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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  

Book Review: Tell Me What You Want

Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life by [Lehmiller, Justin J.]

Earlier this year, Dr. Justin Lehmiller published his book Tell Me What You Want:  The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.  Dr. Lehmiller is a researcher and writer about human sexuality. I became familiar with his work from his blog, Sex and Psychology and use his textbook in my graduate Human Sexuality Course.  I was excited to see him write something for the general public as his previous writings have been more academic.

Dr. Lehmiller wrote this book based on the results of a survey he conducted in which he asked more than 4,000 Americans over 350 questions about sexual fantasies.  He also obtained information about sexual histories, psychological profiles and demographics.  What emerged from the data is that Americans fantasize about sex a lot and many things that might not seem “normal” are quite normal after all.

When people come in to treatment for anything relating to sex, I always get questions about what is normal.  How often do people have sex? How much porn viewing is normal?  I have a fetish, does that mean I am not normal?  For some reason, we are worried about our sexual appetites and arousal templates not being normal.  I always answer that there is no such thing as normal but after reading this book, the “normal” that so many people assume about American sexuality is not terribly normal at all.

So, what are the top seven things Americans fantasize about?  The number one sexual fantasy is about multi-partner sex.  Coming in at number two is power, control and rough sex.  Third is novelty, adventure and variety.  Fourth is taboo or forbidden sex.  Rounding out the bottom three are partner sharing and non-monogamous relationships, passion and romance and erotic flexibility (homoeroticisim and gender bending).

Instead of summarizing the entire book (go read it for all the juicy details), I’ll give you some fun facts.  Men and women are different in how they fantasize.  Interestingly, Dr. Lehmiller found that when women fantasize, they don’t really fantasize about a particular person but in their fantasies, women frequently see themselves as the object of desire.  They are the focus of the fantasy, not the other person.  Men, on the other hand, tend to be the actors in a fantasy, acting on an object of desire.

What do your politics say about your sexual fantasies?  Well, if you are a Democrat, you are more likely to fantasize about things like intimacy, bonding and BDSM.  The Republicans, on the other hand, were much more likely to fantasize about things that are a bit more taboo such as orgies, infidelity and swinging.  Republicans were also more likely to fantasize about things like exhibitionism and voyeurism.  Why you ask?  Dr. Lehmiller suggest that we tend to want what those in positions of authority tell us we can’t have!!!

Dr. Lehmiller’s book is a helpful resource for both therapists and non-therapists alike.  Many Americans deal with a great deal of sexual shame.  They either have been told or believe that their sexual fantasies, desires or behavior are wrong, sinful, perverted etc.  The fact is, the opposite is quite true.  When we hold sexual shame, we tend to repress our true sexual feelings.  This can cause problems in relationships but also in our own mental health.

I will end this short review with the following quote from the book:

“What all this tells us is that we need to stop judging whether sexual desires are healthy or unhealthy based only on how many people in the population have them.  Instead, what we really need to do is look at sexual interests on a case by case basis and ask ourselves two questions that have nothing to do with how many people have them: (1) is this sexual activity consensual or non consensual? (2) does it pose an unacceptable risk of harm to one or more people that goes well beyond the usual risks of having sex?” p181

Dr. Lehmiller has a slightly different take on what I say frequently to my clients and students about sexual desires.  I don’t care what it is as long as it is consensual and legal!

I encourage you to read Tell Me What You Want:  The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life.  If nothing else, maybe it helps erase some sexual shame, which is something our culture needs more of!

 

What BDSM Can Teach Us About Consent

Let's Talk: Consent | Her Campus

Consent is a hot button topic today.  The #metoo movement continues to grow and the supreme court nomination brought to light the suffering of many sexual abuse survivors.  The general public is starting to realize that we do not teach consent to our children

Those of us who work in the fields of sexuality (sex therapists, sex offender therapists, sex addiction therapists) have long known that there is a lack of education about consent.  We have moved from no means no to yes means yes but that still leaves a lot of grey area.  For instance, what happens when yes turns into no?

To help learn more about consent, I turn to what some might think is a strange source, the Kink community.  The BDSM community has a lot to teach the rest of us about the concept of consent.

While there are many aspects of the BDSM world, consent lies at the heart of these communities.  Here’s how:

Negotiation:

Critical to the BDSM community is negotiation.  People who are going to play (engage in BDSM) together spend a great deal of time ahead of time negotiating what will happen during the session.  These discussions about the sex practices that will or will not be engaged in during the session are often extensive.  Negotiations include what each participant’s limits are (what they will not engage in), what types of things they enjoy as well as the discussion of the safe word.

When two people engage in extensive negotiations before an interaction it removes the grey areas that can happen when there is not good communication.  There is no room for miscommunication because it has all been talked about ahead of time.

Safe Word:

The safe word is the word that is agreed upon ahead of time which, when invoked, means the behavior that is currently happening ends immediately.  This process of safe word shows that the BDSM community understands that consent is not a broad concept.  Consent is an ongoing process that can be revoked at any time during an interaction. Just because someone says yes to something initially, it does not mean theywant the behavior to continue.  Everyone’s experience of a sexual behavior is dependent on so many things.  What they might have enjoyed engaging in during one session may not feel good in another based on many things, not limited to mood, stress level, partner and environment.

Aftercare:

Aftercare is a concept that is not often talked about in traditional sexual encounters.  The BDSM community understands that these interactions can be emotionally and physically intense.  Aftercare takes this into consideration and involves physical and emotional support for the parties involved.  This can be physical, meaning food, water, etc. or emotional, such as cuddling, holding, stroking etc.  When both parties engage in aftercare it demonstrates a mutuality in the interaction.

Traditional sexual interactions among the non-Kink community normally do not involve any of these processes.  Traditionally, there is very little discussion about what behaviors are ok between two sexual partners.  Safe words are hardly ever employed and frequently, in our hook up culture, the after-sex behavior lacks emotional and physical nurturance.

I will end this post with a quote I heard at this years ATSA conference.  “We spend more time negotiating what we want on a pizza than we do negotiating sex.”

We have a lot to learn from the Kink community and if we employed some of their practices into our own sexual practices we would be having safer and more truly consensual sex.

Reference:  “Unorthodox Rules”:  The Instructive Potential of BDSM for Consent Law.  Bennett, T (2018) Journal of Positive Sexuality, 4(1), 4-11.

 

Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner and director of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.  She is a clinician and expert witness working with sexual abuse, cybersex offenders and all types of problematic sexual behavior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Three Things to Teach your Child About Safe Sexting

Sexting

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

What are the tenants of Safe Sexting?

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

You are responsible for your own safety

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

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

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

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

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

Know the Risk

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

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

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

Protect Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something’s Missing in the Current Drug Prevention Rhetoric

prevention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Photo credit.  The Watsons, NYC, NY.

Sex Ed by Porn: Free Webinar Friday

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

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

 

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

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.