Founder of Reboot Nation, Activist, Former Porn Addict
Like most adolescents in the world today, Gabe was exposed to hardcore porn well before the age of 18. What started as a habit driven by curiosity and a growing normalized culture around porn spiraled into a full-blown compulsive habit. Without expecting any sort of negative effects in his relationships as a result of his years-long porn habit, as a twenty-something, he started having trouble getting and maintaining an erection in real-life sexual encounters. Looking for answers, he found thousands of other young guys in online forums talking about the exact same issues he was having. Inspired to make a difference, change the conversation, and remove shame and secrecy among young people who struggled with porn and its proven negative effects, Gabe started Reboot Nation. It’s a site where anyone can go and join a supportive community while they “reboot” their brains and regain optimal sexual health by ditching porn for good. Listen to Gabe tell podcast host, Garrett Jonsson, about how pornography impacted his ability to be intimate with partners in real life, and how he’s since been able to create a supportive community of recovering porn addicts.
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An older guy who grew up using a Playboy magazine, where the novelty, and shock, and surprise wears off when you’re done turning the pages, and you have to wait until month until you get anything novel. The stimulation, and the level of conditioning can’t even compare to what internet porn can do to a young person. And so these young guys who grew up, like myself, wired deeply to internet porn. I was watching compilation videos in high school, where the clip changed every two seconds, I was seeing a drastic angle in the highlights in the best parts of porn clips. And I’d watch that for… you know, ten, 30 min, to an hour. So I’d see more naked people in ten minutes in that session in 2005, than our ancestors would see in an entire lifetime.
My name is Garrett Jonsson, and you’re listening to Consider Before Consuming, a podcast by Fight the New Drug.
And in case you’re new here. Fight the New Drug is a non-religious and non-legislative organization that exists to provide individuals the opportunity to make an informed decision regarding pornography by raising awareness on its harmful effects using only science, facts, and personal accounts.
As we sit down with experts, influencers, activists, and people with personal accounts, we cover a wide variety of topics that may be triggering to some- you can refer to the episode notes for a specific trigger warning. Listener discretion is advised.
Today’s episode is with Gabe Deem. He’s an international speaker, writer and activist. After recovering from porn addiction and a porn-induced sexual dysfunction himself, he has spent years studying the science of addiction, and now runs RebootNation.org, which is a free, online recovery community to help addicts and their partners overcome problems related to porn consumption. Gabe has presented at West Point, he’s been featured in a TIME Magazine cover story. He’s shared his story with Rolling Stone, MTV, Netflix, and many others.
With all that being said, let’s just jump into the conversation, we hope you enjoy this episode of Consider Before Consuming.
So we want to welcome to the podcast, Gabe deem.
Gabe: Thanks for having me, Garrett. I’m excited.
Garrett: We are too. We’re fortunate to be able to sit down with you. Um, I’m actually standing, so I shouldn’t say sit down with you. Are you sitting or standing? Gabe?
Gabe: I am popping a squat. Yes I am.
Garrett: [laughter] Nice. And you’re currently in, I sent the equipment to Texas. Are you in Texas?
Gabe: Yes. It arrived. Uh, Dallas, Texas.
Garrett: Nice. Um, I wanted to tell you for how I first heard about you, cause this is our first time speaking.
Gabe: Yeah. And I’ve seen, I’ve seen some of your stuff and I’ll tell you, uh, the first thing I saw about you when you’re done.
Garrett: Okay, cool. So do you know that I rode my bike across the United States? Do you know that?
Gabe: Yeah. So I’ll go ahead and say mine first, I saw, I saw your, um, video that fight the new drug pushed out a couple of years ago where I saw this dude riding a bike with a chain across the country. I was, my first thought was “what an absolute beast.”
Gabe: And then when you tie such an important message to doing something so insane, you realize that it’s not insane. It’s actually one of the more sane things to do because you’re trying to turn a negative into a positive. And I immediately respected that so much. And I’m, you know, I’m into fitness, I’m a trainer as well.
Garrett: Oh, cool.
Gabe: So just all around, I respected the, the way you used your message and how you decided to get it out there with, you know, physical fitness and pushing yourself to the limit and pushing back against the darkness. And I just thought it was all freaking fantastic. So that’s when I first heard about you. So cool.
Garrett: Well, thanks for the kind words and the encouragement. Um, well, the reason why I asked if you knew about the bike ride was because when I was flying out to Virginia to begin my ride in the airport, I saw the, it was like April of 2016. And I saw the Time magazine with the episode, like the cover story was on pornography and its harmful facts. And so I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is awesome. I’m coming out to, to ride my bike across, to build awareness. And I see a Time, the Time magazine has a cover story” and then I buy it and I’m reading it and your name was in there and now we’re speaking. So that’s pretty cool.
Gabe: That’s awesome. Yeah, that, that time magazine piece, in my opinion, as far as mainstream article goals goes was still probably one of the best articles to cover the topic and fight the new drug, got a shout out in there too. And it just really painted the picture for what it is that that young guys are quitting porn for health reasons. And it’s screwing us up something that we thought was going to be pleasurable and something that we thought was going to enhance our sex lives growing up, you know, we’re the, we’re the super bad generation where watching porn was just teen culture and joking about porn was completely normal. And again, we just thought it was something that would, you know, as everyone says “spice up the bedroom” and it ended up doing the complete opposite. And so, you know, you see a lot of mainstream articles that completely read as if they were written in the 18 hundreds as just, it’s a moral issue, this and that.
And a lot of misconceptions and painting porn addicts as loser shut-ins and their grandparents’ basements and all these things that don’t necessarily capture the true story of, you know, just about every young guy is super into porn by the time he’s in high school. And, and that we aren’t turning to porn for the, I guess, historical reasons of just trauma and abuse or shame or whatever, but we’re actually just, we all have easy access, chronically consuming it and it screwed us up. And that Time piece really painted a good picture. And at the end that even said that, you know, we’re going into a mainstream environment where there’s so many misconceptions and people push back on the concept of porn addiction. And it really clearly articulated that, you know, we’re trying to shatter those misconceptions. We’re all trying to raise awareness on the physiological effects and there’s no really other mission we have other than to raise awareness so people can make informed decisions.
And that time piece was a big shift in the mainstream, I guess, perception of the problem.
Garrett: Right. Yeah. I was surprised to see that in the airport. Um, well, let’s rewind to when was a reboot nation formed?
Gabe: Uh, March of 2014.
Garrett: What made you form this organization, Reboot Nation?
Gabe: Yeah. So, um, there’s a couple things, uh, there was a specific forum called yourbrainrebalanced.com that was specifically focused on porn addiction and sexual dysfunction. Um, but there was, it was just the wild, wild West of recovery forms, right? There is, you know, little moderation guys were encouraging prostitute use and all sorts of stuff like that. And the, I guess the ethics were nonexistent. There was no really oversight. And so, um, I wanted to start Reboot Nation to number one, have, you know, a little bit of a moderation kind of ethical guideline, uh, but also to really focus on the neuroscience.
Uh, that was another thing that some of the other forums were lacking was specifically pointing people to the neuroscience. And that’s kinda, that was, that’s always been my niche because that was what was most beneficial to me. And then also I wanted to raise awareness on the physiological effects of porn use. So that, that was always my intent behind Reboot Nation was to point people to the neuroscience, um, and to stay away from ad hominem attacks. And cause again, on some of the other forums, there was people just constantly making fun of each other, attacking it was not a healthy environment. And I wanted to kind of take a little bit of the, not the 12 step model, I guess, because we don’t have a model per se, but just kind of the guidance to where it’s a healthy environment. I wanted to make sure that Reboot Nation had some moderation to be a healthy environment.
Garrett: So it’s gonna be six years cause it started in 2014?
Gabe: Yeah. Um, March of 2014 and my own recovery was in 2011. Uh, but as far as Reboot Nation goes, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s consistently kept a pretty steady pace growing. We that 17,000 members, mostly young guys, uh, we do have some women on there as well. And there’s a section for partners too that have a loved one or a partner that’s going through addiction or sexual dysfunction recovery.
Garrett: Cool. So is it a registered 501C3?
Gabe: No, it’s not. It’s just a, it’s a free website that I, that I started. So it’s not a, yeah, it’s not a legit 501C3 or anything and it has no advertisements on it. Um, every suggestion for professional help I have, I just did that for free, just linked to some people on there. And so there’s nothing I don’t take donations or anything on the side or anything like that.
Garrett: Um, when you say you don’t take them on the site, is there another way to receive donations?
Gabe: Yes. So recently I finally got in the Patreon game. Um, so I do have a Patreon account. It’s just my name Patreon, uh, Gabe Deem. And so that is something that I do want to continue to grow so I can, you know, hopefully do this full time. This is, this has been a side passion project of mine, all the, uh, all the time and effort I’ve put in has just been on my free time to create content that I find that I think will be beneficial to people. And you know, so hopefully I can, um, eventually pour all my resources and time into creating helpful content.
Garrett: Cool. Well, we will link to your Patreon for our listeners that feel inclined to, um, go and support you in that way. Um, can you explain to our listeners what is a reboot?
Gabe: Yeah. So a reboot is our term for porn recovery and we use the word reboot. So you can envision your brain kind of like rebooting a computer, wiping it clean. You know, you essentially, the analogy would be you downloaded porn software and you’ve conditioned and taught your brain to respond to a certain stimulus, namely porn, to react a certain way and to become aroused by it. And so that, that term reboot is like taking your brain, uh, giving it a break, wiping it clean. And then we have a term called rewiring where you rewire or download more natural software for the analogy sake to where you, uh, rewire your arousal back to a real person. So avoid pixels on a screen, clicking from tab to tab swiping through porn websites, whatever the case may be, and then let giving your brain time to rest regain sensitivity, you know, regain dopamine receptors, etc., and then rewire your arousal template back to a real partner.
That’s the main goal of a reboot is to function sexually and in real life because we’ve, you know, a lot of guys in our generation have trained for the wrong sport. It’s like playing Madden, NFL on Xbox all through your adolescence. And then when you’re 25 years old, you actually might not even be able to throw or catch a football. And if you want to be good at football, you need to spend time on a football field. And if you want to be, I guess, good at sex or being able to have sex, you need to spend time around real people. And for younger kids, obviously we’re not encouraging young kids to go have tons of sex, but we are encouraging young people to spend time and connect with real people. I think that’s something that everyone desires at an innate level is connection. And the idea basically is the more connected you get through porn and online, the more disconnected you can get in real life.
Garrett: And who is the person behind the name, Reboot Nation. Are you the one who thought of that?
Gabe: Yeah, that reboot nation name is, is me. And I could not tell you who’s behind the concept of rebooting. Um, I can give you a little history though. So, um, in the mid two thousands, you had guys start showing up on forums about all kinds of topics, whether it was a guitar forum, a car forum, bodybuilding sites, uh, health sites. I remember one of the first sites I found was called Ehealthforum.com or something like that. And you would have threads all over the internet, thousands of posts long, and all these guys had one thing in common years of internet porn use eventually leading to leading them to a place where they couldn’t function with the real partner. And somewhere in the mid two thousands, maybe 2007, 2008 guy started calling it rebooting. The first guys that, you know, had the availability of the supernormal stimulus that internet porn is where the first guys developed problems.
And again, they were, they were the computer nerds. So they use that term “rebooting”, which, you know, is a, is a brilliant way to capture the phenomenon. And, um, and all of these, uh, reboot focused forums continued to grow as neuroscience came out. And as the young guys who grew up on this content were getting screwed up by the, by the thousands. And so now, you know, just English speaking forms alone, there’s over a million guys trying to recover. And then you have forums in China with, you know, one forum I think has over 3 million members. And so this is a worldwide problem. And the first generation to grow up with unlimited access to porn has realized it had the opposite effect that they thought it would, it, you know, they thought it would lead to more pleasure. But as I found out, in my case, it ended up taking my ability to experience pleasure away. So…
Garrett: Yeah I read a quote from you that said that you were told “porn would be a sex positive thing, but ended up being completely sex negative.” Um, can you talk to that a little bit about your experience?
Gabe: Yeah, so, you know, the, the concept of porn addiction, a lot of people think, “Okay, if you’re a porn addict, you’re probably running away from trauma shame and you’re, you’re easing the pain.”, but addiction specialists have over the last decade found out that there’s a new type of addict. And, uh, some of them have called this opportunity addiction, uh, Paula Hall, a therapist in the UK, she’s a brilliant therapist. And she often calls this “opportunity addiction.” And there’s two groups of porn addicts. And I would be in the second group, I would be in the pleasure pursuing group. So you have one group that might be easing pain and seeking relief. And you have another group that, you know, as a child, they were just pursuing pleasure.
They were a horny kid trying to bust nuts to pixels on a screen. And over years of doing that, they conditioned their brain to only respond to that certain stimulus. And so that would be me. Um, I never, I never turned to porn because I couldn’t get real life sex. Um, long story short, I never felt like I couldn’t have a real life partner. And I also became sexually active at 14. So right when my internet porn use was really taking off, which started around the age of 12, um, I was sexually active and, and through high school and college, I was watching porn and having sex. So again, like growing up, I thought, you know, I was watching this one show when I was a kid on like late night at HBO Skinemax or whatever. And they had this, it was called the Sunday Night Sexual.
I think her name was Sue Johanson. And she always talked about how, you know, “novelty will spice up the bedroom” and what better thing to turn to for novelty than internet porn. And she often recommended internet porn to a couples that would call in, you know, this was like midnight. My parents thought I was asleep and I sneak on the TV and be watching this when I was like 10 years old. And so, you know, from a young age, I thought porn would spiced up the bedroom. So I thought it was awesome. I thought it was pleasurable, which it was, you know, growing up as a teenager, it was pleasurable. It was awesome. In my teenage mind, I was completely unaware of the potential negative effects that it could cause. And so going into college, um, I was experiencing negative effects, but I had no clue at the time what to attribute them to, or that they were even that severe.
I just thought that was a part of me. Like for instance, my refractory re uh, my refractory period, the time it takes a guy to get another erection after he ejaculated started increasing. So like for instance, I was a healthy 18 year old guy, but I would need like an hour before I could have sex again. And that was abnormal, but, you know, I just thought, “Okay, that’s just how I am.” Um, it wasn’t until many years later that I can attribute that to my porn use. And it all makes perfect sense in hindsight, but it wasn’t until I was 23 that I really hit rock bottom. I went to have sex with a gorgeous girl. I was extremely attracted to in love with everything was great. And when we went to have sex, my body could not respond at all. So here I was, you know, otherwise healthy, really attracted to this beautiful girl I was in love with and couldn’t feel anything with a naked female right in front of me. And it completely was just like a kick in the gut, man. I remember that night, I literally didn’t go to sleep. I just laid there with a tear in my eye because I was so confused. So broken, had no idea what was wrong with me. And that really, and that was in may of, um, or that was in March of 2011 st. Patrick’s day to be exact.
Gabe: [laughter] And I went on a journey to find out what the hell was wrong with me. And I Googled and Googled and Googled and read articles and listened to experts, listen to podcasts. And I honestly spent two months just researching everything I could about sexual function and what could possibly be wrong. And for the most part, all I saw was performance anxiety. Like that was all the answers I was getting was, “Oh, if you’re a young, healthy guy, you’re just nervous, man. You just need to relax, bro.” And I was like, that is not the problem. Like I was not, I was not that nervous. I’d been sexually active for nine years. I know how my body feels and I know what I should be feeling right now. And I know I was attracted to her. And so I knew that wasn’t the problem. And I just didn’t know what was wrong.
And then I found a post on a forum that blew my mind and it was a simple test. It said, “see if you can masturbate without porn.” And I remember reading that sentence, “See if you can masturbate without porn.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh. Like I haven’t tried to masturbate without porn in a decade.” Because I had porn on my laptop. I had porn on my Sony PlayStation, portable, which for the boomers that are listening, that’s like a game boy and I had it on everything. And so I use that constantly. I always had access to porn and I never tried to masturbate to my imagination or just to sensation alone. And so I tried it and I realized I couldn’t. No matter what I fantasized about, uh, no matter, no matter what I did to myself to try and achieve an erection, I couldn’t function at all.
And that’s important to point out a couple of different things right here, because if you can not masturbate without porn, then that rules out performance anxiety, because it was just me and my hand on a nice relaxing Sunday afternoon. I’m not, I’m not nervous about what my Palm thinks of my penis.
Garrett: So you’re just eliminating potential causes.
Gabe: Absolutely. You can go down the list, right? So if you can’t masturbate without porn, but you can get an erection easily with porn. That’s important because if your penis functions with, it’s not an organic problem, meaning, you know, it’s not a blood flow problem where your veins are blocked and it’s a cardiovascular problem. Um, so my penis did function, but only with a specific stimulus that I had taught my brain to respond to like Pavlov’s dog, that salivates, when you ring a bell, my arousal template in the brain only responded when I would type in my favorite porn website or when I’d open my laptop, I would immediately start to get aroused.
But when presented with a real naked female, right in front of me that I found drop dead gorgeous. It was like an alien experience. There was no arousal. I literally trained my brain for that wrong sport. I’ve wired my brain and conditioned it deeply all through my adolescents to need that specific stimulus, that constant clicking from tab to tab that compilation video, where there’s a new, shocking image, every two seconds pounding my reward circuit with dopamine blast after dopamine blast keeping arousal high, a real potential partner, no matter how drop dead sexy she was. Couldn’t compare to that unending novelty and shotgun surprise that internet porn gave me. And so it couldn’t have been more clear at that moment. This was May 17th, 2011. I broke down in the shower, sobbing in the fetal position and my whole life flashed before my eyes. Like I realized, I looked back on that, you know, increase refractory period when I was 18 that a low libido that I had in college for real partners yet I was always horny and craving porn and pixels on a screen. Like everything started to make sense why I escalated into shocking, uh, genres of porn that made me go, what the hell did I just watch? When I was done after wiping myself off of napkins in a dark corner in the room, like everything started to make sense. And it, it couldn’t be any more clear that I trained my brain to need porn to function.
Garrett: Wow. Thanks for sharing all that. It’s great info. It’s a great experience to learn from. Um, can you talk to you, you gave the example of the Pavlov’s dog and the bell. Can you talk to that a little bit more?
Gabe: Yeah. So, um, the brain learns and by, you know, strengthening synapses, uh, there’s a term called longterm potentiation and longterm depression. And basically what that means is “nerve cells that fire together wire together” and nerve cells that fire apart, uh, wires then depart. So the behaviors that you engage in actually form neurological pathways and your brain’s reward circuit, and with Pavlov’s dog, the, uh, researcher for those that aren’t familiar with the experiment, it’s a really awesome experiment. This researcher would ring a bell and then give his dog food and all, uh, animal owners or pet owners know that there’s something you do or something you say that your dog will start freaking out. You know, it’ll start huffing and puffing and wagging its tail and, you know, running in circles. You know, for me, one of the things that drives my dog crazy is just the jingling of my car keys. Cause especially lately with quarantine, it’s like we’re going on, walks at the park. And so while I’ll drive my car to the park and every time I grabbed my keys now, the last three months, my dog has been conditioned to know, no that car keys mean, okay, we’re probably going to the park. And so as soon as I grabbed those keys, my dog starts freaking out. And that’s what Pavlov did with his dog. He would ring a bell when he gave it food. And so every time he’d ring the bell, his dog actually started to salivate when he simply heard the bell. So he conditioned that, uh, cue, uh, scientists would call that a cue, something that reminds you of the reward. So he conditioned the bell to the reward of food. And with porn addiction, you condition your arousal template to everything associated with your porn use, whether that’s a specific genre, whether that’s a specific website or a porn stars name, or, um, maybe just your device, senior device in the corner of your room, whatever, uh, any, any cue like that now makes you crave porn and not a real person, because you’re not training yourself to have sex with your partner.
You’re training yourself to seek that dopamine hit from your device, whether it’s your smartphone or your laptop. And so if you want to use the Pavlov’s dog analogy, guys, and female addicts too, are getting trained to salivate, or we could say, get excited to pixels on a screen and not a real person. Uh, what Pavlov did that was really interesting. And this is, I think the most important part of the study is he unconditioned his dog to the bell. So a lot of people mentioned the first part, but they leave off the second part of the study, what he did was he kept ringing the bell and he would stop giving him dog food. And what that showed is over time, this dog stopped salivating when you heard the bell. So that second part of “nerve cells that fire together wire together” is nerve cells that fire apart wires depart.
So what he did was he departed the neural connection by ringing the bell and not enforcing the reward with a positive reinforcement. So eventually his dog learned that when he hears a bell, nothing good’s going to happen. And in terms of porn addiction, recovery, that that gives a lot of hope because you can avoid reinforcing that reward pathway in your brain, the neurological pathway for porn, you can actually avoid reinforcing that and rewire it back to a real partner. And so that’s what guys are doing when they reboot. There’s, there’s two processes. There’s the rebooting where you regain sensitivity and scientists have shown that, um, when you avoid intense stimulation, your brain can grow more dopamine receptors and dopamine can lead to, you know, motivation. And yeah, in terms of porn addiction, recovery can cause more stimulation during sex. You can feel more pleasure essentially. So once you regain the sensitivity, then you can rewire and form new, healthy, neurological pathways back to a real partner. So really there’s two steps. And if you have severe porn induced, erectile dysfunction, for instance, there’s two steps you can regain sensitivity and then rewire back to whatever it is you want to rewire to. And in my case, it was, you know, making love with my partner.
Garrett: That’s really cool. It’s interesting to think about the fact that Pavlov’s dog is a member of Reboot Nation, basically…
Gabe: [laughter] Founding father.
Garrett: [laughter] Founding father of reboot nation. There we go.
Gabe: Founding K9.
Garrett: That’s true. Um, cool. Well, that was great stuff, man.
Gabe: Yeah. I feel, I feel like the, uh, the neuroscience has beneficial when you, when you know what to do. You know, a lot of guys ask me in recovery, like, “Okay, what do I need to avoid?”, “Can I swipe Instagram and look at booty pictures?”, “Can I do this? Can I get on Snapchat? Can I do this?” But when you really understand the neuroscience and you understand that anything arousing on pixels on a screen, anything that mimics your porn addiction behavior can potentially be a problem. And I think when you start with that foundation from a, a simple, basic neuroscience understanding, it can give you some answers in all areas of porn, addiction, recovery, and lead you in the right direction to where you know, what you need to do to recover.
Garrett: Can you speak to what is a supernormal stimulus?
Gabe: Yeah. So the concept of supernormal stimuli comes from a dude named Nicholas Tinbergen. Uh, he found out that you can trick animals, um, birds, specifically to, to take care of large fake, colorful eggs. And they’ll abandon the real eggs, the real offspring. And he, uh, you know, they’ve found that beetles will mate with beer bottles, brown beer bottles, because the beetle thinks that that beer bottle is a big female that will lead to stronger, more, um, success and reproduction. And so you can do this across the board with like a ton of animals. There’s been lots of interesting studies where, where mammals can be tricked into preferring fake to real, because it’s more stimulating to the reward circuit and, you know, evolutionarily speaking that’s because it’s, they think that it’s better for survival and better for reproduction. And so when you, when you look at that concept and in porn, you see that novelty, unlimited novelty and clicking from tab to tab taps into the brain’s reward circuit that, you know, subconsciously your brain thinks that you’re fertilizing thousands and thousands and thousands of mates.
When really you’re just looking at pixels on a screen, you know, red, yellow, green dots, and our subconscious doesn’t know that it’s not, it’s not smart enough to realize that now consciously I can tell you, “Yeah, sure. I’m looking at a screen. I know it’s fake.” But once you’re aroused that, you know, the prefrontal cortex shuts off, you’re not thinking clearly your reward circuits buzzing and you end up fertilizing your laptop or your smartphone essentially. And so you get tricked into preferring that supernormal stimuli, like the bird that neglects its eggs and sits on the fake ones. Like the beetle that humps the beer bottle. Some young people are making love to their laptop and ignoring their partner that might be crying themselves to sleep in bed next to them. And this doesn’t necessarily happen consciously. This can happen over years of brain training. Right? You know, I don’t know any young guy that would say, “Oh yeah, I’d rather Jack off to porn than have sex with a beautiful person.”
It’s like, you might not consciously say that, but that’s, what’s playing itself out in reality and millions of young people, they’re there, they’re tricking there. The reward circuit is being tricked into thinking that what might be more stimulating temporarily is better than the real deal. And it ends up numbing themselves to the point where they can’t even have the real deal. And so that’s the concept of supernormal stimulation. It’s more stimulating than something you can have in real life. Something you can experience in real life. So it might be more pleasurable temporarily, but longterm, it can have the complete opposite effect of leading you to that place. Like I said, where I couldn’t even experience sexual pleasure without it.
Garrett: Makes sense. Um, I was looking at your Instagram earlier and one of the things that stood out to me in your bio is the hashtag people over pixels. I liked that. I think that’s what you’re explaining is like let’s, let’s choose people over pixels.
Gabe: Yeah. It’s the it’s again, like, it’s not just like sometimes I talk about social media and video games too. Um, my main focus is on porn obviously, but just the whole concept of the more connected you get online, the more disconnected you can get in real life. And I think anybody that’s heavily heavily into technology understands this, or have experienced it at some level or another, you know, whether it’s spending all day on Twitter, you know, like right now I’m trying to kick my Twitter addiction. I’m freaking hooked on that thing. Like, you know, especially with my insatiable curiosity of mainstream conversation and debate, I always want to know what people are saying. And so if I’m not careful, I’ll be swiping Twitter, you know, at dinner. And my wife’s like, get off your phone. And then I feel like, “Oh my gosh, like here I am, I talk about staying off of pixels and I’m still struggling with it.” And it’s, it’s just that whole concept. Like I think as a culture, we know that technology’s great. It’s a tool. You can use it for good, like what we’re doing right now. We’re talking over the internet on mikes and it’s brilliant if you can use something for good, but we need that education of negative effects and the fact that it can be so stimulating, it can be so awesome. You know, when you’re talking to teens, you gotta, you gotta acknowledge the fact that yes, it can be really pleasurable, but here’s the deal it can take from you that pleasurable experience and the real world. And that’s what we are all after. You know, I don’t think there’s anyone on their death bed that will say, “You know what, man, I wish I would have watched more porn in my life.”
It’s like, no one will ever say that. What they will say on their death bed is “I wish I would have loved my partner more.”, “I wish I would have connected with my friends and family more.” And so we might be chasing, chasing likes and swipes and followers on social media. But if we don’t realize that at the end of our life, that’s going to lead to just complete emptiness. When you didn’t make any real life connections, then there’s going to be a lot of people hurting. And I know it because I was there. I was that person that was, you know, suicidal and depressed during my recovery where I was just so broken that I got so connected to this technology that I was neglecting. The people that loved me most, one of the, one of my favorite quotes that I like to say is there’s no amount of porn that can ever love you back.
So for the people that are chasing connection that are, you know, turning to porn for a lack of intimacy, I can guarantee you that you’ll never feel intimate and you’ll never, never will feel connected. If you’re turning to pixels on a screen, it’ll never give you what you are chasing after it’ll only rob you of that thing. It’ll only rob you of the experience that you’re actually chasing after to the point where you’ll feel more broken and alone. If you’re turning to porn to make up for some pain, to ease some, some, uh, some pain to, to maybe turn away from some trauma and abuse, porn will only enhance that you’ll feel more abused. You’ll feel more, uh, I guess, lonely. And if you’re turned into it for pleasure, you’ll feel desensitized and you’ll feel numbed. So it, it, it won’t give you what you’re pursuing. It it’ll actually enhance and increase the negatives, at least in my experience it did. And, and millions of other young people.
Garrett: Thanks for sharing that. Um, one thing that stood out, Gabe, is when you mentioned the fact that you were suicidal during some of a portion of your recovery, that’s some heavy stuff. Um, and I, I don’t know if, how much you want to talk to that, but I was wondering if you would talk to that a little bit more, because if they, if someone goes to your Instagram and, or listens to this conversation, they get this great vibe from you. So much energy, so much positivity, so much knowledge. And then if they go to your Instagram, it’s like, “Man, this guy has it together.” Um, so it’s challenging to imagine you having suicide ideation. Um, if you feel comfortable talking to that a little bit more, I think some of our listeners and myself included would appreciate that.
Gabe: Yeah. W first of all, I mean, Instagram’s a highlight tape, right? Mean I try, I guess I should probably do more of that now that you, now that you point that out. I, I can definitely, and I’m willing to share some more of my, uh, darker moments on social media and maybe that’s something everyone could do. Maybe, maybe that’s the problem with social media is that it’s a highlight tape and it increases anxieties and loneliness and Discontentment, and everyone that’s scrolling the highlight reel of everybody else’s life while not sharing the nitty gritty ugly days that everyone has. Um, cause I certainly have them. Um, and back in my recovery was definitely the, my recovery was the worst season of my life. I mean, straight up, absolutely terrible. Uh, like I said, from, from that first night where I felt broken and couldn’t sleep, it, it, it didn’t stop for several months.
I, uh, I went into withdrawal, which for behavioral addictions, a lot of people think you only have withdrawal with substances, but, um, all addiction share similar brain changes. And when any addict gives up their addiction, you can see neurochemical changes like, uh, increase in, uh, CRF, uh, and nor epinephrin, these are stress chemicals and increase anxiety and stress. And you can also see a decrease in dopamine, which can lead to low motivation and feeling in the pits. And so I definitely experienced that where I was irritable. I was anxious. Uh, I am typically I try to be a laid back chill dude. But during my recovery, I definitely was just not myself. Um, I had trouble sleeping battled with a borderline insomnia, some nights where I just could not sleep. I had a panic attack at work one day where I, I literally just ran out in the alley.
It’s, it’s a funny story. Actually, it, I was counting, I worked in a factory temporarily for a couple months and I was counting nuts and bolts. And I literally thought, man, my nuts and bolts don’t work right now. And I just had that funny thought. And then like, after giggling for a second, I like broke down and started crying and I’m like, wow, I’ve ran out into the alley. And I remember I found this cardboard box by the dumpster and I just like destroyed it, just kicked it. And then I ended up just crying out in the alley, you know, 23 year old man thought I was tough stuff. And here I am bawling my eyes out cause my dick’s broken. And it was a, it was a humbling couple months that’s for sure. And one of the biggest things that really just broke my heart was I was in love with someone that I wanted to have sex with and I could not do it.
And not only that I was lying to her the first couple of months, I wasn’t telling her what the problem was. I was too embarrassed to a shame to say like, Hey, I’m, you know, I know I’m trying for sex, which is really confusing. Cause every time I try, I then say, I know we should wait because I realized my penis wasn’t good. And so I was just confusing the hell out of her. And that was, you know, exacerbating the stress to where here I am lying to someone I love, I don’t know if I’m going to recover at the time back in 2011, um, we thought most people were going to recover within a first couple of months. Like two months, six to eight weeks was kind of what we were seeing on average. But again, that was those older guys that didn’t grow up on internet porn.
So in the early 2000 tens, you saw a change in the reboot community. You started seeing younger guys take longer than older guys, which was just mind blowing. Cause you’re like no way, you know, no way a teenager’s going to take longer to recover than a 55 year old man.
Gabe: Yeah, that’s just completely backwards of what you’d expect. But science came out about the adolescent brain neuroscience on sexual conditioning came out that actually made a lot of sense that young people and their most malleable years of their brain, where it’s really changeable really moldable. And you have a, you know, billions of new neurons grow when you’re 11, 12, 13 years old, this drastic neuronal growth right around the time our generation was chronically consuming internet porn. So those most moldable years where your brain is vulnerable to addiction and sexual conditioning, that’s when kids start clicking the tabs.
That’s when kids start watching the hardcore porn, the violent porn, the abusive misogynistic porn, and they’re wiring that into their arousal template in the most vulnerable age of development. And that creates in simple terms, a grand Canyon neurological path in the brain that an older guy who grew up, you know, using a Playboy magazine where the novelty and shock and surprise wears off when you’re done turning the pages and you have to wait another month before you get anything novel, the stimulation and the level of conditioning can’t even compare to what internet porn can do to a young person. And so these young guys that grew up like myself, wired deeply to internet porn, I was watching compiled videos in high school where the clip changed every two seconds. I was seeing a drastic angle in the highlight, the best parts of porn clips. And I’d watch that for, you know, 10 30 minutes to an hour.
So I would see more naked people in 10 minutes. And that session in 2005, then, you know, our ancestors would see an entire lifetime and that creates this huge conditioning. That’s really hard to unwire that led to younger people taking longer than older people. So fast forward to me in recovery, I didn’t know that was a thing. So here I am past eight weeks in recovery and I’m still not seeing any signs of improvement. And so that, that led to even more despair where, you know, I, at one point I thought about nine or 10 weeks in recover. I wasn’t sure. Um, I thought I’d never recover. I thought, you know, I screwed myself up because I lacked education on potential negative effects. And so I’d, I’d sit there, just sobbing thinking that I’d be broken forever. And that’s when I guess suicidal ideation crept in because my identity had just been completely turned on its head.
I was this socially confident, uh, you know, sexually experienced guy that was in love with the girl of my dreams. And I was sexually broken unconfident and felt like I was completely worthless and would never function again. And I tried to hide it. I tried to maintain that smiling face whenever I hung out with people, always tried to be outgoing and friendly, but man, I remember my, uh, 24th birthday towards the end of my recovery. I just cried when they were singing happy birthday. And it wasn’t because I was happy. It was cause I was extremely sad and pretending to be happy. And uh, thankfully thing eventually the, as I got educated and I want to, I want to turn this to hope because this is what really changed my life is once I found out the neuroscience of how the brain can always change.
So here, you know, I had that thought that I’d always be broken, but once I read, um, uh, the book, the brain that changes itself, which I know you’ve read, I saw a social media post from you, Garrett, where you read that book, that, that book chapter four completely gave me hope on the brain’s ability. Uh, the concept of neuroplasticity is alive and well our entire life and, and never stops. We can always learn something new and we can always change our brain. That concept gave me hope and as I continued to get educated, um, and as I read success stories by the freaking awesome brave men that posted their success stories on the recovery forums don’t know who they are, they use pseudonyms, but if you’re listening to this, thank you so much. Y’all stories saved my life. Um, that, that, that research, their success stories, the hope gave me, you know, passion to not only help other people, but eventually led me out of the tunnel that I was in, that it provided me with that light at the end of the tunnel.
And I eventually got out and realized, “Oh my God.”, like if I felt like that, if I was in the pits and I knew that there are so many other young people out there in the same position, like you said, that might be, that might be suicidal or that might be depressed. Or that might be a partner of someone that’s going through this. And they feel like it’s, it has to do with them and they’re depressed. And they don’t know what the answers are, why their partner’s not becoming a Rouse to them. Like there’s so much hurt and collateral damage. And no one was getting the information information. I shouldn’t say no one because there was awesome organizations like Fight the New Drug doing it, but I just saw like they needed information and they needed other people that continue to come alongside grey organizations like y’alls and keep raising awareness.
And I took all that hurt. I took all that information and I, I, I tried to turn a negative into a positive, and I’m really thankful that I did. And I’m to this day, thankful for amazing people like you, all that, give me a, a platform to share hope and share information. Cause I know it, I know it can be life changing and, and also it can be in a heat in a hedonistic way. It can lead to more pleasure and it can lead to more love at the end of the day. That’s what y’all are all about. And that’s what I’m all about is, is love and connection and, and, uh, getting away from something that can rob you of it.
Garrett: Well, we feel the same level of gratitude towards you and Reboot Nation because you guys are doing lots of good. And so, so thank you. And thanks for sharing all that, man, you are an inspiration and I’m just listening to all of your experiences, they’re so real. They’re so genuine and it really is inspiring. Um, one last question that I don’t know if you answered, maybe I missed it. How long did your reboot take? You kept talking about six to eight weeks, but yours took longer?
Gabe: Yeah. Um, my reboot timeline the first couple months, I didn’t see much improvement. Uh, I started to get, uh, as we, as young guys would say “morning wood”, would I started to wake up with nocturnal erections, uh, at around three months. So that was some sign of improvement in a good, a good sign that things were moving in a positive direction. Uh, and then around six months I could, uh, achieve an erection for oral sex. And, uh, I tried for sex during those months, but I kept failing. Um, but it took me nine months to regain full sexual function. Um, and actually it took over a year to be able to masturbate without porn, which is, is really important because that, again, shows that I was so conditioned to respond to a certain stimulus a certain way. And it made it clear that, you know, anxiety wasn’t the problem.
It was sexual conditioning of my arousal template. So nine months to, to regain sexual function. And I know that can sound terrifying to listeners, but let me make something really clear. I was one of the more longer cases we’ve seen. Most people recover within the first couple months. Uh, I should throw that out there. There are, there are plenty of longer recovery accounts that we have, but you know, most older, older guys will recover when the first couple of weeks, if it’s a porn and into sexual dysfunction, sometimes that may be two months. And then, um, younger guys can take, you know, two to three to four months and maybe longer. But the one thing I want to say is regardless of how long recovery takes, if you do have a sexual dysfunction that you can, and you will recover as, as far as we know everybody, that’s avoided artificial stimulation and an avoided intense stimulation. So they can regain that sensitivity. And everyone that’s tried to, uh, rewire with a, with a partner has succeeded. So let that give you a lot of hope.
Garrett: Cool. What can we do to support you and Reboot Nation? When I say “we”, I mean, us at Fight the New Drug and our listeners.
Gabe: I just would love for y’all to point people to my content. You know? Like, like I said, all my YouTube videos, so the Reboot Nation on YouTube, um, I have several informational advice videos on there. I try to keep everything just really straight to the point and practical, but while at the same time, keeping some science behind it. So, you know, I’m not just spouting some bro science at ya, but, um, so yeah, some of the recovery videos are very helpful as far as, you know, I personally believe that they are cause it’s the same information that helped me. So pointing people to that, man, it’s free content that can be really helpful. And then my Patreon page, if anyone, you know, has an extra buck or two that would want to buy me a coffee, I’d love to make more content and even work with y’all more in the future and help you on somebody else, projects, anything we can do to, to further the mission raise awareness.
Garrett: We would like for you to make more content too, because it’s always good stuff. So thanks for that. And I hope,…
Gabe: I’ll say one more, one more thing.
Garrett: Yeah, go ahead.
Gabe: If anyone’s interested in that, like mainstream debate too, like I’m, I’m really active on Twitter. I follow y’all on Twitter and um, I always try to stay up to date on the conversation and like tweet out arguments and like respond to articles. So if you all read articles that, you know, might be dismissing the whole idea of porn, having any negative effects, your boys probably tweeted something about, if you wanna follow me on there, that’d be great too.
Garrett: Yeah, for sure. We’ll make sure to link to your Twitter, Instagram to your YouTube and also to your Patreon and your website, anything I’m missing?
Gabe: No, I don’t think so. I just, just want everyone to know that, uh, if connection, sexual pleasure and a good time is what you’re seeking, uh, pixels on a screen can end up leading you in the complete opposite direction.
Garrett: Um, that actually led me to one more, like I have some curiosity now, one more question. I was about to finish, but are you glad that you had to go through that? Looking back now, you, we talk about turning a negative into a positive you’re stronger today because of the things you’ve had to go through. I like to say that moments of bliss are not free. Like I just, the question is, do you feel like you’re, are you grateful for the challenge you had?
Gabe: Yeah. Um, I guess I’d have to think about the words to use really, uh, deeply, but I definitely would say I’m grateful for the, for the hell that I went through. Um, there’s a quote lessons and lessons not learned and blood are easily forgotten. And I don’t know. I mean, my, my kind of fear that I just hypothetically think about is what I would, I even have been on that anywhere close to the same. Now, if I never hit rock bottom and I’m afraid to say, I probably wouldn’t have. And so I am thankful that I got that kick in the gut and that I, that I went down that horrible path, um, because I just think I needed it. I was, I was young arrogant, you know, uh, you know, selfish and I was blind to how I was treating my partners, how I viewed my partners.
I’ve always loved and respected the other sex, but I didn’t really, I had a cognitive dissonance if you will, of the objectification that I was doing and how I was, how I was using and, you know, manipulating partners in the past to do things that I saw on porn, whether that’s consciously or subconsciously, I don’t even know it was. So porn is such a normal thing now in culture that so many young people are in studies that are showing this so many young people are now doing things that they’re learning from porn in the real bedroom, whether that’s choking, whether that’s anal sex, whatever, I don’t have to, everyone knows what I’m talking about, but the, the impact porn is having definitely happened to me in my relationships in the past. And it screwed up. It screwed a lot of relationships up and it screwed me up.
And like I said, it has a collateral impact. And I’m so thankful that that I hit rock bottom. And, uh, I’m thankful for having the ability to, to speak out on a, on a platform like this and on just the internet in general. Here’s something that just blows my mind. It’s, it’s so crazy that I use the internet to learn and to read success stories when you know, internet porn is what caused my problem. So again, it all goes back to that same tool.
Garrett: Using the same tool.
Gabe: Exactly. You know, I tweeted out a month ago, like “You can use social media as a tool, or you can be a tool on social media.”
Garrett: [laughter] That’s a great tweet, man.
Gabe: [laughter] It’s like, you can use this technology that we have, you know, social media, like it’s so awesome that you can connect with loved ones and you can FaceTime your family members from around the world.
And man, we’ve seen that most clearly during the pandemic where everyone’s locked down, but you can still have video face chat and zoom calls with your friends and family and coworkers and whatever. It’s like, it’s such a beautiful thing, but it also has the potential to destroy. And you need to know the negative effects. Young people need to know the negative effects because they’re growing up in this digital world and they need to know how to steer themselves and to navigate it to healthy adulthood and healthy relationships. And so the work y’all are doing, and the work I want to keep doing is doing just that man, raising awareness so people can make informed decisions.
Garrett: Yep, for sure. Dude, we didn’t even get the chance to talk about a, you going onto the Chelsea Handler show.
Gabe: [laughter] Oh, that was, that was awesome. I, uh, man, yeah. What what’s, what’s better than a mainstream comedian, uh, talking about porn addiction and porn problems and, and there’s, there’s so many big names now that they’ve experienced themselves? Right? This is so prevalent in society where so many mainstream people now are speaking up about it. I know y’all, y’all spoke with Lamar Odom and you know, you got Chris Rock making jokes on Netflix specials that, you know, he had to watch crazy content to be aroused. And my goal is that the potential negative effects of porn will be common knowledge though. People can steer for real intimacy and connection. Love is amazing. And uh, I, uh, I hope everyone can experience it and again, it won’t be, it won’t be found through pixels on a screen so…
Garrett: Well, um, it was great talking to you, Gabe and let’s stay in touch.
Gabe: Yeah, for sure, Garrett. Thanks for having me.
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