David Ley attacks the NoFap movement (May, 2015)

Comments: This was written as a response to David Ley’s blog post attacking nofap. It serves a bigger purpose: 1) to expose that the so-called science contradicting porn addiction is smoke and mirrors, and 2) the papers claiming to refute porn addiction come from two individuals who often team up – Nicole Prause & David Ley.

Update, 2019: David Ley is now being compensated by porn industry giant xHamster to promote its websites and convince users that porn addiction and sex addiction are myths!

Update, 2019: NoFap founder Alexander Rhodes defamation lawsuit against Nicole Prause / Liberos


David Ley’s blog post The NoFap Phenomenon is packed full of straw men, mischaracterizations and lies. Note that Ley’s post contains no references to back his claims. Also note that Ley closed comments, which is very unusual for Psychology Today blog posts. In essence, Ley’s post borders on libel with no support for his allegations or claims.

Ley is the author of The Myth of Sex Addiction. He has written 30 or so blog posts attacking and dismissing NoFap, porn addiction, sex addiction and porn-induced ED. On multiple occasions David Ley has teamed with close ally Nicole Prause to harass and defame NoFap founder Alexander Rhodes (and others). Here we provide a few examples (the links take are to sections of extensive pages chronicling Prause harassment and defamation of many individuals and groups). The following sections reveal Prause and Ley’s true nature:

In addition, David Ley chronically asserts that porn use is harmless and if someone develops problems it’s because they had “other issues”. TV shows, magazines, websites too often turn to Ley as an “authority” on porn addiction and porn’s effects because the medical researchers – who would give an accurate picture of the state of internet addiction research – generally aren’t focused on internet porn specifically. Nor are they as readily available as eager Dr. Ley. He therefore gets to shape the debate in the media despite his utter lack of education in the neuroscience of addiction and sexual conditioning, and having never published any original research.

As stated, David Ley has a history of attacking Nofap, reddit/Pornfree, RebootNation, etc. in blog posts and on Twitter. While the vitriol of his rhetoric has increased, he no longer allows rebuttal. Ley closes comments on most porn-related blog posts (or if he opens comments he deletes those challenging his claims). He has done so because comments on his post calling porn-induced ED a myth didn’t go his way. Specifically, the following comments under that post, by two experts who took him to task, led to his eventual ban on commenting.

Ask yourself: How ethical is it for a psychologist to attack self-help groups such as Nofap? If he has a problem with the concept of internet porn addiction, shouldn’t he attack the scientists who are doing the research rather than people who are struggling to recover? What would you think of a “scientist” who didn’t believe in cancer, but instead of going after oncologists, went after cancer patients struggling to regain their health?

And how ethical is it to mischaracterize and libel these groups quitting porn and sharing their experiences – yet allow them no recourse because you closed comments? I could go line-by-line through Ley’s post, but here are a few examples of unsupported claims from his post attacking Nofap:

“An interesting note is that no one in the r/NoFap movement is actually a scientist who does research on neurophysiology and function.”

Ley is claiming to know the occupations of all 400,000+ members of Nofap. Really? Actually, Nofap includes neuroscientists, psychologists, and several MD’s who identify as such. Here are a few MD’s who recovered (PIED). Here’s a young psychiatrist, who had PIED, whom I interviewed on my radio show. Ley thinks nothing of making up crap that fits his prejudices on this subject:

“Instead, they are enthusiastic amateurs, who’ve learned enough about brain science to be dangerous, as they see what they expect to see, and interpret brain science to support their assumptions.”

Of course he gives no examples, no citations, just vague accusations. It must be noted that Ley has absolutely no background in neurobiology. This is the same claim made in many of Ley’s other porn-related posts. But what is the reality?


First, there are 41 neurological studies,and 21 reviews of the literature/commentaries published on porn users: Without exception every study and review lends support for the porn addiction model. See this page Brain Studies on Porn Users for an up to date list. These are not “enthusiastic amateurs” or “just YBOP” saying porn use induces addiction-related brain changes. (That is what Ley tells journalists who contact him.) Top neuroscientists at Cambridge University, Yale University, and Germany’s Max Planck Institute are saying porn use can alter the brain.

Again, that’s 100% of the published studies. These brain studies must be considered in a larger context as well. In the last few years over 330 internet addiction brain studies have arrived, all showing the same fundamental brain changes as seen in drug addiction. Many internet addiction studies include porn users, and all point to the ability of internet-based stimuli to cause pathological learning (in this case, addiction).

The internet addiction studies must be considered in the context of decades of addiction neuroscience, which informs us that all addictions share the same fundamental brain changes and mechanisms. In line with the preponderance of evidence, The American Society of Addiction Medicine published a “new definition of addiction” in 2011. ASAM stated that behavioral addictions exist, including sexual behavior addictions, and they are as real as drug addictions.

ASAM’s 3000 medical doctors are the real addiction experts, not Ley or other vocal sexologists who claim that internet porn has no more impact on the human brain than stick figures on cave walls. ASAM’s members include many of the world’s top addiction neuroscientists. Read Ley’s blog posts carefully. He does not cite a single addiction neuroscientist. What “science” does Ley use to back his claims? Mainly the research papers he and his sidekick Nicole Prause produce, rubber-stamped by their sexology cronies. These papers would simply not pass peer-review by addiction neuroscience experts.

Finally, as of 2018 we have an official diagnosis. The world’s most widely used medical diagnostic manual, The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), contains a new diagnosis suitable for porn addiction: “Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder.”

Where’s Ley’s evidence?

Surprisingly, most of Ley’s “science” relies on only two people, himself & Nicole Prause, and these two papers:

  • First paper: “Sexual desire, not hypersexuality, is related to neurophysiological responses elicited by sexual images” (2013). Nicole Prause was the main author
  • Second paper: “The Emperor Has No Clothes: A review of the ‘Pornography Addiction’ model” (2014). David Ley & Nicole Prause were the main authors.

Ley & Prause not only teamed up to write paper #2, but they also teamed up to write a Psychology Today blog post about paper #1. The blog post showed up 5 months before Prause’s paper was formally published (so no one could refute it). You may have seen Ley’s blog post with the oh-so-catchy title: Your Brain on Porn – It’s NOT Addictive. Put simply, most of the noise emanates from two people who teamed up to write and publicize two papers. Neither paper is what it claims to be, nor what the headlines imply.

First paper – The Nicole Prause EEG study (Steele et al., 2013)

This Nicole Prause EEG study study actually supports porn addiction (the first of the two papers just discussed). While Prause made several unfounded, contrary claims in her press interviews about it, her study actually reported higher EEG readings when porn users were exposed to cues. This is exactly what occurs when addicts are exposed to cues related to their addiction. Thus, Prause’s results found evidence consistent with porn addiction – even as she claimed the opposite. In addition, the study reported greater cue-reactivity for porn correlating to less desire for partnered sex. Put simply: The study found greater brain activation for porn and less desire for sex (but not less desire for masturbation).

Shockingly, study spokesperson Nicole Prause claimed that porn users merely had “high libido,” yet the results of the study say the exact opposite (subjects’ desire for partnered sex was dropping in relation to their porn use). Together these two Steele et al. findings indicate greater brain activity to cues (porn images), yet less reactivity to natural rewards (sex with a person). That”s sensitization & desensitization, which are hallmarks of an addiction.

Please read this Psychology Today Prause interview about her EEG study. Then read the 2 comments under the interview of Prause by Psychology professor John A. Johnson:

“My mind still boggles at the Prause claim that her subjects’ brains did not respond to sexual images like drug addicts’ brains respond to their drug, given that she reports higher P300 readings for the sexual images. Just like addicts who show P300 spikes when presented with their drug of choice. How could she draw a conclusion that is the opposite of the actual results? I think it could be due to her preconceptions–what she expected to find.”

Then read this comment – John Johnson continues.

You can also read these 8 peer-reviewed analyses of Prause’s 2013 EEG study. All support Johnson’s claims that Prause’s study actually aligns with the “addiction model” (that she and Ley irresponsibly disparage).

  1. ‘High Desire’, or ‘Merely’ An Addiction? A Response to Steele et al. (2014), by Donald L. Hilton, Jr., MD
  2. The first Cambridge study – Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviours (2014), by Valerie Voon, Thomas B. Mole, Paula Banca, Laura Porter, Laurel Morris, Simon Mitchell, Tatyana R. Lapa, Judy Karr, Neil A. Harrison, Marc N. Potenza, and Michael Irvine. Note that 11 addiction neuroscientists discuss Prause’s EEG study starting with this sentence: “Our findings suggest dACC activity reflects the role of sexual desire, which may have similarities to a study on the P300 in CSB subjects correlating with desire [25].” In other words, they were politely telling Prause that she didn’t understand her own results, which were consistent with an addiction finding.
  3. Neuroscience of Internet Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update (2015), by Todd Love, Christian Laier, Matthias Brand, Linda Hatch & Raju Hajela
  4. Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports (2016), by Brian Y. Park, Gary Wilson , Jonathan Berger, Matthew Christman, Bryn Reina, Frank Bishop, Warren P. Klam and Andrew P. Doan
  5. Conscious and Non-Conscious Measures of Emotion: Do They Vary with Frequency of Pornography Use? (2017) by Sajeev Kunaharan, Sean Halpin, Thiagarajan Sitharthan, Shannon Bosshard, and Peter Walla
  6. Neurocognitive mechanisms in compulsive sexual behavior disorder (2018), Ewelina Kowalewska, Joshua B. Grubbs, Marc N. Potenza, Mateusz Gola, Małgorzata Draps, and Shane W.Kraus.
  7. Online Porn Addiction: What We Know and What We Don’t—A Systematic Review (2019), Rubén de Alarcón, Javier I. de la Iglesia, Nerea M. Casado and Angel L. Montejo.
  8. Peer-reviewed analysis: “The Initiation and Development of Cybersex Addiction: Individual Vulnerability, Reinforcement Mechanism and Neural Mechanism” (2019)

You can also read this full critique, documenting what the Prause EEG study really found, and how the claims in the press do not align with the actual findings. I suggest reading the short version.

Second paper – The Ley & Prause “review” that wasn’t a review (Ley et al., 2014)

The second paper is not a study at all. Instead, it claims to be a “review of the literature” on porn addiction and porn’s effects. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The following is a very long analysis, which goes line-by-line, showing all the shenanigans Ley & Prause pulled – The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Fractured Fairytale Posing As A Review It completely dismantles the so-called review, and documents dozens of misrepresentations of the research they cited.

The most shocking aspect of the Ley review is that it omitted ALL the studies that found negative effects/evidence of porn use. Yes, you read that right. While purporting to write an “objective” review, these two sexologists justified omitting these studies on the grounds that these were correlational studies. Guess what? All studies on porn are correlational. There are, and pretty much will be, only correlational studies, because researchers have no way to find “porn virgins” or keep subjects off of porn for extended periods in order compare effects. (Thousands of guys are quitting porn voluntarily on various forums, however, and their results suggest that internet porn is the key variable in their symptoms and recoveries.)

A few examples of what Ley & Prause pulled:

  1. As stated, they did not allow any studies showing ill effects from porn use on the grounds that they are “merely” correlational, and then proceeded to cite as support for their pet theories various correlational studies.
  2. They cherry-picked random, misleading lines from within studies, failing to report the researchers’ actual opposing conclusions.
  3. They cited as support numerous studies that are entirely irrelevant to the text and the claims made.
  4. They defended their dismissal of behavioral addiction on the basis of studies that are as much as 25 years old, ignoring recent, far more numerous, contradictory studies/reviews that reflect the current consensus of addiction experts.
  5. They did not acknowledge (or analyze) dozens of brain studies on internet addicts.
  6. They ignored the two publicized brain-scan studies performed on porn users at Cambridge University and Max Planck, which dismantle the Ley/Prause conclusions.

Incidentally, their pro-porn editors Michael Perelman, Charles Moser and Peggy Kleinplatz resuscitated a defunct sexology journal called Current Sexual Health Reports (which hadn’t published in many years) in order to foist this “review” on the unsuspecting public! I suspect Ley made history: this may be the first time ever that a literature review was authored by someone who 1) has never published before 2) has no expertise in the field (addiction).

Bottom line: When you see a link to an article that says porn addiction has been dismantled, follow the source. I can almost guarantee you will discover one of these 2 easily refutable, and irresponsible papers behind the claims.

What about Porn-Induced ED?

Ley & Prause claim PIED is a myth. More propaganda. First, this page links to about 120 experts, including several urology professors, who recognize and treat PIED – Porn-Induced ED in the Media: Experts who recognize PIED. (Update – Porn-induced ED presented at the American Urologic Association Conference, May 6-10, 2016: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Second, studies assessing young male sexuality since 2010 report historic levels of sexual dysfunctions, and startling rates of a new scourge: low libido. Documented in this lay article and in this peer-reviewed paper involving 7 US Navy doctors – Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports (2016)

Historical ED rates: Erectile dysfunction was first assessed in 1940s when the Kinsey report concluded that the prevalence of ED was less than 1% in men younger than 30 years, less than 3% in those 30–45. While ED studies on young men are relatively sparse, this 2002 meta-analysis of 6 high-quality ED studies reported that 5 of the 6 reported ED rates for men under 40 of approximately 2%. The 6th study reported figures of 7-9%, but the question used could not be compared to the 5 other studies, and did not assess chronic erectile dysfunction: “Did you have trouble maintaining or achieving an erection any time in the last year?”.

At the end of 2006 free, streaming porn tube sites came on line and gained instant popularity. This changed the nature of porn consumption radically. For the first time in history, viewers could escalate with ease during a masturbation session without any wait.

Ten studies since 2010: Ten studies published since 2010 reveal a tremendous rise in erectile dysfunctions. In the 10 studies, erectile dysfunction rates for men under 40 ranged from 14% to 37%, while rates for low libido ranged from 16% to 37%. Other than the advent of streaming porn (2006) no variable related to youthful ED has appreciably changed in the last 10-20 years (smoking rates are down, drug use is steady, obesity rates in males 20-40 up only 4% since 1999 – see this review of the literature). The recent jump in sexual problems coincides with the publication of numerous studies linking porn use and “porn addiction” to sexual problems and lower arousal to sexual stimuli.

Until one can explain a recent 500%-1000% jump in ED rates for men under 40, it’s wise to assume that the above experts may be right about PIED, and that sexologists with an agenda are likely untrustworthy.

Third, there are now 40 studies linking porn use or porn addiction to sexual dysfunctions and lower brain activation to sexual stimuli. In addition, over 75 studies link porn use to less sexual and relationship satisfaction. As far as we know all studies involving males have reported more porn use linked to poorer sexual or relationship satisfaction.

Finally we have thousands of recovery stories consistent with the above research can be found on these pages:

Update: Ley’s co-author and ally Nicole Prause has become increasingly obsessed with debunking porn-induced ED, having waged a 4-year unethical war against this academic paper, while simultaneously harassing and libeling young men who have recovered from porn-induced sexual dysfunctions. See documentation: Gabe Deem #1, Gabe Deem #2, Alexander Rhodes #1, Alexander Rhodes #2, Alexander Rhodes #3, Noah Church, Alexander Rhodes #4, Alexander Rhodes #5, Alexander Rhodes #6Alexander Rhodes #7, Alexander Rhodes #8, Alexander Rhodes #9, Alexander Rhodes#10, Alex Rhodes#11, Gabe Deem & Alex Rhodes together#12, Alexander Rhodes#13, Alexander Rhodes #14, Gabe Deem#4, Alexander Rhodes #15. There’s so much more to this story – Is Nicole Prause Influenced by the Porn Industry?).

David Ley financial conflicts of interest (COI)

COI #1: In a blatant financial conflict of interest, David Ley is being compensated by porn industry giant X-hamster to promote their websites and to convince users that porn addiction and sex addiction are myths! Specifically, David Ley and the newly formed Sexual Health Alliance (SHA) have partnered with a X-Hamster website (Strip-Chat). See “Stripchat aligns with Sexual Health Alliance to stroke your anxious porn-centric brain“:

The fledgling Sexual health Alliance (SHA) advisory board includes David Ley and two other RealYourBrainOnPorn.com “experts” (Justin Lehmiller & Chris Donahue). RealYBOP is a group of openly pro-porn, self-proclaimed “experts” headed by Nicole Prause. This group is currently engaged in illegal trademark infringement and squatting directed toward the legitimate YBOP. Put simply, those trying to silence YBOP are also being paid by the porn industry to promote its/their businesses, and assure users that porn and cam sites cause no problems (note: Nicole Prause has close, public ties to the porn industry as thoroughly documented on this page).

In this article, Ley dismisses his compensated promotion of the porn industry:

Granted, sexual health professionals partnering directly with commercial porn platforms face some potential downsides, particularly for those who’d like to present themselves as completely unbiased. “I fully anticipate [anti-porn advocates] to all scream, ‘Oh, look, see, David Ley is working for porn,’” says Ley, whose name is routinely mentioned with disdain in anti-masturbation communities like NoFap.

But even if his work with Stripchat will undoubtedly provide fodder to anyone eager to write him off as biased or in the pocket of the porn lobby, for Ley, that tradeoff is worth it. “If we want to help [anxious porn consumers], we have to go to them,” he says. “And this is how we do that.”

Biased? Ley reminds us of the infamous tobacco doctors, and the Sexual health Alliance, the Tobacco Institute.

COI #2 David Ley is being paid to debunk porn and sex addiction. At the end of this Psychology Today blog post Ley states:

“Disclosure: David Ley has provided testimony in legal cases involving claims of sex addiction.”

In 2019 David Ley’s new website offered his well-compensated “debunking” services:

David J. Ley, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and AASECT-certified supervisor of sex therapy, based in Albuquerque, NM. He has provided expert witness and forensic testimony in a number of cases around the United States. Dr. Ley is regarded as an expert in debunking claims of sexual addiction, and has been certified as an expert witness on this topic. He has testified in state and federal courts.

Contact him to obtain his fee schedule and arrange an appointment to discuss your interest.

Nicole Prause also profits from denying sex and porn addiction. From her Liberos website (page since removed, and Prause had it removed from the Internet WayBack Machine):

“Sex addiction” is increasingly being used as a defense in legal proceedings, but its scientific status is poor. We have provided expert testimony to describe the current state of the science and acted as legal consultants to help teams understand the current state of the science in this area to successfully represent their client.

Legal consultations and testimony are generally are [sic] billed on an hourly rate.

Most shockingly, Prause & Ley engage in targeted harassment, defamation and cyber-stalking. See this page that was created to counter the ongoing harassment and false claims made by former UCLA researcher Nicole Prause as part of an ongoing “astroturf” campaign to persuade people that anyone who disagrees with her conclusions deserves to be reviled.

COI #3: Ley makes money selling two books that deny sex and porn addiction (“The Myth of Sex Addiction,” 2012 and “Ethical Porn for Dicks,” 2016). Pornhub (which is owned by porn giant MindGeek) is one of the five back-cover endorsements listed for Ley’s 2016 book about porn:

Note: PornHub was the second Twitter account to retweet RealYBOP’s initial tweet announcing its “expert” website, suggesting a coordinated effort between PornHub and the RealYBOP experts. Wow!

COI #4: Finally, David Ley makes money via CEU seminars, where he promotes the addiction-deniers’ ideology set forth in his two books (which recklessly(?) ignores dozens of studies and the significance of the new Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder diagnosis in the World Health Organization’s diagnostic manual) . Ley is compensated for his many talks featuring his biased views of porn. In this 2019 presentation Ley appears to support and promote adolescent porn use: Developing Positive Sexuality and Responsible Pornography Use in Adolescents.

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