How to Effectively Block Porn in 2023

I’m a software developer who has worked remotely for the past 6 years. Having constant unfiltered access to the internet can contribute to some bad habits and compulsive behaviors.

If you’ve developed a porn habit and want to phase out of this behavior, setting up a blocking system on all your devices is critical. 

I started techlockdown.com during the COVID-19 pandemic to help first-time remote workers who weren't used to working in total privacy with no accountability. 

Creating a blocking system is critical if you are working from home. You'll notice a huge sense of mental relief once you set up a blocking system because you won't have to use as much willpower to stop compulsive behaviors.

What is a blocking system?

A blocking system considers all of your technology and the common ways that people get around blocking and filtering. I focus on configuring multiple protective layers instead of relying on a single point of failure. 

As a computer programmer, I'm well aware of all the ways to get around blocking and content filtering. Most mainstream solutions aren't adequate for stopping compulsive behaviors, which is why I've invested so much time and effort into creating the techlockdown blocking system. 

I've spent years evaluating various blocking and filtering technologies until I found the perfect “stack.”

Additionally, I'm obsessed with the science of habits and addiction - specifically how to break habits and compulsive behaviors.

Is blocking porn worth it?

If you're like me, you've probably tried to block porn in the past. You spent a little bit of time installing a blocking application or internet filtering service. Then, you discovered lots of “gaps” and realized that it was easy to access porn still. As a result, you gave up on the idea all together.

Here's the thing: implementing an effective blocking system takes time and effort. You'll also likely need to invest a small amount of money into your blocking system. If you have considered getting rid of your internet connection and purchasing  a dumb phone, a blocking system is for you.

If you are looking to install one application that completely breaks your porn habit, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Before you dive headlong into configuring your own setup, read this section to understand why this is absolutely necessary to get unstuck from a porn-addiction cycle.

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Technology habits make it harder to quit porn

Have you ever wondered why it's so hard to stop a compulsive behavior? When it comes to something like porn addiction, you'll find that there are many smaller habits that contribute to the larger problem. Pruning these smaller habits is critical for overcoming the larger addictive behavior. 

Here's why.

Cues

A habit starts with a cue or a “trigger” that prompts you to follow through on the associated routine. 

Common cues related to porn use: 

  • seeing an attractive woman on Instagram
  • boredom and procrastination
  • stress and anxiety
  • time of day
  • roommate leaving to run errands

Routines

In response to a cue or trigger, you “follow through” on the habit by performing a routine (a specific set of actions).

The critical thing to understand about habits is that once a habit is hardwired into your brain, you perform it without consciously thinking about it.

According to the  power of habit , studies on rats that repeated the same maze showed that brain activity decreased after the “habit” of navigating the same maze over and over again was formed.

However, brain activity still spiked with the initial cue (the click of the door opening) and the reward (the chocolate). The difference is that the routine (walking through the maze) becomes automatic and brain activity decreases (you stop thinking about what you are doing).

In response to a cue, maybe you automatically open a private browser and navigate to a specific site, then mindlessly browse. If this is a habit for you, you probably don’t even realize when you’re doing it.

How to break bad habits

The most common way to stop yourself from following through on a bad habit is to use willpower. However, this is only if you are lucky and aware enough to catch yourself before you automatically follow through on a habit without thinking.

Completely relying on willpower or “white-knuckling" doesn't work in the long-run. Willpower is a finite resource and having the option to browse an unfiltered internet can be draining on your willpower because you’re consistently restraining yourself.

According to  Atomic Habits , two aspects of breaking a bad habit are:

  1. Remove cues from your environment
  2. Make the habit difficult to perform

Controlling your devices reduces environmental cues that trigger the habit so that you don’t have to use willpower in the first place.

Furthermore, if the “routine” aspect of the habit is difficult to perform, you don't need to use as much willpower to stop yourself. Creating a blocking system allows you to rein-in technology habits that contribute to a larger compulsive behavior. 

Internet Porn hijacks your brain so that it's even harder to quit

The brain's reward system is hijacked by technology to encourage compulsive behaviors. High-speed internet is the force multiplier that turns porn use into a “need” instead of a casual behavior.

Here's why.

Dopamine drives motivation (craving)

The reward chemical called dopamine is intended to further your survival so that you can pass on your genes. Dopamine ultimately drives motivation and the absence of dopamine results in apathy. In the context of sex, dopamine explains the craving you get. This craving goes away once you've satisfied the urge and dopamine levels decrease.

The brain remembers addictive behavior for a long time

The brain creates powerful, long-lasting associations with behaviors that produce dopamine. This is one of the reasons why cravings for porn can feel so powerful. The association with dopamine is so strong that the brain thinks it's a really important behavior, despite it ultimately being destructive to you. 

Your brain tries to stop you from binging by dampening the pleasure response (tolerance and desensitization).

When it comes to destructive behaviors, such as binge-eating, the brain attempts to dampen the pleasure response so that you stop the behavior. This is known as “desensitization” and it's the reason why you become sick of a food that you are overeating or lose interest in the same song after many repeat listens. You build tolerance and become desensitized to it. The pleasure response is reduced and you ultimately lose interest for a period of time.

The internet makes it easy to override tolerance and dessentiziation

Porn-addiction probably wouldn't be a wide-spread problem without high-speed internet. The main way to override desensitization is through novelty - or consuming something new and different.

In the context of sexual behaviors, this is known as the coolidge effect and it basically just means that watching new porn videos triggers an elevated dopamine response because the brain isn't desensitized to that particular media. 

If you only had a magazine to go off of, you would find it easy to take longer breaks between watching porn because you would have a dampened dopamine response to familiar material. 

With internet porn, however, you'll always find novelty that you aren't desensitized to. 

This is one of the reasons why you might find that content that used to be disturbing or uninteresting to you is now a preference. Because the brain can create such a powerful association with pornography, a porn blocking system is a long-term protective measure – it's not something you will temporarily use.

If you want to learn more about this, read my highlights from the book " Your Brain on Porn by Gary Wilson". 


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Blocking System Overview

The approach I recommend involves multiple layers. Here's a birds-eye view of the blocking system:

DNS Filtering

A DNS Filtering service is a catch-all approach to content filtering and it's the cornerstone of my blocking stack. 

The first thing you need to do is select the best DNS Filtering service

Features to look for

If you're an individual trying to quit porn or a parent protecting yourself and your children from harmful content, you need to pick a modern DNS Filtering service.

Here are critical features that you need to make sure any DNS Filtering service you evaluate has:

Machine Learning

Ever wondered how social media websites can find your friends in your photos automatically?

Machine learning is a technology that allows computers to automatically determine what is in a photo.

Some DNS Filtering services rely on manually reported websites or they go off of really old list of bad websites. These filtering services are terrible and aren't effective at all.

A modern DNS Filtering service will partially rely on machine-learning to automatically find websites that should be blocked.

Handle common bypass techniques

The biggest problem with content filtering services is that they are easy to disable or bypass. Modern DNS Filters will block common circumvention techniques, not just adult content. 

Common ways that people bypass blocking applications and DNS Filters:

  1. Connecting to a VPN or Proxy so that a content filter can't examine the websites being browsed to.
  2. Uninstalling or disabling applications and services that enable filtering on a device.
  3. Finding websites that aren't blocked
  4. Searching for adult content within a website that isn't categorized as "adult" so it's not blocked by the content filter. Example: reddit.com is not categorized as Adult Content, but users can easily find subsections of the website that host that content.

Force safesearch browsing

The big tech companies are really good at identifying content. Just like Instagram and Facebook can graph your network of friends from your uploaded photos, Google and other popular search engines are able to effectively classify websites, images, and videos. 

Modern strict safesearch filters out a majority of adult websites and it's absolutely critical that safesearch is always enabled on your devices. A modern DNS Filter can force strict safesearch on all supported search engines while also blocking search engines that don't provide a safesearch option.   

Roaming Filtering

A huge problem with legacy filtering services is that they only work on your home network. This is easily bypassed by switching network connections and it doesn't work if you travel with your laptop. The ideal filter works on any internet connection, even if you are browsing on your phone's roaming connection. 

Cost and long-term potential

The ideal DNS Filtering service should be something you can use long-term. In order to do this, it needs to be affordable but also actively maintained by a company. If you use a free service, it's unlikely that a development team is putting much time and effort into maintaining it. This is why free services like OpenDNS FamilyShield are so ineffective - the blocklists are old and outdated and it hasn't kept up with the modern internet. This is simply because the company doesn't have any financial incentive to keep it updated. 

What's the best DNS Filtering service?

The best DNS Filtering service I've used is called DNS Filter. When I initially started creating my own blocking system, I found that the average content filter wasn't advanced enough. After evaluating dozens of services, I went with the market-leading DNS Filtering service. 

Here's the problem… it's really expensive - $100/month!

Because it's so good I wanted more people to have access to it. As a result, I decided to become a managed service provider so that I could provide the powerful features of DNS Filter at a fraction of the cost. 

If you become a Tech Lockdown member, you can use DNS Filter at a fraction of the cost. I focus on providing the service to home networks who need long-term protection. That being said, I understand your pain points and what you need to effectively block porn on all your devices. 

When you sign up for a Tech Lockdown membership, you get access to powerful DNS filtering and also step-by-step tutorials that walk you through exactly how to set up the best porn blocking system. Alternatively, you can read my review of the  best alternative DNS Filters  if you'd prefer to shop around first. 

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Configuring a Home Router

A DNS Filter should be set up on your home network. This will enable filtering on any device that uses your home internet connection without installing anything on those individual devices.

Most DNS Filtering services are configured in a similar way. However, your configuration will depend on the service you are using. I'll give you a high-level overview of what steps go into configuring filtering on your router. You can follow the full step-by-step instructions here. 

Here's typically what you need to do:

  1. Give your public network address (IPv4 address) to the DNS filtering service
  2. Point your home router to the filtering service
  3. Notify the DNS Filtering service if your public IP address changes so that filtering continues to work if you ever restart your internet connection (causing the IP address to change)

In all situations you'll need to login to your router. You can find the login information on the back of your router if you don't know it already. 

After adding your public network address to whatever DNS Filtering service you intend to use, you need to point your router to the service by assigning custom DNS Servers. 

Handling common issues with home network DNS Filtering

Content filters can be frustrating to maintain and configure. They can break for various reasons, but in my years running my own DNS Filtering service, here are the common reasons:

IP Changes

One of the biggest reasons that filtering services stop working is due to IPv4 address changes. Most home networks have a dynamic public IP address. This means that the address can change, especially if your internet connection resets for some reason. 

If your IP address changes and the filtering service is still referencing the old IP address, content filtering will completely stop working. In some cases, your internet might break, which makes it difficult to login to the filtering service to update the IP address.

In my free network filtering guide , you can see my recommended approach for handling this. In summary, you'll configure a dynamic DNS service that let's you use a hostname like “myhomenetwork.myrouter” instead of an IP address like “123.45.67.89”.

You  configure the filtering service to use a hostname instead of an IP address . This automatically handles any address changes for you so that your setup works long-term.

Intentional network changes

Another common issue has to do with a user configuring network settings that allow them to bypass filtering entirely. Some DNS Filters, such as the one I provide, include an application that can force specific network settings. Even if a user attempts to use an alternative DNS, the application will revert the changes.

Furthermore, you can also block personal VPNs and proxies (not a VPN provided by your job), which are no longer necessary if you use a DNS filtering service (they have the same privacy affect).

A modern DNS Filtering service should automatically block most VPNs and proxies, but you can go a step further and configure managed devices that restrict the ability to set a VPN from the device itself. 

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How to configure DNS Filtering on any internet connection

In addition to setting up DNS Filtering on your home internet, you should also configure your devices to use DNS Filtering when roaming (on any internet connection).

One way you can do this is by directly configuring a device's DNS servers to point to the filtering service you are using. However, this really only works for generic filtering services that you aren't able to customize. 

Ideally, you should pick a DNS Filtering service that provides a roaming application that forces your device to always connect to the filter. 

Disabling Roaming Clients

If the DNS Service provides an application that forces the device to always use DNS Filtering, it's possible to simply remove the application to break filtering. In the Tech Lockdown guide, I show you how to configure managed devices to restrict the ability to disable or remove certain applications. I also provide a roaming client application that is already difficult to disable or uninstall. 

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Device-level blocking

The next level in my suggested setup involves device-level blocking by using blocking applications or blocking capabilities available “out of the box” for specific devices. 

Device-level blocking act as another level of filtering. If your DNS Filter misses a website that should be blocked, there's a chance that the blocking application catches it. Additionally, applications that run on a specific device have more flexibility over what they can block.

Block Google Images

If you want to block Google images, you'll likely need to use a blocking application. You can force safesearch using a DNS Filter, but you can't block image search entirely. This is where a blocking application can provide some benefit to you if you don't want the option to search images at all.

Filtering within a website

With a blocking application you can use URL filtering to filter within a website. For example, you can block all of reddit.com, but whitelist the subsections of reddit that are safe. DNS Filtering services can't do this - they can only block an entire website, not sections within a website. 

Reduce “fishing” for unblocked content

Some blocking applications will penalize you for finding blocked websites. For example, blocking applications on Android smartphones can temporarily block usage of your device for 5 seconds each time you find blocked content. This makes it really tedious to search for unblocked content.

Customize Filtering

Maybe you want to restrict access to a specific website or application to only a particular computer. For example, I only use a website like Twitter on Saturday mornings at a coffee shop. In this case, I block Twitter on all device. On my laptop, however, I make the website available during a specific timeslot on the weekends.

For example, Tech Lockdown members get access to a tool for blocking websites natively on your Windows or Mac computer.

Managed Device Restrictions

One of the best ways to harden your blocking system is to configure device restrictions using device management. My approach is identical to what an IT department would do when they set up company devices.

You can manage most kinds of devices: Windows computers, Mac laptops, iOS devices, and even android devices. However, mobile device management is most commonly used for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices (Samsung and Google smartphones).

I'll just give a quick overview of what capabilities you unlock with a mobile device manager. You can read the full, free, step-by-step instructions here:

Companies use device management so that they can remotely supervise work devices that they issue to employees. A company's IT department has complete control over their corporate devices - they can remotely install or remove software and they can customize what settings you have access to. They can even remotely erase all content on the device.

Device restrictions vary depending on the device, but they all have a few things in common.

Device management varies depending on the specific device. Chromebook's have a specific management solution that is different from iOS and Android devices. However, the capabilities are similar

Here are a few examples

You can remove the ability to change specific settings, such as network & internet or VPN settings. Restricting the ability to change VPN settings will make it even more difficult to get around Content Filters.

Prevent app uninstall

You can even distribute apps to your iPhone or Android smartphones from your mobile device manager. Apps that are distributed via Mobile Device Manager are difficult to uninstall.

In the below video, I use an MDM to remotely install a blocking application on an Android device. The app can only be removed using the MDM, not from the device itself. 

Using an MDM to distribute an app to an android device

Block apps

You can use a mobile device manager to completely restrict the usage of any application that can be downloaded from your phone's app store.

You could choose to block all apps and only approve a few specific apps. Alternatively, you could block individual apps. In the below example, I block the Instagram app, which uninstalls it if it already exists on the device and prevents it from being reinstalled.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Handling VPNs and Proxies

One of the reasons a blocking system is so important is because you have more flexibility over handling conflicts and common circumvention techniques.

Proxies, VPNs, and other DNS providers are common pain-points when it comes to blocking porn. This blocking system takes these circumvention methods into account. 

Self-managing a blocking system

If you are self-managing your own blocking system, it's important that related accounts are difficult to access. In order to reduce the likelihood that you simply disable your safeguards, it’s important to set up a system that makes this process really tedious (but not impossible).

My personal approach is to use a different email provider like  Proton Mail  for account management. I store my email password using a Cloud Storage provider with a simple encryption tool that password protects the file containing my Proton Mail password.

When I create a blocking/filtering account, I don’t save the password. Instead, I have to initiate a password reset that goes to Proton Mail. 

Then, I block Proton Mail using any of the available blocking techniques. This makes it really annoying to remove these safeguards. Even the blocking app I use on my phone can’t be disabled or deleted unless I go through Proton Mail.

If I want to disable DNS Filtering on my home network, I have to login to my router, which is also managed with Proton Mail. I also enable 2 factor authentication on everything to increase security, but also increase the time it takes to access an account.

I've written a separate guide detailing my exact account management setup and process here .