Why you should care

Because some people could gain much-needed help and therapy this way.

Is masturbation bad? Am I a bad person for liking porn? Think of how many young people have wracked their brains with these questions, often in isolation, without guidance or support.

One study last year found that 85 percent of more than 1,000 people surveyed — 74 percent of women and 98 percent of men — had accessed internet porn over the previous six months. Other studies have found that those who worry that their relationship with porn might be wrong or problematic often experience elevated levels of psychological distress. While few studies have explored whether the same is true for adult cam site users, cam site Stripchat recently surveyed users and found that more than 40 percent reported anxiety about their cam-viewing habits. “That is a much larger number than we see with traditional porn,” says Max Bennett, Stripchat’s vice president.

With so many of at least one cam site’s user base experiencing distress thanks to their relationship with adult content, perhaps it’s time for sites like Stripchat to do more than serve up erotic content. Why not task them with distributing mental health resources and info as well?

Even those with therapists may struggle to talk about such issues, thanks to lingering stigmas even among mental health pros around certain sexual topics …

That’s precisely what Stripchat decided to do this summer. In July, the site announced a new partnership with the Sexual Health Alliance, a group of therapists and educators focused on sexual issues, to get mental health practitioners to take over its chat rooms for an hour at a time to talk to users about their concerns.

Sure, this may sound like a plot to polish up the site’s image. But if expanded to encompass mental health concerns writ large, as Bennett says it might be, and done well, this project could be a useful tool and model for widening the reach of mental health awareness, knowledge and resources to underserved groups. It would allow therapists to meet some of these groups where they live: online.

On Aug. 1, psychologist David Ley took over a Stripchat stream to answer questions, solicited from users and sorted ahead of time, with a narrow focus on the use of adult entertainment and related anxiety. His answers all covered basic and tightly-focused Sexual Psych 101 topics. But as Ley explained, such subjects can cause substantial stress and anxiety. Even those with therapists may struggle to talk about such issues, thanks to lingering stigmas even among mental health pros around certain sexual topics, like the consumption of adult entertainment. Stewing on such questions in the absence of informed, or even just nonjudgmental guidance or support can lead to real distress.

Skeptics dismissed this event as a ploy to make Stripchat seem like it has a mental health care stamp of approval. This, they argued, could lead people with serious worrying tendencies, like compulsive viewing, to feel soothed and validated in their habits, keeping them on the site when that “might be hurting their relationships or their work,” as psychologist Peter Kanaris puts it. 

Ley’s appearance only compounded skepticism, as critics see him as psychology’s chief apologist for the adult industry, thanks to his belief that porn is generally not harmful and can even be helpful at times. “Porn is blamed for problems created, and unsolved, by society,” Ley says. “Now, when porn tries to do something about it, [it’s] criticized for that too? That’s pretty effed up, in my humble opinion.” 

He and Bennett insist that users found value in the event. It was the most popular stream on the site that day, with 1,600 viewers — only a few of whom, Bennett notes, tried to get Ley to strip — and many of whom said in the chat that they appreciated being recognized and supported. Stripchat is planning similar events focused on sexual anxiety, including one on Nov. 14, with Bennett leaving the door open to using such chats to address broader mental health issues in the future.  

Mental health experts unconnected to Stripchat or the Sexual Health Alliance see potential in opening up broad mental health conversations on adult cam sites. Millions visit them and, as Kanaris points out, many viewers may live in communities without access to mental, or even general, health care services, or in parts of the world where discussing mental health even with their family or friends is difficult. “There are plenty of websites available for people who are seeking mental health help,” he notes, which these folks could theoretically access. But putting mental health resources on adult cams could mean that, “incidental to that, [someone] may become educated on and aware of mental health. Or an issue they may have could be addressed. All without them having to consciously seek a help site.” 

Adult cam site users may also be especially open to jumping into a mental health discussion on these platforms. Bennett notes that many users log on not just for sexual stimulation, but also to talk about their lives with performers. Many models half-jokingly refer to themselves as therapists. Bennett has even considered training them to identify viewers who may need serious mental health help and recommend services to them. 

Skepticism about any project like this is merited. But Kanaris suggests that one way to tell if this or similar ventures are honest and well-run is to see whether diverse voices — including those who offer information or advice that might go against the company’s financial interests — from the mental health world are incorporated. Checking for transparency around how the company selects, manages and compensates its collaborators is another good metric to check. 

So with our eyes wide open, let’s welcome a potential new avenue for the spread of mental health awareness and resources. 

OZYImmodest proposal

Propositions that fall on the continuum between controversial and utterly insane. Sometimes we're tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes, dead serious.