In today’s world you’d be hard-pressed to find a sex addict whose compulsive behaviors are not facilitated by digital devices—computers, laptops, pads, tablets, smartphones, etc. Fifteen years ago, it was reasonable to suggest that sex addicts who were acting out via technology should stay away from computers and the Internet altogether, or, if they absolutely had to go online, that they do so only in limited and highly controlled circumstances. Nowadays, however, this is just not feasible. Digital technology is a deeply integral part of modern life, and it can’t be avoided or even limited without creating a debilitating communications gap between addicts and their loved ones (and the world-at-large).
The good news is that sex addicts can now fight techno-temptations with techno-solutions, most notably the installation of parental control software on their digital devices. As the “parental control” label suggests, these products were originally developed to protect kids from inappropriate and/or unwanted online content and contacts. Over the years, however, the programs have become more sophisticated and more versatile, and they are now equally useful to adults hoping to control/avoid certain online activities. Recovering sex addicts find these products especially beneficial.
Importantly, recovering sex addicts should purchase and install protective software on all of their digital devices (recognizing that they can act out via smartphone just as easily and in all the same ways they can act out on a computer or laptop). It is best if they let their therapist, sponsor, or an accountability partner install and control the program’s passwords. This way, they can’t sneak in and tamper with the filtering/blocking, time management, and monitoring/reporting settings. Therapists, sponsors, and accountability partners can also give input as to which settings are best for a particular person. (Different addicts will need different settings, depending on their definition of sobriety and their goals for recovery.)
When buying a parental control software for use in sex addiction recovery, addicts should look for the following features:
- Customizable Filtering and Blocking. Nearly all protective softwares have preset filtering levels ranging from settings appropriate for young children to settings appropriate for adults who wish to stay away from certain types of sites/apps (i.e., recovering sex addicts). Most products offer customizable filtering, with blacklisting of specific sites/apps that would otherwise be allowed and whitelisting of specific sites/apps that would otherwise be blocked. The best filters analyze page content in real time, which means, for example, they can allow access to a fan fiction site while blocking access to any erotic stories on that site.
- Secondary Filtering and Blocking Features. In addition to website filtering and blocking, most products offer various secondary features, including:
- Online search filtering and blocking
- App blocking
- Social media filtering and blocking
- Instant message and chat blocking
- File transfer blocking (preventing the sending and/or receiving of pictures, videos, and the like)
- Video game filtering and blocking
- Profanity filtering and blocking
Obviously, some of these features are more important to recovering sex addicts than others. Softwares that include all of these are best, though, as even video games may contain significant sexual content.
- Time Management Features. Time management features control when an addict can use his or her digital devices, and the total amount of time each day or week that he or she can be online. Some products will allow and/or prohibit the use of certain programs and apps at various times of day. This feature is most useful with children—preventing them from playing video games after a specific hour, for instance, while allowing them to still be online to finish homework. But it can also be useful to recovering sex addicts.
- Monitoring and Reporting (Accountability) Features. Ideally, protective software products monitor online activity and provide an addict’s accountability partner with reports on usage, along with real-time alerts if the addict uses or attempts to use a digital device in a prohibited way. Available monitoring and reporting features may include:
- Websites visited
- Apps used
- Online searches
- Social networking
- Usernames and passwords
- Screenshot playback
Ideally, reporting is available to accountability partners remotely (accessible via their own computer or phone) at regular intervals, on demand, and via real-time text and email alerts.
- Ease of Use. Protective softwares should be easy to install and to customize. Ideally, users should be able to globally configure the product, establishing settings on all of their devices simultaneously instead of dealing with each machine individually. The best softwares offer free 24/7 tech support via email, phone, and live chat.
- Compatibility. Not all softwares work on every digital device. In fact, many are quite limited and therefore not recommended for sex addicts, who usually have a wide array of devices on which to act out. It is important to make sure a product works on all of your devices before you purchase it. It is also important to see how many devices the license covers. Ideally, you want to cover all of your equipment with only one license.
It is important to understand that protective software products do not guarantee sexual sobriety. In fact, sex addicts can almost always find a way to circumvent even the best of these programs. And if/when an addict is truly stumped by the software, he or she can just go out and buy a new device, using it secretly. As such, parental control softwares should not be viewed as enforcers of sexual sobriety. Instead, they should be seen as a tool of recovery that can help a motivated individual maintain his or her integrity and sexual sobriety.
As of now, the best parental control products for recovering sex addicts are:
- Net Nanny. $39.99 per year for one device, $59.99 for up to five devices, $89.99 for up to ten devices.
- Qustodio Parental Control. Qustodio can be downloaded and used for free, but that version does not have the full set of features. Recovering sex addicts need the premium version, which costs $44.95 per year for up to five devices, $79.95 for up to ten devices.
- WebWatcher. $99.95 per year for each digital device.
For paragraph-length reviews of these three products, plus reviews of other commonly used parental control software products, visit this page on my personal website.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health, creating and overseeing addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen high-end treatment facilities, including Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, The Ranch in rural Tennessee, and The Right Step in Texas. He is the author of several highly regarded books, including Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Love, and Porn Addiction. For more information please visit his website at robertweissmsw.com or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.