ATSA 2019 Updates: Understanding Sex Doll Ownership

As a clinician, I live at an intersection between three worlds.  Sex Addiction Therapy, Sexual Offender Therapy and Sex Therapy.  These are often conflicting worlds.  The sex addiction world can (used to) tend to think all non-normative sexual practices are an addiction.  The sex offender treatment world can tend to label out of the box practices “deviant” and the sex therapy world thinks that all consensual sex practices are pretty much just fine.  It is probably safe to say that these three different (but connected) worlds all likely have different thoughts about sex dolls. 

Sex doll use and sex doll ownership is something that is seriously stigmatized in most arenas.  People who own sex dolls can be labeled perverts.  Many people think that there is something really wrong with someone who might want to own a sex doll.  And many people think that if a minor attracted person has a sex doll it will increase his likelihood to sexually molest a child.  This can be attested to by countries or states enacting legislation about importation and/or ownership of sex dolls as well as a recent controversy in Texas about the opening of a sex doll brothel. The reality is that most of these statements are either stigmas or assumptions as it is a topic that is little researched.

That is why I was so excited to see a session at this year’s ATSA conference dedicated to research about sex doll ownership.  Dr. Craig Harper and Jeremy Malcolm presented preliminary research regarding sex doll ownership.  The first study that was presented was a qualitative study about the motivations for sex doll ownership.  The proviso here is that the sample size is still small (6) but is growing as the research is ongoing.

So why do the men in this study own sex dolls?  Two themes emerged.  First was that of the “perfect partner’ and the second was about sex.  The owners of the dolls identified deficits on real people or themselves that made relationships difficult.  The men in the study cited things such as a doll not always being critical as a reason to have a doll versus a real relationship.  Some men cited their own personal deficits as reasons for having a doll.  They suffered from great anxiety when interacting with others and found it easier to have a sex doll.  In these cases, the dolls took on emotional significance as well.  Another reason to have a sex doll is that you can create the perfect partner.  We all know that real people have flaws.  When creating a sex doll, it is totally customizable and can be created to perfectly match a person’s arousal template.

The second study was quantitative and looked at whether or not doll ownership predicted sexual aggression.  This is a topic of great importance as many people hold the belief that having a sex doll (particularly when you are talking about child sex dolls) will increase a person’s likelihood to offend against a real person (or child).  This study only looked at adults with adult sex dolls.  This study had both doll owners and a control group take a survey that looked at many variables.  Without digging into all the results, I will summarize.  Owning a sex doll did not increase the likelihood endorsing sexual aggression.  There were no differences between doll owners and non-doll owners on measures of sexual assault proclivity or paraphilic interest.  There were also no differences between doll owners and non-doll owners on the emotional factors studied nor in attachment style.

The study did find that doll owners scored higher in some of the implicit rape theories endorsements.  Particularly, doll owners scored higher on hostility toward women, seeing women as sexual objects, seeing women as dangerous and sexual entitlement.  It should be noted that the study did not look at causation.  Therefore, you cannot say whether owning a doll increased these scores or that people with these attitudes are more likely to get a doll.  We can just note a difference.

Again, as a reminder, this is preliminary data.  The second study has 70 doll owners and 90 controls at present.  However, the research is a step in the right direction as it is empirically looking at doll ownership.  The second study found preliminary evidence that owning a sex doll is not associated with an increase in sexual aggression. 

Some people might ask why this is important research.  Laws in states and countries are being enacted regarding sex doll ownership.  These laws are being proposed without research to back up whether or not bans would be effective.  It is easy to pass a law about sexual behavior on an emotional basis.  However, if the science ends up saying that the law is unhelpful or even harmful, it is nearly impossible to get these types of laws overturned. 

Book Review: Assisted Loving: The Journey through Sexuality and Aging

The second gem of a book I found while planning for my graduate human sexuality course last fall is Assisted Loving:  The Journey through Sexuality and Aging by Ginger Manley.  It is really easy to find books on most sexuality topics, such as sex addiction, sex therapy, general sex education, teens, pornography, etc.  What does not exist is a lot of good quality resources for sexuality of seniors.  Our world seems to forget that seniors have sex too!

Ginger Manley is a nurse practitioner and a certified sex therapist.  She has been doing this work since the 1980’s.  She also wrote a column in Mature Lifestyles magazine where people could write in to ask advice about sex, sexuality and aging.  She has also taught sex education classes at Vanderbilt University specifically for those over 60 years of age.  This book is a compilation of her columns that cover everything from relationships to medical issues.

So, what makes this book special?  It specifically addresses the issues that most other sex therapy or sex advice books do not.  When discussing relationships, most books do not tackle topics such as dating after the death of a spouse, how to date online when you are in your late 60’s or how to talk to your adult children about your new love interest.  The fact that these are real questions from real people make the book very relatable.  Ginger Manley’s frank and humorous style make the book fun.

I will relate a short story related to this book.  I am the type of person who just reads my books related to work wherever I am, be that on an airplane, etc.  If people ask me what I am reading I will show them.  I was in a tire shop, waiting on my new tires, reading this book.  A lovely older gentleman sat down next to me.  He got a flat on the way to his church’s men’s group that needed to be fixed.  He asked me what I was reading.  I replied with a “do you really want to know?”  And off we went.  Turns out he was 83 years old and happily married for well over 50 years.  We had a wonderful, long conversation about sexuality in older people, his own relationship with his wife and a million other things related to sex.  Never in a million years did I think I would be having such an open and honest conversation about senior sex in a tire store with a man I never met!  I relate this story because I think it shows that people want and need to talk about relationships and sexuality no matter the age.

So what are some of the issues that this book addresses?  It is divided into four sections.  The first focuses on relationship issues.  Many of the issues that seniors face in their relationships are the same as the issues faced by younger couples.  There are issues of communication, lack of sexual interest, and dissatisfaction in the bedroom.  Other issues that are more frequent in older couples involve starting new relationships after the death of a spouse and how to navigate online dating when you are older.

The second section focuses on male issues.  Not surprisingly, many of these focus on erectile issues or lack of sexual interest.  Using both her sex therapy background and nursing background the author delves into issues of ED, low T, sexual functioning after prostate surgery and TURP (Transeurethral resection of the prostate).  Section three turns to women’s issues.  Again, the author’s role as a nurse is helpful in working through issues that come with aging including hormonal changes and incontinence issues.

The final section is devoted to other medical issues.  The issues in this section are those that are not most commonly brought to the clinical office and I assume are not frequently brought to the medical doctor as well.  She covers topics such as resuming sex after joint replacement surgeries, dealing with added weight or things such as blood pressure medications.  Additionally, and much less talked about in general, are topics of Parkinson’s symptoms and sexuality as well as how to manage sexual activity when one spouse has early stage dementia.

If you work with sexuality issues in your practice, or if you are a senior who wants to get questions about your health and/or sex life answered, this little book is for you.  It is a fun but serious look at how aging affects our sexuality and offers great advice to help us to enjoy a healthy sense of sexuality no matter our age!

Dr. Weeks is the founder and director of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services. For more information on her practice, check out the website at www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

What Young Women’s Experiences with Sexting can tell us about Compliance, Coercion and Consent

The #MeToo movement has brought much needed attention to the experiences of women, of any age, of sexual abuse and harassment.  If you look behind the sensational headlines, the movement has sparked a much-needed conversation about consent.  I have previously written about how we teach consent in our practice in a blog on the topic.  The #METOO movement combined with some recent research published in the Sexuality Research and Social Policy journal can help us shed some light on how young women navigate sexuality and consent in the digital realm.

Dr. Sara Thomas recently published a research study in the journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy that looked at how young women handled pressure to send them a nude or semi-nude photograph from a peer.  Dr. Thomas’ study analyzed stories from teenagers about their experiences of digital drama.  She then identified three main dilemmas that young women experience in relation to sexual photographs.  These were interpersonal negotiations, consequences and self-concept.  She then identified six different categories of behavior for how women were induced to send nude photographs.  These were desire, personal gain, asked, relational scripts, bombardment and coercion.

One of the first dilemmas faced by a young woman is the decision of whether to send a photograph.  The study found that 2/3 of young women reported that they engaged in this ongoing struggle to decide if they should send a picture, if so to whom and when should they do this.  When a woman decided to send a nude photograph, the motivations ranged from it being consensual to giving in to pressure or threats from the person asking for the picture.

The young women in this study knew that if they chose to send a nude picture there could be consequences.  These consequences ranged from the picture being seen by people they did not want to see (mass distribution) to social ostracism, rumor spreading, legal consequences, emotional distress and getting in trouble with parents.  The study found that the biggest concern was the possibility of the image being spread without consent.

Why do young women send nude or sexual photographs?  In this study, only 8% of the young women sent the photograph because they wanted to.  If they didn’t want to send the image, why did they?

Compliance:  The study found that many young women were sending nude images because they wanted to please the person asking for the image or because they wanted to avoid negative consequences from the young men that were asking for the images.  One of the troubling findings from the study was the tacit nature of the compliance by the young girls.  The young women justified the compliance by saying that they liked the young man who was asking for the image.

“..compliance was frequently accompanied by an assertion they liked the young man who requested them.  These stories did not express coercion by the asker, but they also did not express a desire to send them.  Rather the decision to send was a compliant “so I did” to a male-initiated request for a photograph.”

Coercion:  The majority of the women in the study experienced some form of coercion.  The level of this coercion ranged from milder “If you loved me” statements from the young man requesting the image to more intense forms coercion.  When a woman was unsure of sending an image, they reported feeling guilty that their partner questioned their love by not sending a nude image.

Many of the women had experiences of coercion that were more intense.  The study found that some young men pressured, threatened, got angry or cut off contact with the young woman in order to try to obtain nude images.  The women also experienced threats of blackmail.  Some of these women were blackmailed into sending more images after they sent a first image.  The blackmail threat was often that the images would be mass distributed.  The young women who experienced these situations didn’t feel like they had any options and that they had to send the images.

Can young women refuse?  The answer to this is yes.  In the study about 30% of the women refused to send a sexual image.  Of those 30%, 79% of those women faced consequences for not sending images.  Partners would get angry.  Relationships would end.  Based on the consequences, several of the young women reported they ended up sending images to the young man who requested them.  Only 12 women in this study refused to send nude images and did not experience any negative consequences for holding their boundary.

What does this study show us?  In this study, 25 of 314 young women engaged in sexting with a partner because they truly wanted to, and the experiences were devoid of compliance or coercion.  This means that most of these young women engaged in sexting that was truly without consent.  Their behavior was induced by compliance or coercion.

We, as parents, teachers, educators, need to do a better job at many things.  First, we need to teach all young people the true meaning of consent.  We need to empower young women to say “no” to coercion and to feel strong enough to not feel the need to comply to an unwanted request.  We need to give young women access to resources to help them make decisions about their sexuality.

The young women in this study did not seek adult help but turned to peers for advice.  They often cited fearing an adults’ response as why they didn’t talk to parents or another adult in their life.  As adults, we also need to create an environment where our children feel safe to come to us with their challenging dilemmas and we need to react calmly and lovingly.

Thomas, Sara.  (2017) “What do I do?”:  Young Women’s Reported Dilemmas with Nude Photographs.  Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

For more information on Dr. Weeks please check out our website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

 

Book Review: Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand

A recovery book by actor and comedian Russell Brand may not be what you might be expecting in the way of a book review from an addiction therapist, but we should all have an open mind, right?

I started keeping a peripheral eye on Mr. Brand when I began focusing my clinical work on sexual addiction.  Mr. Brand made it very public (writing about it in several books) that he attended the Keystone Extended Care Unit in Chester, Pennsylvania for his in patient sexual addiction treatment.  This is what put him on my radar. I have friends and colleagues who work there and have referred many clients to treatment at Keystone ECU.  When his new book about recovery came out, I thought, “why not?”

Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions has been a pleasant surprise from the get go.  This book is a 12-step book.  The book takes the reader through the entire 12 step process, step by step.  Russell shares his own story of recovery, the good and the bad, in a very relatable way.  He also, very openly, shares his own struggles with the steps.  He has struggled with the concept of God or higher power which is a huge road block for many people who attend or think to attend 12 step meetings.  He addresses his own self-centeredness, inability to ask for help and isolation, which is very relatable to anyone who has dealt with addiction of any kind.

In addition to the book, on his website, www.russellbrand.com, he provides a supplement to the book.  He provides the reader with his own questions and worksheets to work the steps.  I have read many 12 step books and I honestly feel as though these are some of the easiest to follow and real guides I have ever seen.  They are absent the preachy vibe that can come with some 12 step worksheets.  They are also rather blunt, which is a style I prefer.  Honestly, I have printed these out and given them to clients who I know struggle with the higher power concept of the 12 steps or have some other issues with their experiences of the people in the 12 step rooms.

Of course, this is a book by Russell Brand, so it is full of obscenity.  It is not for the reader who objects to a multitude of f-bombs in every chapter.  This is part of why I really like this book.  It is real.  It is raw.  It is what actually happens when a person goes through the 12-step program, not a sanitized version of the process that makes many people feel that recovery is unattainable.

The 12th step of AA states that “After having a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in our own affairs.”  This book is Russell’s 12th step.  It is a great 12th step and one of the most enjoyable recovery books I have read in a really long time.

 

For more information on Dr. Weeks clinical work please see our website at www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com 

 

 

Pedophile: What’s in a Label?

The news is awash with reports of famous men, actors, directors, and politicians whose victims are coming forward to report the sexual abuse and sexual harassment they have been subject to at the hands of these people. I applaud the bravery of each and every victim who has come forward to share their painful story. It takes an immense amount of courage to break through years of shame and silence to confront one’s abuser. Bravo. I am glad that these men and women’s voices are being heard and hopefully they can find some sort of justice or closure.

My writing today is not for those brave men and women but for the media. As someone works with sex offenders every day I have a pet peeve. That pet peeve, which sometimes gets me in hot water in facebook posts, is the fact that people throw around the word pedophile every time someone is found to have abused a minor. Besides frequently being inaccurate, it sends a message that pedophiles are the only people who abuse children. It generates fear. If we are truly going to protect children from sexual abuse by adults, we need to spread accurate information and create effective prevention plans.

So, let’s talk about attraction. When we specifically are looking at age, attraction is clinically categorized three ways.

Pedophile: A person who is attracted to PRE-PUBSECENT children. Doesn’t matter the gender of the child. The attraction is to the lack of sexual development.

Hebephile: A person who is attracted to pubescent children. Again, gender does not matter. The attraction is to a child who is in early adolescence and has signs of sexual development.

Teleiophile: A person who is attracted to adults. This attraction is to fully sexually developed adults.

A person does not have to fit into just one category. There are people who are what we call fixed pedophiles. This means they are only attracted to pre-pubescent children. Other people are attracted to several categories of sexual development. I work with many men who are attracted to pre-pubescent children, pubescent minors AND adults. They do not have a fixed attraction but find all ages of people to be sexually arousing.

The next piece of this puzzle is that ATTRACTION DOES NOT EQUAL ACTION. Many people who have a pedophilic or hebephilic attraction do not ever have any sexual contact with minors. They live with this attraction but have the awareness to know that they cannot act on these urges and they can inhibit any behavior toward minors to whom they may be attracted. In the clinical world, we call these folks non-offending pedophiles.

In Germany, there is a great program called Project Dunkelfeld that offers free treatment to any person who identifies as attracted to minors to help ensure they do not act on those attractions. This project runs ads on buses or billboards and runs public service announcements on television. These folks are getting prevention right.

The next piece of the abuse puzzle is that people offend against children for many reasons, only one of which may be sexual attraction. There are many, many reasons why adults sexually abuse children. There are too many to go into here (future post on this topic forthcoming). Only one of the reasons a person sexually abuses a child is attraction. I have worked with many contact sexual offenders against children who were not sexually aroused to children. This may make no sense at all to someone who doesn’t work in this field, but it is true. Why else might someone abuse a child? Power, control, emotional identification with children, using a child as replacement spouse (frequently seen in incest), and/or antisociality to name a few.

As I am sitting here writing this, I am trying to determine why the misuse of the term pedophile pokes my buttons. I think that if we throw around the term pedophile to label anyone who sexually abuses a child we can put them in a metaphorical box. It makes it easy to put abusers into a category and then not think about it as much. We can think, “oh watch out for pedophiles, they abuse children”. Even if it were true, how do you identify one? They look just like you and me and act just like you and me. There is no way to know someone’s sexual preference by looking at them. Labeling gives people a false sense of security that children are abused by people in this category and not by anyone else.

If we put child molesters in this lump category we diminish the complexity of the issue. It is not just about attraction to minors. The people perpetrating the abuse most often are not “the others.” They are most frequently family members or close friends of the family of the children. They are frequently people in positions of power who have the trust of the child and the child’s parents. Abusers are, most often, people that know you and your child. (the exception here being cyber cases).

If we are going to truly protect children from sexual abuse, we need to make sure that everyone has accurate information. Creating a fear reaction to a clinical label does nothing to enhance child safety. What can you do to enhance your child’s safety? Learn the truth about the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Create an open and safe relationship with your child so that you can talk to them about sex, sexuality, sexual boundaries. Learn what grooming is and help them to identify behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable, so they can come to you immediately. Arm yourself with knowledge, not fear.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner and director of SATS, an out-patient program that treats sexual offenders, problematic sexual behavior and trauma.

Her book The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about pornography and cybersex in the digital age is available on amazon.

Three Things to Teach your Child About Safe Sexting

Sexting

If we choose to face reality, we know that teen sexting has become a normative part of adolescent culture.  Of course, not all adolescents are doing it, but many are sexting.  What we learned from the years of the “JUST SAY NO” campaign and more years of research is that preaching abstinence just doesn’t work.  If we want to protect children from the darker side of sexting, we need to educate and inform them about the practice, so they can make their own, hopefully well thought out, decisions.

What are the tenants of Safe Sexting?

  1. You are responsible for your own safety.
  2. Know the risk
  3. Know how to protect yourself

You are responsible for your own safety

 The digital world can be a risky place.  Aware parents will have talked to their children about online sexual activity and perhaps filtered or monitored devices such as phones or laptops.  However, no filter or monitor can truly protect a child from the risks of online sexual behavior.  Ultimately, your child is responsible for his or her own behavior online.  What they do or do not post, text, snap, etc.  is their own responsibility.

To help your child be more proactive about their online safety, here are some things to think about and talk to them about.  Before you send a picture or post, stop and count to ten.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I really want to send this picture or video?
  2. Do I feel pressured to take or send this image?
  3. Do I trust that the person I send this to will never share this image without my consent?

It is very true that many children, particularly girls, feel a great deal of pressure to participate in taking and sending sexual images.  There are also online predators who will groom, intimidate or threaten a young person to convince them to take pictures.  In these instances, there is no consent.  Coercion is never consent.

If your child chooses to engage in consensual sexting with a peer, they should truly want to take the image without feeling any pressure to do so.  They should also trust that, no matter what, the person they send the image to will not share the image.   If all of these parameters are met, then the sexting is consensual and if your child takes and sends an image, they are assuming responsibility for their actions.

Know the Risk

 Even in the case of consensual teen sexting there is a lot of risk.  In order to engage in safe sexting, the person doing it (adult or minor) needs to know the risk involved with the behavior.  So what are the risks?

Sexting as a minor may be illegal.  Every state has a different law regarding minors producing and sending illicit or sexual images.  The punishments for the behavior also vary from state to state.  In some cases, a child can be the producer and distributor of child pornography as well as the victim of the same crime.  Some states have decriminalized consensual sexting between two minors.  Know the law in your state and share that with your child.

Another risk is that someone you do not want to see your image may see your sexual image.  This is non-consensual sexting.  You may have sent a sexual image to someone with whom you are in a relationship.  This may have been consensual at the time.  Then, something goes wrong in the relationship, and you are not together.  Revenge porn is a real thing.  If the person you were dating changes their feelings or gets mad, they have an image that they can send out to every other person in high school or post to a revenge pornography site.  Anytime you send a sexual image there is always a risk that someone you do not want to see it will see it.  It is also possible that many, many people may see the image.

Protect Yourself

 In this arena of uncertainty, where something can go viral in the blink of an eye, how do you protect yourself?  Here are some guidelines to help your child protect themselves.

If you choose to consensually share a sexual image with someone, only send an image or video that you would not mind someone else seeing.  Are you ok with just anyone seeing you nude or engaged in a sexual act with someone?  If you are not okay with that, and choose to send an image, perhaps send a picture in a bathing suit or underwear.  I don’t want this to be read as advocating for teens sexting but for those who choose to do so, to send an image that the sender would not mind any and all to see.

If you choose to send a sexual image, only send an image to someone you trust.  Sending an image is a great act of trust as you lose control of that image the moment it is sent.  You need to truly and completely trust that the person you send it to won’t someday get mad at you and send it to all of his or her friends or post it online without your consent.

How do you know who you can trust?  To answer this, I will borrow from Brene Brown’s concept Anatomy of Trust otherwise known as BRAVING.  This can be applied to you or another.

  • Boundaries – The person you may send this image to always respects your  boundaries
  • Accountability – The person you may send this image to always owns their mistakes,  apologizes and makes amends
  • Integrity –   The person you may send this image to always acts with integrity, does what is right instead of what is easy or fun.
  • Reliability –  The person you may send this image to is reliable.  They always mean what they say and say what they do.
  • Vault-  The person you may send an image to NEVER shares things that are not his or hers to share.  They don’t gossip and they keep confidences.
  • Non-Judgment- The person you may send this to will not judge you.
  • Generosity-   The person you may send this image to will assume the most generous thoughts about your actions and intentions.

If the person you are thinking about sending a sexual image to does not meet the core pieces of the anatomy of trust, you may wish to rethink sending him or her a sexual image.

To conclude, I would like to reiterate that my intention here is not to encourage or glamorize the practice of sexting among adolescents.  My point is to be realistic.  If teens are going to engage in sexting we need to empower them with accurate information and guidance about how to do so safely.  Talking to your child about Safe Sexting arms them with information to make their own informed decisions.

For more information on how to talk to your child please see my book, The New Age of Sex Education: how to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.

For more information on Dr. Weeks, Please see our website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com

Girls and Sexting

Friends Using Smart Phone While Leaning Against Wall

I am writing to you today from the annual conference of ATSA, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.  I come every year to ensure I stay on top of all the latest research and to make sure that the methods we use to treat people at SATS are state of the art and evidence based.

Each year, in addition to traditional talks, there are poster presentations.  Today, Marion Desfachelles, a Ph.D. student at the University of Montreal, presented a poster on her research on girls and sexting.

Because this research is from Canada, I will take a moment to explain how Canadians handle teenage sexting.  Sexting is divided into two categories, Primary and Secondary.  Primary sexting is defined as sending or receiving sexually explicit content in a private context.  Secondary sexting is defined as distributing the image or video to the public.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this year that to establish an intimate photo exception to the juvenile pornography laws.  This exception allows “two youths, who engage in lawful sexual activity, to consensually record their own lawful sexual activity as long as that recording is made or possessed for their personal use.”

As most of the research on secondary sexting is focused on boys, Ms. Desfachelles wanted to look at how girls engage in primary or secondary sexting.  To do this, she looked at the arrest records of 27 girls who were arrested or suspected to be involved in cases of juvenile pornography.

What did the study find?  Girls are sometimes the primary sexter and the secondary victim, meaning a girl may have taken an image for a partner but it was then distributed outside the context of that relationship.  Girls also distributed sexual imagery to others.  An interesting finding was that the girls did acknowledge that sending these images would be hurtful to the victims, but the girls thought that the victims of the secondary sexting were responsible for the situation.

The study found three main motivations for secondary sexting.  The most common motivation was that of revenge or hurt.  The other two motivations seen were goodwill and fun, meaning peer pressure.  Boys continue to be most frequently the originators of the secondary sexting, but girls sometimes start the process and definitely participate in the secondary sexting.

We know that there is significant emotional damage to the victim of secondary sexting.  Prevention campaigns often focus on not sexting at all.  The author suggests that, as sexting is becoming a more normative behavior for teens, the prevention efforts be moved to focus on prevention of secondary sexting.

Help teens understand that they should keep something that was sent in the context of a relationship private.  Teach teens about consent and that consent also applies to distribution of images sent with the expectation of privacy.

As always, parents should be talking to their children about sexting.  We also need to expand our discussions about how, if their child does engage in sexting, they can do so in a safe and respectful manner and to understand the risks involved in sending an explicit image to another person.

For more information on the effect of sexting on children, please see my book, The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.

Parents – Get Your Kids off Adult Dating Apps

grindr.PNG

I started engaging in prevention and education work as a direct result of my experiences working as a forensic psychologist in the field of sexual addiction and sexual offending. Despite my efforts and the efforts of many others more well-known than myself, we continue to see an increase in cybersex issues with teens.

This month, I have had several new forensic cases involving teens and dating apps. These new cases involved adult men who were found to be having sexual contact with minors that were met via the adult dating app Grindr.

First, let’s talk about dating apps. The most well-known adult dating apps are Tinder and Grindr. Tinder is used more for those who are attracted to the opposite sex and Grindr is targeted at the gay male audience. Other names you need to know: Jack’d, Scruff, Adam 4 Adam, Growlr, Plenty of Fish, Ok Cupid.

Why do you need to know about these apps? Because under age teens are on these apps, using them and meeting with adults for sexual encounter. Any and all of these apps are for people over the age of 18. They specifically state in their information that you cannot be under 18 (or 21 in some places) and use the app. The apps are for adults. The problem is that often all you must do is enter a birthdate or check a box that affirms you are at least 18 years of age and there is no age verification. Anyone under the age of 18 can do the math and figure out what birth year they need to enter to comply. If someone mutually swipes and connects with your child, they will text or chat to see if they are compatible and arrange a hook up or meeting. Sometimes, during these chats, the child may disclose that they are under the age of 18. Many times, they do not.

There are two ways your child could end up having sex with an adult via an adult dating app:

  1. They could be targeted by an adult who is specifically seeking a young or young-looking man or woman on the app. However, there is an assumption that all on the app are of legal age. During the chat, the child could disclose that they are underage. Obviously, at this point, the right thing for anyone to do is to discontinue the conversation with the minor and NOT meet them, connect with them and surely not have sex with them. However, some people will ignore what is right and hook up with the minor for sex. In this case, the person meeting the minor has full knowledge that they are underage when they are hooking up with them and knows this is illegal.

  1. A child could go on an adult dating app and create a profile that says they are at least 18 years old. They could engage with men or women on line and meet up with them for sexual encounters. The child could never disclose that they are a minor to the person they are meeting for sex. Therefore, the person who is meeting them for sex is under the assumption that they are at least 18 and they are not knowingly having sex with a minor.

What can you do if you are a parent?

  1. Talk to your child. Talk to them about dating apps, hook up apps and any social networking apps. Ask what they use and how they use it. Ask if they are on the sites. Discuss with them the inappropriateness of being a minor and being on an adult dating site. I have had clients tell me they were on these apps when they were as young as 13 years old.

  1. If necessary, block your child’s access to these sites. I am not usually a fan of blocking sites completely, but in these cases, where there are such serious risks, I say, block your child’s access until they are the legal age to use the apps.

  1. Be open to your child’s curiosity about sex and sexuality. Many of these issues occur on same sex dating sites. This is likely because adolescent men are exploring their sexuality and may not be out, feel safe doing so in their school or social network and/or have no one to talk to about their questions and feelings. Be that safe person for your child to talk to and help them find appropriate resources to answer their questions.

What can you do if you use a dating site?

  1. If you find out someone you are talking to is under 18, stop talking to them IMMEDIATELY. Report their use of the app to the administrators of the app per the app’s instructions. DO NOT MEET THE UNDERAGE USER.

  1. If you think someone is younger than 18, ask for some form of ID to verify their age. Ask for a driver’s license. Yes, someone can get a fake ID If they are underage, but you need to do this to protect yourself and not make a life altering bad decision.

Does the app bear any responsibility when a minor is preyed upon in an adult dating app or ends up having sexual encounters with an adult? The answer to this is, NO. They do not. This has been challenged in court and the apps have won, meaning that the stated age requirements and acknowledgment of the user of the rules removes them from any liability in these cases. I would urge the makers of these apps to do more to try to remove under age users from their platforms.

As always, the key to prevention is awareness and communication. Talk to your child!

For more information on Dr. Weeks please see our company website. You can find The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age on amazon.

Something’s Missing in the Current Drug Prevention Rhetoric

prevention

I have been an addiction therapist for approximately thirteen years.  While for some professions that may not seem like a long time, for a substance abuse professional, thirteen years in the trenches is a very long time. It is thirteen years of being underpaid, overworked, and underfunded.  It is also thirteen years of working with lost and often traumatized souls who may never ever get better.  Thirteen years as a substance abuse professional can make you weary.  However, you don’t end up in this profession and last for any length of time unless it is a calling.

Unless you are completely cut off from the outside world, you have seen many a news article lately about what is being called the heroin or opiate epidemic.  The apparent meteoric rise of addiction problems due to a prescription pill problem that for many turns into a heroin problem.  In March of 2016, the Centers for Disease Control issued new guidelines for doctors who prescribe opioids for chronic pain.  In 2015, hydrocodone combination products were moved to a Schedule II drug classification, indicating their highly addictive potential.  These changes were made in the hope of curbing the opiate addiction problem in our country, but with little effect.

This blog is not meant to be a discussion of anything related to why the situation continues to decline or what to do about it now.  What I want to talk about is prevention.  Most resources, even good resources like www.PASTOP.org, spend most of their page space talking about prescribing, what to do with unused medication, overdose and treatment information.  While all of this is very useful information, it is what I would call secondary prevention.  This is prevention of use by teens or adults, frequently who are prescribed medication initially by a doctor for a legitimate medical issue.  What is missing from the big picture of this prevention discussion is childhood.

Earlier this year, I finished reading both Dr. Gabor Mate’s, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s, The Body Keeps the Score.  Both are must reads for anyone who works in the addiction field.  I would like to share with you the line from In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts that inspired me to write the post.

“The prevention of substance abuse needs to begin in the crib – and even before then, in the social recognition that nothing is more important for the future of our culture than the way children develop.” P. 443

What is missing in almost all current talk about prevention is that, unfortunately, for all the people already addicted or prone to addiction, it is potentially too late.  Why do people become addicts?  Trust me in that no one wants to be an addict when they grow up or enjoys addiction.  Maybe, in the beginning, they liked the effect of the drug, but that quickly wears off.  What many addicts like is the escape.  The ability to take a substance that makes them not feel feelings they don’t like or can’t handle.  They like the fact that when they are taking the substance, they don’t have to sit in reality.  They like that the drug makes their flashbacks go away.  They like the fact that many drugs make them forget for a period of time.

In 13 years, I have yet to meet a drug addict who, at some point in their life, and most likely in childhood, did not suffer from at least one form of abuse or neglect.  Many drug addicts and alcoholics (gamblers and sex addicts too) endured verbal, physical and/or sexual abuse by their parents or family members growing up.  Many endured neglect in childhood as well, whether that was physical or emotional.  Many addicts were bullied in school and had no one safe at home to talk to about their experiences.  These childhood experiences mean that often, they looked for ways to self soothe, ways to cope or ways to feel better even if it was for a short period of time.

The ACE studies (Adverse Childhood Experiences) have shown scientific proof of what addiction counselors have known for years.  The more ACE events in a person’s life, the more likely they are to not only have physical issues but also mental health issues.  People with higher ACE scores are 2 to 4 times more likely to use alcohol or other drugs and to do so at an earlier age.  If a person’s ACE score is 5 or higher, they are 7 to 10 times more likely to use illegal drugs, report addiction or to inject illegal drugs.

So what do we do?  Addiction prevention starts before a child is born.  The in-utero environment of a child affects their neurobiological reaction to stress as an adult.  To stop drug addiction, we need to stop child abuse.  How do we do this?  Obviously, this is a tall order.  Make parenting classes more accessible to all expecting men and women.  Teach not only about physical care of a child but their mental health care as well.  Talk about attunement to a child and how that affects his or her ability to regulate emotion later in life.  Work to create safe spaces in a home and healthy attachment.  Teach communication skills from the start.  Teach healthy coping skills to even very young children.  Teach healthy coping skills to the adults so that they can model these for their children.  Work as hard as we can to prevent physical, sexual and emotional abuse of everyone.

I realize that my goals are idealistic.  I have always said that if the world gets healthy, I would happily change professions.

We need to start addiction prevention from the beginning by having discussions about childhood abuse, neglect and trauma.  We need to work to take away the stigma of therapy and getting help for emotional problems.  We need to teach everyone how to effectively communicate and cope.

I know that this is a tall order and that many do not have the resources to learn all these skills.  We need to work to provide these resources to everyone.  As a society, we need to do more……….

 

For more information on Dr. Weeks please go to our company website www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com.

Photo credit.  The Watsons, NYC, NY.

Sex Ed by Porn: Free Webinar Friday

iStock_000044887094_Full.jpgJoin me this Friday for a free one hour webinar hosted by The Center for Healthy Sex at 12:00 pm (PT) to talk about the effects of cybersex and sexting on children.

Click here to see the event details  http://centerforhealthysex.com/sex-therapy-resources/upcoming-events/

 

You can also check out my book on the topic:  The New Age of Sex Education:  How to Talk to your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age.