temptation, as well. “And it helped me to have patience with myself, not to get so upset whenever I would struggle with it and realize I’m human and broken and I’m not going to overcome this in one night, and it’s an ongoing, long battle — a war, really. In any battle, you have ... all these victories, but sometimes you get hit and knocked down and have a setback. STRIVE is changing my whole outlook.”
After completing the 21 days, Max said he got an email about a free membership to RISE, also produced by Cardinal Studios, and signed up. That program lasts 30 days and offers a practical plan to help men live out their faith in everyday life.
Fradd said that after writing and speaking on the issue of pornography for the last decade, it had been his dream to integrate everything he had learned into one course that would lead someone, step-by-step, toward healing.
“In my book, you will find stuff on brain science, what women in the industry go through and good websites and good advice, but nothing to walk you through step-by-step.”
Father Dan Beeman, a priest in the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, offered free access to STRIVE to men at his former parish of Holy Trinity in Norfolk in March after hearing about it on Twitter. About 100 men signed up, and several told him that it was the springboard they needed to take the challenge seriously.
“I’ve also heard many people say that it allowed them to look into other areas of their lives that needed spiritual growth and to begin to work on holiness in areas other than sexuality.”
Register correspondent Judy Roberts writes from Graytown, Ohio.