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November 22, 2019
In No Nut November, the question “To fap or not to fap?” has become fraught with legal danger. This whimsical internet challenge has grown in popularity over the years alongside the scientific battle over whether or not pornography can become addictive.
By mid-November, those would-be abstainers who don’t take the challenge seriously likely already failed to remain the “masters of their domain” but the academic war will continue long after the end of the month.
Neuroscientist and sexual psychophysiologist Dr. Nicole Prause is currently facing two defamation lawsuits filed in US courts as a result of this battle. On Twitter, Prause has declared herself to be the victim of multiple SLAPP suits (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) after years of ongoing harassment. Prause has also claimed that her anti-porn adversaries have stalked her, threatened to rape her, and engaged in general misogyny including falsely accusing her of being paid by the porn industry.
The defamation suits accuse Prause of lying about being stalked, threatened, or harassed by them in any way. The statements of claim say that these are false accusations by Prause and that her public accusations are the only actual harassment taking place. In affidavits attached to the lawsuits, ten different people, including four women, claim to be personal victims of Dr. Prause.
This is not just a Twitter war.
Most people think anti-porn activists to be radical feminists like Catharine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, who sought to censor pornography as a civil rights violation and form of human trafficking.
In a strange twist of events, over the last decade, it has been a growing number of young men who have turned against the near limitless fap machine of internet pornography. This quickly increasing demographic has flooded websites like NoFap.com, seeking help for what they have self-described as an addiction to porn.
For some experts, like Prause, the claim that people can become addicted to porn is not only scientifically unsound but, she says, potentially dangerous. Those who oppose porn are often painted as religious science deniers, causing damage to people by morally shaming natural human sexuality. But other experts disagree.
The question of whether or not excessive pornography use can lead to addiction, actually causing physical changes to the brain, has yet to be decided. In the meantime, thousands of mostly young men seeking help online are being demonized as misogynistic for identifying pornography as a cause of their distress.
The complaints from these men include, but are not limited to, erectile dysfunction in the presence of a real-life partner, difficulty achieving orgasm during intercourse, social anxiety and escalation in their viewing habits which causes them to seek out more and more extreme forms of pornography in order to maintain their physical and psychological arousal.
The variety of pornography available online certainly ranges into extremely concerning areas, like rectal prolapse, and most people clicking from one video to the next are bound to quickly come across something this shocking.
In an email exchange with The Post Millennial, Dr. Prause commented “We know it is a low-desire behaviour, people do not actually engage in rosebudding play very much at all. I wonder to what extent some videos on “porn” websites really are just clickbait not expecting a sexual response. That is, all the pornographers want is clicks. It’s how they make money. If you see ‘anus actually falls out’ I would be really horrified…and really curious.”
For those who are struggling with a pornography consumption habit they feel has taken over their enjoyment of life, their curiosity has led many of them to believe they have an addiction.
But, how did this academic dispute escalate into civil lawsuits? It depends on who you ask.
The battle between Nicole Prause and her adversaries seems to have kicked off in March 2013 when an article by Dr. David Ley, titled “Your Brain On Porn: It’s Not Addictive,” was published in Psychology Today promoting a Prause study that had not yet been published. After a critical blog response was published, both posts were removed pending the publication of the research. The author of the response blog, Gary Wilson, also happened to be the owner of a website called “Your Brain On Porn” which was mentioned by name in the original article.
Wilson has chronicled the six-year dispute on his website and, when put on a timeline, which includes Prause’s complaints to licensing boards and attempts to have people fired for sexual harassment or academic fraud, most of the events appear to be initiated by Prause herself.
For example, on January 29, 2019, Prause attempted to take trademark ownership of the website name and domain “Your Brain On Porn.” Gary Wilson, who has regularly been accused of stalking Prause, took this move as another attack upon his work.
When asked about this event, Wilson told The Post Millennial that he received an anonymous tip that Prause had filed an application for his domain, which he then opposed. Without this tip, he may have lost his website and body of research. Prause finally withdrew her application on October 18, 2019.
Meanwhile, in April 2019 a website called “Real Your Brain On Porn” and a matching Twitter account were created which were ultimately found to be connected to Nicole Prause, though registered under the name of someone else. Prause provided The Post Millennial with the final report from the intellectual property investigation by WIPO and confirmed that this is one of the actions against her which Prause is calling a “SLAPP suit.”
Prause explained her motivation to acquire Wilson’s website as an effort to eliminate what she believes are defamatory accusations about her and which she considers to be evidence of a cyber-stalking behaviour. The website currently hosts a lengthy compilation of events and documentation in which Wilson presents Prause as the harasser.
The first defamation suit was filed against Dr. Prause and her business, Liberos LLC, in May 2019 but it was not Gary Wilson who took this legal action. It was filed by neurosurgeon Dr. Donald Hilton Jr after Prause contacted the university where he teaches as an adjunct professor and made a complaint alleging, among other things, that Hilton had engaged in sexual harassment.
Hilton’s own research on behavioural addiction stands in stark contrast to Prause’s conclusions and they have frequently clashed over the pros and cons of pornography use. Hilton was one of the first to criticize Prause’s EEG study released in 2013.
In his lawsuit, Hilton vehemently denies having harassed Prause and claims that her accusations were designed to cause maximum damage to his reputation. Prause’s motion to dismiss appears to admit to the contents of the emails she sent but claims freedom of speech and “the right to petition” as her defence.
Hilton’s lawyer, Dan Packard, told The Post Millennial that “no person can falsely accuse an academic rival of sexual harassment in a deliberate attempt to silence that rival and then successfully hide behind the First Amendment. ‘Free speech’ can never be used as a sword to silence academic discussion and debate.”
An article published in Reason heavily questions the way Prause framed her claims of sexual harassment. Interviewed for that article, “UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment specialist, questions Prause’s ‘novel and pretty dangerous’ definition of sexual harassment.” In the context of her complaint, it reads as if all criticism of her scientific work has been reconstructed as an attack on her as “a female scientist.”
But the second lawsuit moves well beyond an academic dispute.
The founder of NoFap.com, Alexander Rhodes, states in his lawsuit that he was caught in the crosshairs after he was featured in a July 6, 2016, New York Times article called “Internet Porn Nearly Ruined His Life. Now He Wants To Help.” Two days after publication, Prause and a colleague, Dr. David Ley, appear to ridicule Rhodes on Twitter and, in a now-deleted tweet, Prause described Rhodes as a “neckbeard.”
Rhodes’ statement of claim says the harassment escalated two years after this event when he alleges Prause began publicly accusing him of stalking and threatening her – an allegation which he denies. In an affidavit Rhodes states “I would never willingly subject myself to unnecessary communication with Dr. Prause.”
Prause has also publicly alleged that she filed FBI complaints against both Rhodes and Gary Wilson but in both cases, an FOI filed by the accused failed to produce any evidence of the reports. On the other hand, Wilson has posted evidence on his website that he filed a complaint against Prause after speaking with an FBI agent in December 2018.
Thank you for this piece. I have rape & stalking threats & harassment from #NoFap & filed w FBI.Will share report # in DM if you want to add yours. Founder Rhodes work w ProudBoys extremists,so worth getting on FBI radar.Scientists know NoFap misogyny wellhttps://t.co/iJbRaOJeBs pic.twitter.com/PPaCQHyTSz— Liberos (@NicoleRPrause) December 1, 2018
The legal system is still struggling to determine where free speech crosses the line into actionable defamation in online disputes. The question of who “started it” can lead to an endless rabbit hole in which all involved are accused of “sock puppetry” (creating multiple fake usernames) and online mobbing. Most certainly, things have gone too far when employers are being contacted, lawsuits are being filed in court, and it starts to involve the FBI.
Dr. Prause recently tweeted that she reported a fundraiser aimed at helping Rhodes raise money for his legal bills. Prause alleges, despite the existence of the lawsuit, that this fundraiser is fraudulent.
The @FBI has asked me to make clear that the donations going to @AlexanderRhodes of @NoFap are fraud. I have no business relations with the porn industry, no porn industry is named in any suit, & Rhodes is misrepresenting me as employed in porn.
Law enforcement are involved.— Liberos (@NicoleRPrause) November 12, 2019
While Rhodes’ personal Twitter account has been set to private, the NoFap account tweeted their astonishment over these events saying “This is like the alcohol industry trying to take down Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Rhodes’ lawyer Andrew Stebbins provided The Post Millennial with the following statement:
“Mr. Rhodes is and always has been an eager and willing participant in the provocative debate surrounding pornography addiction, and is openly receptive of honest and fair criticism of his work, views, and opinions. He will not, however, tolerate malicious personal attacks from those who seek to discredit, disparage and otherwise injure him through false statements designed to assassinate his character and reputation. This case is brought solely in response, and properly limited in scope, to such attacks.”
In a recent Vice article, Prause is quoted saying “”Alexander Rhodes and NoFap’s lawsuit has no merit nor do his libelous and unfounded assertions regarding me, my character, or my business,” adding that Rhodes is “entitled to his opinions, however he is not entitled to spread complete falsehoods about me to profit himself and silence speech.”
The author of the same Vice article then goes on to call NoFap’s principles “slippery,” and attempts to link Rhodes to white supremacists by citing an April 2016 interview with Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, despite that group being founded many months later. Ironically, McInnes was a co-founder of Vice and thus has a much stronger connection to their own publication than to Alexander Rhodes or NoFap.
And, in a way, that leads us back to the original question: To fap or not to fap?
For the thousands of people, both men and women, who are asking themselves that very question, it is doubtful that mockery and insults from pornography supportive researchers will stop them from visiting the websites, like NoFap and Your Brain On Porn, who take their concerns more seriously.
The academic battle over whether or not their problem is technically an addiction is less important to them then getting help to change a habit they feel is destroying their lives.