Sex, God & The Conservative Church: Book Review

Charity (The United States)’s review of Sex, God, and the ...

I was asked to teach the graduate human sexuality course last fall at the Moravian Theological Seminary. As it had been years since I taught, I was on the hunt for new books for the course.  Because this course was being taught at a seminary, we had to at least touch on religion and sex.  I found Sex, God & the Conservative Church:  Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy, by Tina Schermer Sellers, Ph.D. at the AASECT conference and thought it might be a perfect fit.  Once I started to read the book I thought “WHERE HAS THIS BOOK BEEN ALL MY CLINICAL LIFE?”

As someone whose primary clinical practice involves issues related to sexuality (Sex addiction, sexual offending and other problematic sexual behavior), issues of faith are frequently brought into the treatment room. It seems, that for many, faith and sex are intertwined.  As someone who is not a Christian counselor, I didn’t always have the perspective or language to help some clients work through this as much as I could have.  This book is an exceptional resource both for clinicians and clients or church groups.

Sex, God & the Conservative Church takes the reader first through a journey of the history of how sexuality and faith became derailed.  Of particular interest to me, working with sexual addiction, was her discussion of Saint Augustine, who she labeled a sexually troubled soul.  This is of interest to me as one of the main 12 step fellowship groups for sex addiction is Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).  This fellowship is an Augustine Fellowship, named after the saint.

“While Augustine offered much that was foundational in the formation of Christian Theology, sexual desire and his own desire for women, which he was never able to completely escape, tortured him until the end.  His legacy of shame, fear of the body, and suspicion of its desire is with us today” p 33-34

The author suggests that a great deal of the root of sexual shame that Christians struggle with is rooted in his teachings.  I find it ironic, or perhaps a bit upsetting, that one of the main 12 step fellowships for recovery from sexual addiction is rooted in sexual shame.

Once past the history, the book delves into tangible ways to help people heal from their sexual shame and pursue sex positive messages from God and a sex positive Gospel.  Dr. Schermer Sellers frames the healing of sexual shame in a four-step process which will be very helpful for all people who are struggling with sexual shame, not just those that identify as Christian.

  1. Frame – provide sexual education to a client that they did not receive
  2. Name – help the client get their story heard by someone important to them.
  3. Claim – the client works to accept and own their body as a wonderful unique thing to undo the harmful messages inherited from religion and culture
  4. Aim – help the client write a new story of what they believe and what their legacy is to become.

Another aspect of this book that I really enjoy is the authors emphasis on normalizing childhood sexuality and the need for real, accurate and frequent sexual education being taught to children.  When families do not talk about sex and sexuality to children, they often assume it is something to be kept secret.  Worse yet is when a parent or care giver overtly shames a child for expressing normal sexual behavior or curiosity.  This can create a go to thought process of sex being dirty and bad.  If I (the child) have a sexual thought or feeling, I must be bad. Those of us who do this work know that so much of the struggle is rooted in shame and secrets.  If we normalize and teach children about healthy sexuality we can erase the shame that is often at the core of sexual problems.  To again quote the author:

“A culture that shames children for normal sexual expression plants seeds that manifest themselves in adult life in the form of disturbances in relationship, libido, and sexuality.  Sexual shame can sever the experience of sensual pleasure in a deep, loving attachment because it eclipses the person’s ability to feel seen, known, loved and accepted with and through their sensual body.  “ p. 106

I don’t think I can express strongly enough how wonderful this book is.  It should be a required reading for anyone who works with clients who struggle with sexual issues, be they sex therapists, sex educators or sex addiction therapists.  One of my strongly held beliefs is that we have to be sex positive in our work and not perpetuate sexual shame in our clients (see previous writing on being a sex positive sex addiction therapist).  Learning to integrate a sex positive Gospel for those of the Christian faith will go a long way to reduce sexual shame and reduce problematic sexual behavior.

 

For more information on Dr. Jennifer Weeks and her practice, head over to Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: Do You Take a Polygraph?

If you have been following our blog series, you know that we are trying to use our years of experience to help you find the best counsel and treatment possible for the issues that brought you into the legal system.  This post may be the only controversial one of the series.

Should you take a polygraph test?

When most people think of a polygraph, they think about something they saw on TV or a lie detector.  The polygraph is not a lie detector but a device that measures physiological responses.  It is often not admissible in criminal court (though it is in some places and can be used for probation violations).  So why am I even talking about it?

Despite it’s issues, the polygraph is routinely used in the treatment of sexual offenders and is considered a standard of practice.  So even if you don’t do a polygraph pre-trial, you will while you are on probation.  While on probation it is used as a therapeutic “tool” to assess whether the person on probation is following rules and regulations of probation and/or keeping any secrets from treatment and probation.  It is a measure used to gather information.

Again, why on earth am I talking about you possibly taking a polygraph examination before you go to court?  Just like it is used as a tool after adjudication, we can use it as a tool prior to sentencing.  In our geographic area, the FBI likes to ask people they are investigating (often within hours of knocking on your door in the wee hours of the morning) to voluntarily consent to a polygraph test.  What are they looking for by doing this?  They are seeking any evidence that you may be a mixed offender.  A mixed offender is someone who is being investigated or arrested for a cybersex crime that ALSO has committed a hands-on sexual offense in their lifetime.  It will come as no surprise that many people to take this polygraph test right away don’t do very well.  There are many reasons for that, anxiety, fear and absolutely no preparation.

As someone being investigated for a sex crime, why might it be helpful to you to do a polygraph?  Honestly, for the same reasons that the FBI does them.  Research now tells us that the assumption that people who look at child pornography must also be contact offenders is false.  However, it is hard for a court or an evaluator to just take someone’s word for it.  Though it is not admissible in court, if you take and pass a sexual history polygraph and have no history of contact offending, this has a favorable effect on your risk of recidivism.

Guidelines for taking a polygraph before sentencing

  1. Make sure your attorney is on board with this decision.  As with an evaluation, you can do this through your attorney so if you don’t have a favorable result from a polygraph it will be protected under attorney client privilege.
  2. Find a polygrapher who is trained, accredited and familiar with working with sexual offenders and giving sexual history polygraphs. You want to take a Sexual History Polygraph.
  3. Do your homework. This means that you and your therapist need to spend a great deal of time going through your sexual history with a fine-tooth comb.  This takes time.  People often have trouble on polygraph tests because they don’t really go through their history.  Work through your sexual history from the first time you kissed someone through the moment you are ready to take the polygraph.
  4. BE HONEST. It is best to be honest and pass than to keep and hold your secrets and have a deception indicated.  Also remember, that though this may be a tool to help you in sentence mitigation, it is ultimately about you getting honest with yourself to help your treatment and growth into a better human!

 

Shame lives in secrecy.  If there are no more secrets you can start to work on shame reduction.  This means that the value of the polygraph can be something more than just another measure your attorney or psychosexual evaluator can use in sentence mitigation.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She specializes in the treatment of sexual offenders and cybersex offenders.  Through her program she provides psychosexual evaluations, treatment and expert witness testimony.  SATS also offers coaching services for those people who are being investigated but are not in Pennsylvania.

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: The Psychosexual Evaluation

 

So far in our series of articles we have talked about finding a good attorney and a good therapist.  The next step in the process is to talk to your attorney about a psychosexual evaluation.  In most states and in Federal cases, the prosecution will have you undergo an evaluation with a therapist who works either for or on behalf of the state, county or Federal government. It is normally always a good idea to have one done by a psychologist who is not working for the organization that is prosecuting you.

First, what is a psychosexual evaluation?  The evaluation is comprised of an interview with a psychologist, a lot of psychological testing and a review of all forensic documents related to your case.  What tests you take often depends on the clinician who is doing the evaluation.  These objective measures will test for factors that may have both influenced your committing the crime you are accused of and may influence you to commit the crime again.  For example, you will likely do some type of personality test to see if you have any mental health diagnoses that influenced your crime such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, etc.  You will also likely be asked to take some test that will assess your likelihood of having a substance abuse problem, as this is sometimes correlated with certain types of crimes.

How do you find the right person to conduct the psychosexual evaluation?  If you have an attorney, he or she may have a psychologist that they work with closely and will refer you to that person.  If you are looking for this person on your own, there are a few things you should be on the lookout for.  First, you need someone who has a Ph.D. and has been trained to give the types of tests that you need.  Not all therapists have the training to be qualified to administer certain psychological tests.  Second, the psychologist who performs your evaluation needs to be experienced in performing psychological evaluations for sex crimes.  Not all forensic psychologists work with sex crimes.  Some, for example, perform evaluations for competency to stand trial.  Third, your evaluator should be a member of ATSA and familiar with the latest research related to offenders of your type of crime.

A question I often am asked is “what happens if the evaluation says something bad?”  My first response to this question is that there is nothing about an evaluation that is “bad.”  An evaluation is a combination of facts, testing results and opinion based on all those elements.  However, if you are concerned about the outcome of the evaluation, there is a solution.  If the evaluator is retained by your attorney and paid for by your attorney, the report then falls under attorney-client privilege as client work product.  This way, if your attorney does not feel that the evaluation will help you, he or she will not use it during your sentencing.

In most cases, the psychosexual evaluation is used for sentence mitigation.  Your attorney may use a favorable evaluation in the plea negotiation process beforehand.  Your psychosexual evaluation will be part of the pre-sentence memorandum that your attorney files with the court prior to your sentencing.  This report will give the judge information as to some of the reasons why you committed your crime as well as provide the judge with some information about your risk of recidivism (commit another crime).  The judge will take all this information into account when they are determining your sentence.

If your attorney does not suggest an evaluation, ask them about it.  Whether or not you need an evaluation or if it may be helpful will depend on your case and your jurisdiction.  We provide these suggestions as they are helpful in our geographic area of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She specializes in the treatment of sexual offenders and cybersex offenders.  Through her program she provides psychosexual evaluations, treatment and expert witness testimony.  SATS also offers coaching services for those people who are being investigated but are not in Pennsylvania.

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: What to look for in a therapist

In my first blog in this series, I wrote about the fact that getting a therapist is one of the first things you need to do when you are under investigation for a cybersex crime.  I briefly mentioned that you will need a specific type of therapist in that post and I am going to expand on what you need to look for in a therapist here.

Given how expensive this entire process is, one’s inclination is to just find a therapist who takes their insurance, can help with the anxiety and depression they are experiencing, though not necessarily specializing in treating people engaging in cybersex crimes.  I understand that thought process.  However, there are some things you need to know.

  1. Many therapists will not work with sex offenders. You would think or hope that someone who works as a mental health counselor would be able to work with anyone without prejudice.  Unfortunately, that is not true.  Research studies have shown that a high percentage of therapists will not work with someone who is attracted to children or has engaged in sexual behavior with a child (even if it is online).  This means that if you go to see just any therapist, you do not know if you are meeting with someone who is personally comfortable working with you.  If they are not, ethically they are to refer you to someone else.  However, not all therapists will do this.   This means that you may get advice biased by their own opinions about sexual offenders and often this is not accurate or helpful.

 

  1. Many therapists are not comfortable talking in depth about sex and sexuality. If you are going to really get to the root of the behavior that led to you engaging in a cybersex crime, you are going to be talking in depth about sexual behaviors.  This means that the therapist you choose to work with needs to be completely comfortable in their own sexuality and able to nonjudgmentally sit with the sexual behaviors of others.  Again, just as not all therapists can work with sex offenders, not all therapists are very comfortable talking about sex and sexuality.  That might sound odd, but it is true.

 

  1. Most therapists are not trained in treating sexual behavior that crosses into offending. In the process of graduate training to become a therapist, unless a person knows they want to specialize in treating sexual behavior problems from the get go, they are likely to receive limited training in the topic.  Normally all counseling programs make students take one course on human sexuality.  That’s it. This means that a general therapist will not have the training or knowledge to help you with the specific issues that brought you to being investigated for a cybersex crime.

 

What do you need to look for in a therapist?

  1. A therapist who has experience working with sexual behaviors. Most therapists will have listed somewhere on their website or Psychology Today profile what types of issues they work with.  If a therapist states that they work with sexual issues such as pornography addiction, sexual dysfunction, or other sexual health problems, they are going to be comfortable talking to you about details of sexual issues.

 

  1. A therapist who has experience working with sexual offending behaviors such as child pornography, sexting minors, online solicitation, etc. This will require a phone call or an email to the therapist and direct questioning.  Have they worked with people in your exact situation before?  If they have not, you might want to continue searching for a therapist who as at least seen a few people who are in your situation.

 

  1. A therapist who has specific training, certification or professional membership to organizations that work with sexual behavior problems. The best thing is to find a therapist who is a member of ATSA. This stands for the Association for Treatment of Sex Abusers.  This is an international organization that is entirely dedicated to research and treatment of people who engage in sexual offending behavior.  The website atsa.com has a referral page where you can find a therapist.  A second tier choice would be to find someone who is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist through IITAP (www.iitap.com) or trained through SASH (www.sash.net).  If you find a clinician who is experienced in treating your issue and they are not certified or a member of ATSA please make sure they stay informed of the latest treatment research and trends.

 

Again, if you are reading this you are in a very particular situation and need a very particular therapist to help you.  You need a therapist who is comfortable discussing sexuality in all forms, is willing to work with people who are attracted to children, has experience in treating people with sexual offending behavior and is up to date on the latest research in the field.

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She specializes in the treatment of sexual offenders and cybersex offenders.  Through her program she provides psychosexual evaluations, treatment and expert witness testimony.  SATS also offers coaching services for those people who are being investigated but are not in Pennsylvania.

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: What to look for in an Attorney

 

First, here is my proviso and you will hear it a lot.  I am NOT AN ATTORNEY.  I am not writing this in any way as a form of legal advice.  That’s not my role.  My role is to help people advocate for themselves and find the criminal defense attorney that is the best fit for their needs.

If you have had a visit from some type of law enforcement and they told you that you are now under investigation, you need an attorney.  Most people do not have a criminal defense attorney on speed dial so you, or a family member or loved one, are likely frantically trying to figure out several things.  First, what attorney do you use and second, how the heck are you going to pay for it?

What do you need to look for in an attorney?

  1. You need an attorney who has experience with sex crimes. Many criminal defense attorneys spend their entire careers mostly working with DUI type cases.  They don’t all work with sex crimes.  If you are searching attorney websites, they should state on the site that they have defended sex crimes.  If their website does not state this specifically, if you call, you need to ask whether or not they have experience with sex crimes.  And by experience I don’t mean they have tried one or two cases.  I mean that they have worked on many sex crime cases and know all about the laws and how to help mitigate your sentence.

 

  1. You need an attorney who has experience with sex crimes in your jurisdiction. This means a few things.  First, they obviously need to have passed the bar and are approved to practice law in your state.  Second, they need to have experience in the court where your case will be seen.  What court your case will be in depends on who showed up at your door.  If the FBI or Homeland Security is investigating you, you need a defense attorney who has experience trying sex crimes in the federal court system.  The federal courts and county courts handle these cases differently.  There are nuances in the Federal System that someone who has not seen cases in that venue will not know.  If your case is a county case, you want an attorney who has worked on a number of cases in your county.  Part of this process is the relationship that your attorney has with the prosecutor.

 

  1. You need an attorney with a strategy. When you are interviewing attorneys, you want to know what type of strategy they propose for your case.  At this point, they will not be able to create an actual solid plan as they do not know the details and will not know until the discovery is provided by the prosecution.  However, they should still have an idea of how to proceed and give you some things that you can do now to help with the case.

 

  1. You need an attorney with good reviews. Just like a doctor or a restaurant, there are sites that will help you find a lawyer and also will give you information on the lawyers rating.  For example, you can go on avvo.com to find a criminal defense attorney and read client ratings.  The website www.superlawyer.com can help you find a criminal defense attorney with a good track record and good ratings.

 

In the legal process, the decision about what attorney to use is so important.  I cannot understate how critical it is to have an attorney with experience specific to cybersex crimes.  Do not choose rashly or lightly.  Take some time.  Talk to the attorney.  Do some research.  Any attorney is going to be expensive.  The price tag will likely be daunting.  If you have any ability to find the money for an attorney, it is my suggestion that you go for it.  If you cannot afford an attorney and have to use a public defender, your defense will not be nearly as customized, and you will have to do a lot of this work yourself.

The next article in our series will discuss the psychosexual evaluation.

Dr. Weeks is a forensic psychologist who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of cybersex offenders.  Her treatment program provides counseling both pre-trial and after adjudication and she provides expert witness testimony.

You’re Being Investigated for a Cybersex Crime: Now What?

 

gavel and handcuffs on laptop

If you are reading this blog, either you or someone you care about has recently been visited by the police and are under investigation for a cybersex crime.  You are likely in shock and are likely panicking.  After many years of working with people in this situation, I have learned a thing or two of what to do next.  Even though you might be panicked, immobilized, in shock or depressed, you must take action.

Here is what you need to do right away.

  1. Hire an attorney

If you have the money or can rustle up the money, you need to immediately hire an attorney.  I will talk about what to look for in an attorney in a later post.  What you need to know in these first moments is that you should not just hire the first attorney you talk to.  Talk to several criminal defense attorneys.  Find out how much experience they have working with cybersex cases.  Make sure that the attorney has experience working with cybersex cases at your level.  If the FBI is investigating you, you need an attorney who has experience in Federal Court.  If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you are going to have to be your own advocate during this process.  A court appointed attorney won’t have the time to give you what a private attorney will.  You will have to do some of the leg work yourself.

  1. Make sure you are safe

When I say make sure you are safe, I mean make sure you are emotionally safe.  People who are investigated for cybersex crimes frequently feel immediately suicidal.  The majority of cybersex offenders have never been in trouble with the law before and the entire process can cause a shame spiral.  If you feel suicidal, go to the emergency room or find a hospital where you can go for a few days to ensure your emotional health and well-being.  If you are the loved one of someone who is under investigation be aware that they may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.

  1. Find a therapist

Now is not the time to just go down the list of in-network treatment providers from your insurance.  You don’t just need a therapist, you need a specialist.  The therapist you see should have experience treating people in your exact situation. They should have experience treating sexual offenders and perhaps pornography addicts.  While many therapists might be able to help you work through the anxiety and depression that will occur related to the investigation, if they don’t have experience working with the specific sexual behaviors or the court process, they will not be as effective as someone who specializes.

The criminal justice system works at a rather slow pace.  You will have time to deal with all of what comes after the investigation.  I will address many of these things in further posts.

If you are newly investigated please do things now and start to let experienced professionals help you through this process.

 

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is a Clinically Certified Sex Offender Treatment Specialist and an expert witness in the areas of sexual offending, cybersex offending and sexual addiction.  For more information on her services please go to the Sexual Addiction Treatment Services website. 

 

 

Pornography Problem…. Erotic Conflict or Addiction?

Computer Key - Porn

When I started in this field, sex addiction was not a common place term.  Therapists who treated sex addiction were not that prevalent and you never heard about sex addiction on the news.  Today, it is a different story.  You hear the term sex addiction all the time, bandied about in the news every time you hear about a celebrity sex scandal.  Therapists who treat sex addiction, whether specifically trained to do so or not, are much more common now as well.

The same goes for pornography addiction.  For some reason, this feels less stigmatizing to many.  Again, there are now large numbers of therapists who treat pornography addiction (whether trained to or not) and there are also many new programs popping up to help men deal with their pornography addictions.  These are often programs not run by a therapist or affiliated with a 12-step program but instead created and run by independent agents or religious institutions.

As the visibility of pornography addiction grows, the type of clients we have coming to the office have changed.  In the beginning, over 8 years ago, the (predominantly) men who were coming in to address problems with pornography were men who had struggled for most of their lives with pornography use.  They were watching more than they wanted to. They couldn’t stop.  They were experiencing serious consequences in their work and relationships or even with the law as a consequence of their pornography use.  These were men who were what I would diagnose as pornography (or sex as a broad moniker) addicts.

Today, many of the men who are coming in with self-diagnosed pornography or sex addictions are men who look at some pornography.  They don’t look at it necessarily a lot (maybe one or two times a week or less).  They don’t look at it for hours and hours on end.  They don’t look at anything illegal.  They often don’t look at any pornography that is more “hard core.”  Often their pornography use is causing a conflict in their relationship.  These are not men that I would diagnose with a pornography addiction, but they call themselves pornography addicts.

This brings me to the title of this writing.  Are these men who come in pornography addicts?  Or are they men who are experiencing an erotic conflict?

An erotic conflict is experienced by a person who is engaging in (or even fantasizing about) a sexual behavior that conflicts with his or her moral values or religious values.  For example, a person who is attracted to sex with the same sex might experience an erotic conflict because their religious beliefs tell them that same sex attraction is wrong.  Their behavior conflicts with their religious beliefs.  A person who is using escorts might be experiencing an erotic conflict because breaking the law is against their personal moral values.  A man who is watching pornography occasionally, a few times a month, might feel as though he has a sexual addiction or pornography addiction because his religious beliefs tell him that lust and pornography are bad.  Therefore, he equates any use of pornography with addiction.

Though there is no DSM-V definition of sexual addiction or pornography addiction, we can extrapolate the criteria from drug and alcohol and gambling addictions (Use disorders in the DSM-V).  This means that someone who is a pornography addict would experience at least two of the following issues:  watching pornography more often than they intended and for longer periods of time than intended; an inability to stop watching pornography; spending a lot of time creating opportunities to watch pornography, crave pornography use; fail to fulfil obligations at work, home or school due to using pornography; continuing to use pornography even after interpersonal problems resulting from use; social isolation due to pornography use; the need for more pornography or more intense pornography to get the same feeling and difficulties when they try to stop using pornography or can’t access it.

Here is my plea to clinicians and to society as well:

CAN WE PLEASE BE MORE DISCERNING IN DIAGNOSING SEXUAL AND PORNOGRAPHY ADDICTION?

What happens when we over diagnose pornography addiction?

  1. We never get to the underlying issue.  If someone is not actually a pornography addict and is experiencing an erotic conflict, often they never get to the root of the issue.  Often, they work a 12-step abstinence model and condemn any experiences of lust as bad or problematic.  This can place moral good or bad judgements on sexual behavior that can cause more psychological harm if the client continues to engage in the behavior.  It can shame the normal biological process of attraction by naming it lust to be removed from the person’s being.  It can also prevent the client from learning about healthy sexuality and what truly arouses and attracts them.  Ultimately, they often never work through the conflict between their body and their beliefs to any healthy resolution.
  2. We cause more shame. Though being a pornography addict is less shameful perhaps than it used to be, being named a sex addict or pornography addict is often a very shameful experience for a person.  This shame must be worked through when the person truly does have an addiction.  When the person does not, the label is often causing more shame and possibly isolation than is necessary.  Often this adds to the “I’m a bad person” thoughts the pornography consumer might have, simply for looking at some pornography.
  3. We trivialize sexual addiction. The therapeutic community and often the public press hotly debate whether sexual or pornography addiction are “real.”  The con side often uses the argument that those who support the idea of sexual addiction are religious conservatives who are condemning normal sexual practices.  When someone with an erotic conflict (often based on religious beliefs) is diagnosed with an addiction, this reinforces the argument that we are trying to morally dictate sexual practices and label them addictions.

My goal here is not to condemn or judge someone’s religious or moral beliefs.  We all have our own set of values that we would like to live by.  My plea is that we, both clinicians and consumers, really look at the behavior.  Is the client presenting in your office who uses pornography an addict or someone with an erotic conflict?  The treatment is different. If they have an erotic conflict the work is to process through the beliefs, sexuality and the conflict to come to a resolution that fits the client’s moral and personal compass.  If the client is an addict, the treatment will likely follow a more traditional addiction model with 12 step attendance, abstinence from certain behaviors and recovery work.

I leave you with my plea again:  CAN WE PLEASE BE MORE DISCERNING IN DIAGNOSING SEXUAL AND PORNOGRAPHY ADDICTION?

 

Dr. Weeks is the owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.