Book Review: Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency

Rob Weiss’s latest contribution to the recovery community is his book Prodependence:  Moving Beyond Codependency.  This book, and the philosophy of prodependence are an alternate take on the idea of codependency that has been rampant in the addiction recovery movement for decades. 

Codependence has been defined as “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition, such as an addiction (Merriam-Webster).  In the recovery community the spouse, partner or family of someone suffering from an addiction is often labeled a codependent.  This term came into the recovery lexicon in the 1980’s and became part of everyday language.  A codependency diagnosis was rejected by the APA for the inclusion into the DSM but the “diagnosis” has persisted and there are 12 step meetings for Codependents (CODA)

Rob Weiss’s argument in putting forth the concept of Prodependence is that it codependence is not helpful to the family members of those in active addiction or in recovery from addiction.  Family members loved ones or care givers of people with addictions, in the codependency model, are often told that they are part of the problem as opposed to just trying to cope with a very difficult situation. 

Prodependence is as term to describe “attachment relationships that are healthfully interdependent, where one person’s strengths support the vulnerabilities of another and vice versa, with this mutual support occurring automatically and without question.” (p53.)  Rob prefers this concept as it celebrates a loved one’s desire to help the addict in their life without shame or blame. 

Prodependence looks at the behaviors of the partners or family members of an addict as attempts to maintain or restore healthy attachment and not as enabling.  Treating prodependence is similar to treating co-dependence in terms of encouraging healthy boundaries and self care.  However, it differs by being a strength based, attachment driven model that values loved ones of an addict.

Another key idea behind the concept of prodependence is the idea that a person with an addiction has an attachment disorder and needs healthy attachment to truly heal from their addiction.  Encouraging prodependence, treating addicts and their loved ones with kindness, empathy and respect, can help repair earlier attachment traumas and aid healing. 

Another key difference between prodependence and codependence is that prodependence looks at addiction as an intimacy disorder. As opposed to the older idea of tough love, intimacy disorders are treated with the pursuit of healthy, intimate and ongoing connection.


While suggesting that codependence may be an outdated concept is risky, it does not feel groundbreaking.  This book and the idea of prodependence feels like the natural conclusion when you take into account what we now know from the research about attachment, intimacy and shame.  As Johann Hari suggests in his Ted Talk from a number of years ago, “What if all we were taught about addiction is wrong?”  Perhaps, instead, we should treat people with addictions and their families and loved ones without shame and blame.  We might get farther modeling healthy attachment and boundaries combined with compassion and empathy instead.

Do Motivations for Sexual Offending Differ Depending on Race?

Research Review: Paraphilia and Antisociality Motivations for Sexual Offending May Differ for American Whites and Blacks. Lee, S.C., Hanson, R.K., Calkins, C & Jeglic, E. Sexual Abuse, 32(3), 2020 335-365.

There is a vast array of research pointing to the fact that sexual offenders are a heterogenous group and that it is difficult to generalize across offense types and populations.  Despite the vast amount of research on sexual offenders, there is a lack of scientific studies that look at potential differences in offender characteristics related to race or ethnicity.  This study sought to address this lack of knowledge by investigating any potential differences between white and black men who have committed sexual offenses.

It is well documented that people of color are over represented in the criminal justice system and also are over represented among those people convicted of sex crimes.  The limited research tells us that white men convicted of sexual offenses tend to be more paraphilic and have more sexually deviant arousal than their black counterparts.  White men are also less likely to commit sex crimes such as crimes involving adults or female victims.  Additionally, childhood sexual abuse is reported more frequently in the histories of white men who commit sex crimes than black men who commit sex crimes.

Another noted concern involves the actuarial risk assessment the STATIC-99R.  This instrument, that is widely used to predict risk in sexual offenders, was normed on predominantly white research samples. Black sexual offenders tend to score higher on the STATIC-99R despite having similar sexual recidivism rates. 

The current study sought to address whether white sexual offenders were different from black sexual offenders on risk relevant characteristics.  The second aim of the study was to determine whether the Static-99R predicted sexual recidivism differently for black and white offenders.

Study Details: 

The subjects for this study were 1585 males (788 black and 797 non-Hispanic white) in the New Jersey Department of Corrections system.  The case files of these offenders were reviewed, looking at the following measures:  Static-99R score, MnSOST-R score, Pervasive Anger Score, a general criminality scale, a sexual criminality scale, a paraphilia scale and sexual recidivism.  Recidivism was defined as any subsequent conviction for a sexual offense after release. 

Study Findings:

There were differences in Static-99R scores between black and white offenders with scores for black offenders being higher than for white offenders.  The black offenders were underrepresented in the lower risk categories (Levels I and II) and both racial groups were overrepresented in the higher risk categories of Level Iva and VIAB.  The higher scores for the black offenders resulted from them, on average, being younger and less likely to have been married.  Black offenders were also scored as having higher hostility scores than white offenders. 

Black sexual offenders in this study showed lower indicators of paraphilias, particularly, they were less likely to be diagnosed with pedophilia than their white counterparts.  Black offenders were also less likely to have minor victims or male minor victims.  They were also less likely to use pornography during a sexual contact offense and were less likely to be involved in offenses such as exhibitionism or voyeurism. 

In terms of actuarial risk assessment, the ability of the Static-99R to discriminate recidivism was not related to race. For both black and white offenders, the 5-year recidivism rate was lower than expected though this result only reached significance for white offenders. 

In general, black offenders in this study were found to have more criminogenic characteristics than whites and whites were found to be more paraphilic (pedophilic) than the black offenders. 

Implications for Sentence Mitigation or Aggravation:

For black American sexual offenders, the elevated levels of antisocial behavior may be attributed to many factors that stem from the systemic social oppression and discrimination experienced by Blacks in the United States. There is a large amount of research that shows that there is an association between systemic racism and experiencing unstable family environments and the likelihood of holding anti-social beliefs or engaging in antisocial behaviors.  These social factors may influence the development of anti-social beliefs and behaviors that then influence the commission of their crime. Sentence mitigation reports or psychosexual evaluations should include these factors to help counsel understand the influence of these factors on the clients psychological and behavioral development.

The results of this study also suggest that white offenders use sexual behavior as a dysfunctional coping mechanism for emotional distress which can lead to more engagement in illegal sexual behaviors such as prostitution, exhibitionism etc.  Any assessment conducted on the offender should look at previous history of mental health treatment and should also assess whether the person’s sexual behavior is a compulsive means to manage negative affect.

Though the Static-99R has not been normed on a racially diverse population, this study supports it’s use with black American sexual offenders.

Implications for Treatment Recommendations:

This study finds that the motivations to offend differ significantly based on race. All treatment recommendations should follow the Risk Needs Responsivity evidence-based model.  This study is of interest for the responsivity part of the model. Many white clients may need a greater treatment emphasis on both sexual arousal, i.e. pedophilia, exhibitionism, etc. as well as affect regulation skills.  Black clients might need more emphasis placed on criminogenic needs such as antisocial beliefs and behaviors. 

Book Review: Neglect The Silent Abuser: How to recognize and heal from childhood neglect

Neglect: The Silent Abuser is a recent publication by respected psychotherapist Enod Gray.  The book seeks to provide information about the concept of neglect as well as provide some cursory steps to try to heal from the consequences of childhood neglect experienced by the readers.

Most people who come to therapy can recognize overt abuse.  Overt abuse is abuse that is obvious to the person or a form of abuse that is easily recognizable.  For example, physical or sexual abuse, though frequently minimized, are often identified as abuse.  Verbal abuse is something that people can sometimes have a harder time recognizing, but again, this type of abuse tends to be more overt.  Think of a parent who also calls their child names or humiliates them consistently.

Neglect is something that most people do have a harder time identifying.  When most people think of neglect, they think of again, more overt neglect, such as someone growing up with not enough food, safe shelter, etc.  Neglect most often brings forth thoughts of physical neglect.  Most people do not immediately think of emotional neglect when they are asked about it.  This is because, frequently, this form of neglect is not overt or consciously done.  It is also a form of neglect that is easy to minimize or rationalize.  For example, if you grew up in a household with a parent with a mental illness, you may not have received the emotional care and nurturant that you needed as a child.  However, this neglect was not consciously or intentionally done.  It would have been a consequence of the parent’s mental illness and not necessarily consciously done.  As another example, if you grew up in a household with a sibling with a physical disability, this likely took up most of the time and energy of your parents.  Likely there was some neglect in this family system, but not intentionally. One family member just needed more time and energy and the child(ren) that don’t have more overt needs are assumed to be just fine.

Neglect can also come from growing up in a family where there is addiction present in one or both parents.  If a parent is struggling with addiction, they will not be able to be fully present for their children and meet their needs for nurturance.  Frequently, we also see neglect in families where one parent is a workaholic.  Again, this neglect is not something consciously done and often justified by creating the financial means to provide the children with all the material goods and experiences they could wish for.  Unfortunately, children more often wish for  time.

This book does a nice job of discussing neglect and the effect of growing up in a neglectful environment on our adult behavior.  This is done at a cursory but understandable level.  The factual information is nicely complemented by stories of clients of the author. Often, it is these client vignettes that are most relatable to readers. 

After addressing the process of neglect, Ms. Gray provides guidelines and thoughts on how to address the struggles of adults who grew up with neglect.  In this section of the book, I found myself wishing for more “meat.”  The thoughts and ideas are brief “reader’s digest” overviews of ways to help healing such as journaling, yoga, EMDR and other forms of therapy. 

Though I found myself wishing for a bit more from this book in regard to tools for healing, it is perfectly suited for a person who is new to the idea of neglect as something they experienced in their childhood.  It feels like a primer for someone just starting their journey into recovery from neglect.  The book also provides an excellent array of resources for further investigation.  This is a book I would recommend for a client who wants a quick and easy read to serve as an introduction to the concept of neglect and the road to healing. 

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner and director of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services, author and educator.

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 

 

 

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

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 

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.

Starting to Watch Pornography Increases Your Likelihood of Getting a Divorce

Computer Key - Porn

A recent study presented this week at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association reported on the effect starting to watch pornography has on a marriage.

This study surveyed thousands of American adults at three time points over four years. They asked about pornography use at each stage of the survey. The researchers particularly wanted to focus on changing pornography use and marital status.

The study found that those individuals who started to watch pornography during the survey time period (who were not watching pornography the first time they were surveyed) had a higher likelihood of being divorced at a subsequent interview point. Younger Americans were more affected by the start of pornography use than older Americans. The authors suggested that this may be the result of two things. First, the fact that younger Americans view more pornography than older Americans and second, the fact that younger married Americans tend to have relationships that are not as stable, both emotionally and financially, as older Americans.

One study finding that goes against previous research involves religiosity. This study found that the more a couple attended church (as a measure of religious involvement) the less of an effect pornography viewing had. The authors speculate that with couples who are highly religious, the pressure to stay married outweighs the effect of pornography use on the level of satisfaction in the marriage.

The authors also looked at the effect of initial marital happiness and pornography use on the divorce rate. They found that couples who initially reported being very happy in their marriage were more seriously affected by one partner starting to watch pornography and their divorce rates were higher. In contrast, for couples who reported low marital satisfaction from the start, there was no effect of one partner starting to watch pornography on the divorce rate. The authors postulated that these happy marriages were more affected by the pornography use because the disclosure of pornography use can rock a previously happy marriage to the point of divorce.

It should be noted that the study is not definitively saying that pornography use causes divorce. When looking at research studies, one needs to look at all factors. Yes, this study is saying that when one partner in a marriage starts to look at pornography, the likelihood of divorce increases (from 6% to 11%). They are not saying that it is inevitable. The study also did not look at any number of other factors which could have influenced the divorce or, more importantly, the factors that influenced the partner to start watching pornography in the first place.

This study was presented at the ASA meeting this week. It is entitled “Til Porn Do Us Part? Longitudinal Effects of Pornography Use on Divorce.” Samuel Perry from the University of Oklahoma is the lead author.

For more information on Dr. Weeks, please go to our website at www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com  Also, find Dr. Weeks’ new book The New Age of Sex Education:  How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age on amazon or bookbaby.

Child Pornography Prevention

gavel and handcuffs on laptop

On Tuesday another one of my clients was sentenced in Federal Court on Possession of Child Pornography charges. That evening, the group talked about how to prevent people from possessing child pornography.

A Federal judge is mandated to look at four factors (according to US Code 3553) when imposing a sentence upon a defendant. Any sentence must reflect the seriousness of the crime; provide deterrence to criminal conduct; protect the public from further crime and provide rehabilitation.

The way I have heard judges, both federal and county, explain their thoughts on deterrence is that they need to impose a sentence that will send a message to other people in the community who are either engaging in the behavior or thinking about it. Their thinking is that if someone sees the sentence imposed upon another for a crime, they will either stop or won’t start engaging in an illegal behavior.

I and my clients both struggle with the concept of deterrence in these cases. My clients will tell you that they knew what they were doing was wrong and they wanted to stop. They also will tell you that they could not stop. Reading news stories in their local paper about individuals being arrested for possession of child pornography did not deter their behavior. They were aware of the illegality of their behavior but were caught up in the throes of addiction, they could not stop their behavior.

I also see this in my clients who are new to treatment after the police initiate an investigation into their illegal pornography use. In the near term time frame, clients can’t even imagine looking at pornography again. I call this “sobriety by police”. One would think that the appearance of the FBI in your home at 5 a.m. would be a great deterrent to addictive behavior. However, it is not a long term deterrent. When we are dealing with addiction, punitive deterrents do not last as long as the client would like or as long society would think.

If the use of legal deterrents is not very effective in stopping people from viewing child pornography, the question remains, what will work? I believe the lack of actual prevention work is problematic. There are prevention programs for teens regarding drugs, alcohol and even gambling. There are no real prevention programs for pornography for teens. There are some well meaning groups who are spear heading this movement and this week the cover story in Time Magazine is about pornography and young people. Still, no one is talking about child pornography. Even in talking about problematic pornography use child pornography is rarely addressed, yet there are a lot of people, both adults and teenagers, who are watching it online.

Many of the younger men who come to my practice started looking at pornography online when they were approximately 12 years old. This statistic is not uncommon. We know that the average age of first exposure to online pornography is around 11 years old. What is also very common for my younger clients is that they started watching child pornography at the age of 12 as well. Though it is biologically appropriate for a teenager to have sexual attraction to a teenager, to watch pornography involving 12 year olds is illegal. Also, the content of those videos is frequently the result of child sexual assault. Therefore, it is not truly the same as a 12 year old looking at another 12 year old in school and having sexual thoughts about them.

The news is bombarded with articles about teen sexting and some of those teens being charged with either production or possession of child pornography. This youth produced imagery is not normally what we see in child pornography possession cases. Exposure to stories about teen sexting helps spread awareness but not enough.

How do we prevent the possession of child pornography? By spreading educated awareness, meaning thoughtful, helpful awareness that is free of judgment and shame.

First, talk to your children about online pornography. When you are talking to your children about online pornography you MUST also talk to them about child pornography. An illegal image is only a Google search away. Talk to your children about what to do if they come across this imagery. Talk about the images your child might have seen.

Second, we need to acknowledge that pornography addiction in adolescents and adults is a real problem. The academic crowd might argue as to whether or not pornography addiction exists. Let them argue. What those of us in the trenches know is that pornography addiction is real. There is treatment available from specialists who are trained to specifically deal with this issue. If you know someone who is struggling with pornography addiction, talk to them. Let them know that they can get treatment. Treatment is always confidential so no one has to know if they don’t want them to know.

Third, know that incidental contact with child pornography is not that uncommon. Most people think that gaining access to child pornography is difficult. It is not. Anyone who is using a filesharing program to download pornography has likely seen child pornography. Anyone who has been looking at pornography online for a long time has likely seen child pornography. This does not mean that they are looking for it but they have likely come across it. Even if you are not seeking it out but have inadvertently opened a thumbnail file that is a pornographic image or video of a child, you can be arrested for it. Anyone who wishes to avoid incidental contact with child pornography should stay away from file sharing programs. You can download thousands of images quickly but likely some of that is illegal. Stop using filesharing programs.

A final thing to know is that even if you are addicted to viewing pornography that includes child pornography, you can get help. Each state has different rules, but in most states, any therapist you go to is NOT legally required to report the use of child pornography. Recent law changes (2015) in Pennsylvania and California have made child pornography viewing part of a therapists mandate to report. If you live in a state where there is a mandate to report, you can still get help for pornography addiction, you just won’t be able to say you are also looking at illegal pornography. This is obviously not ideal for the context of therapy, but is still better than nothing.

People possess child pornography for a multitude of reasons. Some started to look at it 15 years ago when they were a young teen and never stopped. Perhaps their pornography addiction progressed to the level that they needed more taboo material to get a “hit”. Some are reenacting a childhood trauma by watching images of child sexual assault. Some people intentionally look for the content because they are attracted to minors. Some people encounter child pornography by accident. No matter what route a person takes to get there, any possession of child pornography is illegal and the person can be prosecuted and placed on a sex offender registry.

The more we talk about the problem of child pornography in a rational manner that is not based in fear, the more we can enact prevention efforts. Talking to a 12 year old about the risks of looking at illegal pornography may be uncomfortable for a parent, but please trust that the conversation about pornography will be much less uncomfortable than sitting in a court room waiting for a judge to sentence your child for an internet sex crime.

Jennifer Weeks Ph.D. LPC CAADC CSAT-S is the founder and owner of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services (SATS). SATS is an out-patient treatment program located in Pennsylvania that specializes in the treatment of sexual addiction and in treating sexually addicted offenders. Dr. Weeks specializes in treating cybersex offenders. She has been an invited presenter on the topic, taught continuing education for attorneys and serves as an expert witness on the topic.