FARGO -- Karl Petry and David Ugelstad were 12 when they first clicked.
In half a second, they could access billions of pornography videos on their computers and cellphones. For years, they isolated themselves to watch Internet porn.
They weren't alone.
Following first exposure, the largest consumer group of Internet porn is boys between the ages of 12 and 17, according to statistics by international anti-porn organization Stop Porn Culture.
Now in college at North Dakota State University, Petry, 20, and Ugelstad, 19, are working to increase awareness about porn and its harmful effects by starting a local street team for Fight the New Drug, a national anti-porn nonprofit organization. So far, seven men and women have joined the group.
Petry's been porn-free for six months and Ugelstad for nearly three years. Psychology Today defines pornography, more commonly referred to as porn, as sexually explicit material intended to sexually arouse.
"It's been something that I've struggled with," Petry said. "There are so many downsides of porn that you don't even notice."
Ugelstad and Petry say they've felt embarrassed and experienced low self-esteem. The feelings are common among people who watch porn excessively, says Heather Guttormson, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Fargo who's worked with individuals and couples on sexuality for more than a decade.
"Sexuality tends to be a topic people don't want to talk about and you don't want to talk about porn and you don't want to talk about masturbating," she said.
Talking with family members and friends has helped Petry and Ugelstad feel less shameful. Founding a Fargo team for Fight the New Drug helps, too, because it starts conversations, Ugelstad says.
Fight the New Drug shared a photo on Facebook on Dec. 2 of the team and it garnered more than 2,500 likes and 117 shares by the end of the month.
"I know the picture really helped spawn a lot of questions. It did help open the door for me," Ugelstad said.
Using the tagline "Porn kills love," the goal of Fight the New Drug is to raise awareness of porn's harmful effects so people can make an informed decision about it, and to provide helpful resources. Fight the New Drug doesn't have any religious or political affiliations, according to its website.
Like the organization, Petry and Ugelstad call porn a drug that can be addicting. But Guttormson says the term "porn addiction" is controversial in the medical field because it's difficult to classify. It's more of a process addiction, like gambling, than a physiological addiction like alcohol, she says, adding it's likely only a matter of time before it'll be called an addiction.
Porn can affect relationships, communication skills, careers, education and sexual functions, as well as objectify women, among other things, but Guttormson is most concerned about how porn is shaping boys' sexuality. She mentions a 2014 study that never came to fruition because the researchers couldn't find young men who hadn't viewed porn to be the control group.
"This is a public health issue," she said. "There's an industry that is influencing the sexual development of young boys in our culture and we have no idea how that is going to affect them in the long run."
Several studies point out that men watch more porn than women and viewing often starts in young boys. Access to porn because of technology has changed the way people view it, Guttormson says.
"It used to be a boy stumbling upon his dad's Playboy magazine and it was a picture of a pretty woman. But this is hardcore pornography that they're seeing at 11 years old," Guttormson said, defining hardcore porn as anything violent or dealing with fetish, like bestiality and sadomasochism. "It's become our biggest sex educator. We have a whole generation of boys believing females don't have pubic hair."
Crediting their Christian faith as a driving force to remain virgins until marriage, Petry and Ugelstad say they don't know if porn depicts real-life sex.
"Being that I haven't had sex, I honestly don't know. I have read that a lot, though," Petry said.
Individuals and couples can view porn without it becoming an issue, but Guttormson says there's more sound research that talks about the negative effects.
"There's not really research out there that says this is a positive thing. It's more anecdotal," she said.
People who excessively view porn typically seek help after a loved one is fed up. Guttormson says it's often an ultimatum--they quit watching porn or their partner will leave. It affects both gay and straight men, women and couples, she says.
After a person decides to quit watching porn, they work toward a period of sobriety that might include putting controls on computers and phones, in addition to therapy so they can learn about healthy sexuality and work through sexual trauma if necessary, Guttormson says. Partners and loved ones may need help, too.
One of the most important parts of recovery is connecting with other people who've had similar struggles, Guttormson says.
Petry and Ugelstad lean on their family and friends for support. But it felt impossible to go porn-free at first, Ugelstad says.
"For me, right now, porn isn't an issue, but you can see the foothold it's trying to make in your life, even the way you look at a girl or anything you see. It's like a slow, downhill spiral, it snowballs," he said. "You have to cut it at the bud and throw it away."
While they don't have specific dates set yet, Petry and Ugelstad will host informational meetings about Fight the New Drug to encourage more discussion about the harmful effects of porn. Guttormson hopes to see education about porn in schools and more discussions about it in churches and families.
"At the end of the day, the reason why these sorts of movements are happening is because it's putting pressure on young boys and men that they always need to be ready, willing and available. It's not healthy," she said.
For more information about Fight the New Drug, visit www.FighttheNewDrug.com.