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.  

We Are Failing Male Sexual Abuse Survivors

I specialize in working with sexual addiction and problematic sexual behavior. Most of my clients are men.  Working with male addicts for over a dozen years has taught me, in person, that many more boys are sexually abused than the numbers tell us.  These boys do not tell anyone and do not seek help.  These boys turn into men who are profoundly affected by their sexual abuse experiences as children and most of the time, don’t even know it.  They do not name what happened to them as abuse, or they don’t want to.  They feel so much shame about being abused that they lock part of themselves away so tightly it can take years (like 5 to 7 years) of therapy before they even acknowledge to a trusted therapist what happened to them.  These men who were abused as boys suffer in silence.

I realize that many people (myself included) will respond to this by saying that many girls and women do not disclose their sexual abuse and that they too live lives that are deeply affected by their abuse histories.  Having spent time working in a Women’s Trauma and Addiction PHP and IOP program, I do not dispute this.  However, I see a difference.

When women finally find the courage to come forward to seek treatment for their sexual abuse, they can find resources.  There are many group, individual and support resources for women who are survivors of sexual abuse.  Finding help is not so easy for men.  I will share an example from my practice to explain.

I have a male client who came to me last year who I will call Tom.  Tom has a pornography addiction and came to treatment after the problem began to cause a great deal of disruption in his life.  He had never gone to therapy and near the beginning of our work together, he disclosed that, when he was a boy, he was sexually abused by a neighbor boy who was near his age.  He had never shared this with anyone in his life and as soon as he acknowledged the abuse, the floodgates opened.  He started to have flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms.  Tom is a take charge kind of guy and we nearly immediately started to look for resources for him to do trauma work outside of our individual sessions.

First, we looked for men’s specific groups.  There was nothing and we are directly outside of a major east coast city.  Then we looked for trauma groups.  Tom talked to a few places that had groups for trauma survivors and was told that, as a man, he would make the women in the group uncomfortable so they could not have him join the group.  He then had an intake with a county resource for group trauma work.  After his intake, they told him that his case was too complicated and he could not join the group.  After months of looking, we literally could not find a group for sexual trauma survivors that was either all men or that would allow men into the group.

Tom continues his trauma work in individual therapy but craves the connection and understanding that one gets in group work.  He wants to know he is not alone and the therapeutic community was unable to tell him that, as a man, he is not alone.

Tom is just one example of many that I could pull from my case load.  To me, he is the loudest example of how we, as a treatment community, fail male survivors of sexual assault.  I have had other clients walk out of public events for sexual abuse survivors because, as the only man in attendance, they felt unwelcome and uncomfortable.

Why do we treatment professionals who work so closely with trauma not offer more resources to men? Are we uncomfortable?  Is there a reason we focus more closely on female survivors of sexual abuse?  These are questions to which I have no answers.  I have only heartbreak.  I can only do my part to welcome male sexual abuse survivors into therapy when they come and to start group programming for them in my practice.

I challenge other treatment professionals to process this issue and see what we can do to create more resources for men and to be more welcoming.

 

For a good online resource for male survivors of sexual abuse, please see www.1in6.org

More Evidence That Filtering Doesn’t Work: Teach Resilience Too

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Earlier this month a study was published in the Journal of Pediatrics that looked at internet filtering and the adverse experiences of adolescents online. There are countless software options for filtering content on your smartphone, computer, tablet or even to filter all content via your home wi-fi. Filtering has become big business. It makes us all feel better. Many parents install parental controls of some kind onto their children’s devices. Many addicts use these programs to help them stay away from pornography or other acting out apps. Just because installing these apps makes us feel better doesn’t actually mean that they are working.

In order to address this question – do these apps really decrease the adverse experiences kids have online- two researchers from Oxford interviewed 1030 adolescents (aged 12 to 15) as well as their caregivers. The researchers hypothesized (like we all do) that having some sort of filtering software installed on digital devices would protect the kids from negative online experiences. In this study, only 34% of parents said they used some sort of network filtering. Nearly 50% of the adolescent participants felt competent to work around any filter that was installed on their devices.

The results of this study indicated that the presence of internet filtering software did not reduce a child’s risk of being exposed to some type of adverse online experience. This could have been bullying, sexual advances, pornography exposure, etc. The authors of the study suggest, as I have written about previously, that parents, caretakers and educators invest time in teaching adolescents resilience skills,particularly focused on internet use and exposure to negative online experiences.

What is digital resilience? It is the ability of children to cope with negative online content in a healthy and appropriate manner. This involves both their own use of the internet, and particularly social media, but also the content that they view. Some have suggested teaching digital citizenship to young people. This includes helping young people assess representations of body image online; learning how to identify fake news; learning how to control one’s own internet use and learning how to disengage. (for more information on this see the Growing Up Digital Report).

The United Kingdom has suggested 5 Rights for adolescents regarding digital use.

  1. The right to remove: This means that everyone should be aware of how to remove any information that they have posted themselves. Additionally, anyone using social media should be aware if it is possible to remove something that someone else posted of them. If it is possible, they should know how to do it.
  2. The right to know: This means that everyone who is using the internet, but particularly social media for teens, should understand what sites are doing with your information. Who has access to your data? Who do they give it to, etc?
  3. The right to safety and support: This means that adolescents should know that they can turn to someone for support if they encounter something online that they do not understand or that they find distressing. They need to have someone in their life that they can trust with this communication.
  4. The right to informed and conscious use: This means that everyone should understand that the digital world is complicated and that they can turn it off. This also means they have access to the skills to switch off for a period of time.
  5. The right to digital literacy: This means that adolescents should really understand the technology that they are using and it’s purpose.

As an example, most people just get on an app and start using it. They do not actually read the user agreement which will state if the user has any privacy at all and what rights they have to content. Those agreements also discuss what content is appropriate and how to report inappropriate content. Most teens never read these agreements so lack digital literacy and their right to know is not met.

The right to safety and support is the providence of parents. Do you talk to your children about online content. Are you a safe person for them to talk to about things they see online? Do you provide support or lecture? Also, as a parent, you can enforce digital time outs or digital vacations. This is something that no teen is going to want to engage in, but parents are still the ones to set boundaries. Is there a no tech rule at the dinner table that EVERYONE (you too parents) follows? Does the family engage in any no-tech activities?

Since the scientific evidence is mounting to indicate that filtering access to content is not very effective for protecting teens from adverse online experiences, we need to do more. If you filter, you also need to teach digital literacy and resilience.

For more information on how to talk to your child, you can purchase my book on Amazon by clicking here.

For more information on Dr. Weeks and her practice, click here.

Do you think your teen talks to you about online risk?

Daughter looking a phone and ignoring her mother

My last post detailed research presented last year by Dr. Wisniewski . Today’s post will highlight research she presented just a week or two ago, the end of February, at the CSCW conference. Dr. Wisniewski and her colleagues continue to generate wonderful research that has real time applicability to parenting in the digital age.

Very little is known from the research community about whether teens actually communicate the risk they experience online with parents. Each parent may have their own thoughts about their own child’s exposure to risk and communication of that exposure but there is no way to really know the truth.

In the research presented last week, Dr. Wisniewski had 68 teen-parent pairs fill out weekly online diaries that cataloged the risks the teen experience online, whether the teen intended the risk to occur and how they felt about the incident. The parents were also asked to log incidents of risk that child came to them to disclose the risk encounter. The researchers then looked to see how many “matched” reports existed. A matched report was a risk diary entry made both by the parent and the teen.

First, let’s talk about risk. What types of risk does a teen face online? For the sake of this research, the risks were broken down into four categories. 1) information breaches – these are situations in which a teens personal information or photo is being used or shared online without their permission. 2) Online Harassment – This is cyberbullying or negative online interactions that make the teen feel unsafe, threatened or embarrassed. 3) Sexual Solicitations – these are sexting or requests for sexual content that can come from friends, acquaintances or strangers. 4) Exposure to Explicit Content is either voluntary or accidental viewing of pornography or violent content online.

So, what did the researchers find? Well, in a nutshell, not much matching. They found that only 15% of risk reports were matched, meaning that most of the time, parents and teens were very out of synch on what they considered risk or what they reported.

Parents reported much less risk than their children did. Many teens did not share exposure to explicit content or information breaches with their parents. These tend to be viewed as low risk by teens and it is hypothesized that therefore the information is not shared with parents. While parents tended to report low risk issues, teens reported more medium level risks.

Another interesting finding from the study involves what the researchers called Risk Agency. Basically, this looked at whether anyone was “at fault.” Was a risk accidental or intentional? Teens more frequently shared that risk exposure was accidental and parents tended to assume that their children were either victims or intended to engage in risk. Parents tended to assume that things that were accidentally viewed by their children were intentional.

In my work with parents, I often stress communication. This study also looked at parent teen communication. In most cases, teens did NOT tell their parents about risk they experienced online. The bigger problem is that the parents THOUGHT that their teens were talking to them when they were not. When teens did talk to parents, it was to ask them for help or when they were shocked by content they had seen. Another main reason why teens did not tell parents about risk exposure was the fear that the parent would react negatively. They didn’t want to be punished for things that were not their fault. Teens also did not want to hear a lecture from their parents that involved reprimand. Teens tended to find the reactions of parents: grounding, taking away phones, disallowing social media, etc. to be too harsh.

What are the practical take aways from this study? First, teens only tell their parents about 28% of the risk they encounter online. Parents under estimate risk and over estimate how much their child tells them. Teens tend to think many online risk situations are “no big deal.” Teens also find parents as lecturing, reactive and judgmental about risk they do share.

The study and clinical practice suggest that parents need to work hard to improve their communication with their teen about online activity, risk and resilience. If a parent can share discussions with their child about how to manage online risk before it happens in a nonjudgmental, non-lecturing manner, they will likely increase the chances of their teen talking to them about their online experiences. If parents want to know what is going on in their teens online world, they need to specifically ask what is going on and not assume that their child will tell them.

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.

Rethinking Online Safety Apps

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

Father And Son Using Laptop At Home

 

After spending last year finishing my book, I am about to launch a very busy spring and summer of public talks and professional presentations about both adolescent cybersex and adult sexual addiction.  In preparation, I have again dug into the research to see what is new since I published my book, The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.  Dr. Pamela Wisniewski, now at the University of Central Florida, has continued her research (started at Penn State) on online safety.  She is doing great work and the world outside of academia needs to know about it!

Dr. Wisniewski recently presented some of her work at an ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) conference where she presented her TOSS model of mobile online safety.  She presented data on an analysis of 75 Android apps that promote teen online safety.  Her goal in doing this study was to see what these apps did and how they fit into her TOSS model.   Toss stands for Teen Online Safety Strategies.  Dr. Wisniewski and her colleagues created this model to frame and discuss the disparity between parental control and teen self-regulation.  This model looks at how parents try to regulate their child’s online safety and what teens need to learn to do it for themselves.

From the perspective of a parent, the model identifies three strategies that parents use to monitor teens online activity.  Monitoring is a strategy in which parents passively monitor their child’s online activity.  Restriction involves placing rules and limits on the teen’s online activity.  Both strategies do not involve discussing the topic with the child.  The third strategy is Active Mediation.  This involves discussions between parents and teens regarding online activities and how they will be handled.

The TOSS model also stresses Teen Self-Regulation.  This too falls into three categories.  These are skills that teens need to learn, both to deal with the digital world and in life in general.  The first skill is Self-Monitoring, which is a teens awareness of their motivations and actions that comes through self-observation.  The second is impulse control.  Teens need to learn to inhibit their short-term desires in favor of long term consequences.  The final issue is that of risk-coping.  Teens are exposed to risk all the time and they need to learn how to manage a negative event once it has happened.

This study found that nearly all the app features, (89%), were targeted at parents and only 11% at teens.  Monitoring and Restriction were supported by most the online safety apps.  Education on the topic was only supported by 2% of the apps and active parental mediation was only supported by less than 1% of the apps.  The news was not any better for teen coping strategies.  At most, 4% of the apps supported any teen self-regulation, self-monitoring or impulse control features.

When the researchers looked at what values were supported by the apps, they found that parental authority and teen safety were valued over teen autonomy and personal privacy.  They also found that parental control through invasion of privacy and restrictions was valued over open communication with teens.  Finally, they found that, for teens, asking for help was valued over trying to actively cope.

If you are a parent concerned about your child’s online safety, you might say “so what.”  I want to know that my child is safe online so I restrict their access to things.  Enough said.  Maybe not.

The research on resilience shows us that teens develop effective coping mechanisms to protect themselves online when they are exposed to some level of risk.  When we use strategies that only enforce transparency and obedience in teens, we do not allow them to learn coping and self-regulation.

The most effective strategy remains that of parental active mediation.  Parents and teens NEED to have discussions about online safety.  This does not mean that a parent cannot use an app that restricts or monitors.  It means that the parent and the child talk about the risks of being online, including pornography use, sexting, cyberbullying etc.  Then they decide together how best to manage the environment in a way that fits with their family values.

As a parent, you will not always be there to shield your child from online risk.  We need to foster the appropriate TOSS skills in teens (and younger children) to help ensure that they can navigate the online world in a healthy manner even when you are not around.

 

Wisniewski, Ghosh, Zu, Rosson & Carroll.  (2017).  Parental Control vs. Teen Self-Regulation:  Is there a middle ground for mobile online safety?  Presented at CSCW ’17 in Portland, OR 2/25 0 3/1/17

For more information on Dr. Weeks please go to Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.

Why is a Good Couples Counselor So Hard to Find?

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I am going to start this post by adamantly stating that I am not a couples counselor. It’s not my thing and I just can’t do it. I have a great respect for those therapists who train in this area and devote their careers to helping couples find their way. Since I do not do couples therapy, I must refer my clients out to other couples therapists. You might think that this is an easy task. There are many Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists in this world. Then why do I hear so many horror stories from my clients? Why is my list of people to NOT refer to longer than my list of people TO refer to?

I will share with you the story of a newer client’s experience in couples counseling. First, I should share that I work with sex addicts and sexually addicted sex offenders. It is a rather specialized population and perhaps, a controversial one. Many of my clients are caught by the authorities for viewing child pornography. For many of them, this behavior is an escalation of their addiction to pornography.

This man and his wife, not long after her “disclosure by police”, went to see a couples therapist. This was not someone our program recommended but a therapist that they found via their insurance. The therapist had no stated knowledge or expertise in working with pornography addiction nor with offenders. This was glaringly obvious. My client reported that he was very open with this therapist. He told the counselor all about his addiction and how it led to his use of illegal images and arrest. (Let me tell you this is a big deal to share at a first session with anyone!).

When a client comes to you for this type of work, their level of shame gives them an amazing radar for judgment. They are sharing their deepest secrets with you, the therapist. If you move an eyebrow they will know it and likely interpret it as you judging them. Well, my client immediately felt as though the couples therapist did not believe that pornography addiction was a real thing. All from a vocal expression of the therapist. My client continued the session for the sake of his partner.

This therapist asked to see the partner alone during the initial session. Granted, what I relate to you is third party information, relayed from the partner to the client to me. However, even allowing for interpretation of the event, there is some truth here. That truth is very bothersome.

What the partner heard: the couples therapist thought that her husband (my client) was lying. The couples therapist felt that my client was not sorry about anything only that he was caught. The couples therapist then advised the partner that she should leave the relationship. All this assessment was garnered after only an hour intake session.

One can only imagine what this did to the partner.

What this also does is taint the idea of couples therapy for both of them.

As counselors, therapists and psychologists, we are only supposed to treat within our area of expertise. I treat sexual addiction, sexual offenders, addiction, and trauma and addiction. If someone comes to me with an eating disorder, for example, I don’t treat them. I refer them to a therapist who specializes in eating disorders. If someone comes to me with schizophrenia, I refer them to a specialist. You get the idea.

When we do not abide by this and treat people out of our area of expertise we can do damage to the client. This happens frequently when it comes to sex addiction. Sex addiction is a very controversial topic. Many people think it doesn’t exist and many people do. Personally, the label does not matter to me. For some clients, the label matters very much. If a client feels they have a sexual addiction and identifies with the label in a healthy way and a therapist tells them that it doesn’t exist or treats them in a manner biased by their own beliefs, they can do harm to the client.

If there is a stigma about sex addiction, then the stigma against sex offenders is there tenfold. Even less therapists are trained in treating sex offenders than sex addicts. There are studies that show therapists won’t treat pedophiles. In a profession where we are supposed to be open and nonjudgmental, many of us are just that, judgmental.

I do not write this to bash well-meaning couples therapists. I reiterate that I have the utmost respect for your work! My plea to couples therapists is this: If you do not believe in sex addiction, do not treat a couple where one partner feels they are a sex addict. If you do not believe in sex addiction or pornography addiction, please don’t shame the person with the addiction. If you do not want to treat sex offenders, then simply say that. Please don’t go behind one partner’s back and tell them that their husband or wife is lying and they should leave.

My advice for those seeking couples counseling (or any counseling for that matter) is to investigate your potential therapist. I understand that therapy out of network can be costly. The list of therapists you get from your insurance company means nothing other than they are in network with your insurance. It is your job to do some groundwork on us. Check out the therapist’s website. Consider what their specialties are. Call and ask if they specialize in working with couples (or individuals) who are going through what you are going through. If they don’t, then find another therapist.

Ultimately, we work for the client. Therefore I end every one of my intake sessions with a new client with one question. “Do you think that you can work with me?” I want to know if they feel comfortable with me. If not, even if I have the right training for the client, I am not the right therapist.

For more information on Dr. Weeks and her practice, visit our website:  www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com 

Not Your Father’s Porn

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One of the many comments I often hear when talking about pornography and young people is, “What’s the big deal? I saw my dad’s playboy when I was a kid and I’m ok.” This statement is true on many accounts. Yes, many people grew up sneaking a peek at a Playboy or Penthouse magazine and they never developed a pornography addiction. True, many people watched pornography when they were young and never developed a pornography addiction. So why are we worried about this now?

Today’s pornography is not your father’s porn. Not only has the internet made access to pornography nearly unlimited, it has also shaped the types of pornography available. Today’s internet pornography is much more aggressive than the pornography produced in the pre-internet age and when it was in its early days. Studies show that 88% of scenes in the most popular pornography show physical aggression and 94% of that aggression is aimed at women. Common sexually aggressive acts include slapping, choking, gagging and verbal aggression. Young people who are being exposed to pornography without any education about it are viewing pornography that is frequently aggressive. This often becomes their idea of what sex is supposed to look like. Therefore, young people can come away with the belief that sex is supposed to be rough and aggressive all the time.

Not only does today’s pornography frequently show acts of sexual aggression directed toward women, but it also overwhelmingly shows that women enjoy these acts of aggression. So not only does current pornography tell its viewers that it is ok to be aggressive in sex, it also tells them that women like it. What teens see on pornography videos, they frequently act out in real life. This means that they will possibly try these aggressive acts out with a partner as a matter of course. They won’t talk to their partner about them or negotiate consent.

What we are talking about is the mainstreaming of aggressive sex. I do want to take a minute to differentiate that from BDSM practices. Some people are aroused by acts of physical aggression, humiliation, etc. There is one key difference between acts practiced by those who embrace BDSM and what is seen in pornography. A key concept in the practice of BDSM is consent and care. People who are engaging together have talked about behaviors, consent and safe words. They have communicated about the sexual aggression ahead of time. This is not a practice that mainstream pornography is depicting. Mainstream pornography is often depicting rough sex as something that every woman wants.

Yes, many people who grew up before internet pornography often did view magazines or movies on that old VHS or even DVD player. The pornography that was readily available pre-internet is fundamentally different than what is frequently produced in the fast paced internet pornography age. When you think about your child’s exposure to online pornography, please do not think of it in terms of a rather innocuous Playboy centerfold. Parents need to be aware of the nature of internet pornography and what their children may be seeing. It becomes the parent’s responsibility to teach them that what they see in pornography is not what real life sex looks like. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach about consent and treating partners with dignity and respect.

For more on this topic, please watch The Porn Factor available on www.itstimewetalked.com.au. Also, please read The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age for more detailed information on the effect of pornography on children and how to talk about it.

What’s My Stuff? How to talk to your child about sex when you are the partner of a sex addict

Worried young Caucasian man with hand on head

In my book, The New Age of Sex Education: How to Talk to your Teen about Cybersex and Pornography in the Digital Age, I write about the baggage that can interfere with a parent talking to their child about sex, pornography, masturbation or any other sexual topic. This topic recently came up in one of my therapy sessions. I have a long-time client whose husband is in recovery from problematic sexual behavior and she has worked a strong program of recovery and self-discovery herself. She and her husband have several wonderful children, the eldest of which is entering pre-pubescence and the age of sexual curiosity. My client is a great mother and knows she needs to talk to her son (after recently accidentally finding him touching himself). She is also introspective and self-aware so she knows she is having a hard time even thinking about the conversations.

Why is my client struggling to talk to her child? Is it more than the normal incoming awkward conversation? My client thinks so. Being the partner of someone with out-of-control sexual behavior (they identify as sex addiction) means that, for her, sex and sexuality no longer have the same meaning that they once did. Being in a relationship with someone who engaged in secretive and betraying sexual behavior has skewed how she thinks of most things sexual. She no longer thinks that pornography is an “ok” thing. She struggles with what the obsessive objectification of women by her partner has done to her self-esteem. She wondered if she even knew what was normal sexuality for an adolescent. Could she bring herself to say that masturbation was a healthy behavior? Could she talk to her son about sex without inducing shame? Does she trust her partner to talk to her son about sex given his past issues?

What did we come up with? First, I offered my client resources. Both my book and the 30 Days of Sex Talks books by Empower Kids. These are great resources for parents. Second, we practiced talking about sex and what is healthy. It is normal for kids to find touching themselves pleasurable. She felt she would be able to talk to her son about this behavior and add a discussion of boundaries to it. Masturbation is something that should be done in private. He needed to agree to shut his door, lock his door and not touch himself around others. She also would agree to no longer just open his door but respect his privacy and knock before she entered. She also decided that she wanted to talk to her son about reasons for masturbation. She wanted to let him know that using masturbation to quell a sexual urge was a normal thing. She wanted him to know that doing so to self soothe bad emotions could be problematic. In this, she also will talk to him about other, non-sexual ways to self soothe.

Her next struggle was to talk about pornography. Her son is 12 and the average age of first exposure to online pornography is around 10 or 11. It is likely that, even though all her devices are locked down, he has either seen or heard about it. My client struggled to separate her own feelings about pornography from the discussion. We settled on just talking about facts. Pornography is something that is around and a lot of people look at. Has he seen it? What reaction has he had? We also talked about discussing with him what pornography portrays. Today’s mainstream pornography does not do much to show safe sex, mutuality, or anything relational. She decided to talk to him about how it does not portray what often goes on between partners. Most people do not look like porn stars nor do most people act like porn stars when being sexual.

As we have not yet had our next appointment, I cannot share the results of these conversations. I share them with you to show one of the many ways a parent’s sexual “baggage” can interfere with the education of their child(ren). I am grateful that this mom was willing to spend an hour working through the hard stuff, namely her own issues with sex, to find a way to provide an educational and non-shaming way to talk to her son.