An Education about Asexuality

I saw ACE: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen mentioned on the list serve for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA).  As a clinician who works nearly entirely with clients with some type of problematic sexual behavior, I was keen to read this book.  In years of doing this work, I had not been exposed to any work specifically about asexuality.  In all honesty, I had been exposed to truly little relating to asexuality.  If I dig back into the recesses of my brain for work in college and graduate school, I cannot recall the topic being brought up.  In CSAT training, there was talk of sexual anorexia, but nothing about asexuality. 

First, I need to admit that I am guilty of saying that sexuality is a part of being a human being and everyone has a sense of sexuality.  In our work with problematic sexual behavior and sexual offending, don’t I say that our work is to find out what their sense of healthy sexuality is?  Yes, I do.  And I have not given too much thought to whether or not my clients are asexual.  They do not really bring it up but neither do I.  So, the first thing I need to say about this book is that it made me take a very hard look at my own assumptions about sexuality and the work I do.  As a sex positive therapist, I am incredibly open about all types of sexuality.  I have never not believed in asexuality; I just never gave it too much thought.  If it did nothing else, this book made me a better therapist for making me investigate my own assumptions and challenge myself to be better.

This book is also a great way to introduce a person to the preferred language around sexuality that includes asexuality.  Again, owning my ignorance, I had not heard the term allosexual.  Someone who is allosexual experiences sexual attraction to another person.  This contrasts with someone who identifies as asexual, meaning they have a persistent lack of sexual attraction to any gender.  This book also introduced me to the term demisexuality.  A person may identify as demisexual if they do not experience sexual attraction to another person unless they have formed a strong emotional bond with them.  My clients had spoken of this before, but I (we) never named it. 

This book also makes the reader take a hard look at their assumptions.  Many people might assume that if a person is asexual, that they do not then feel romantic love and are never in relationships.  This delve into asexuality provides us with the reality.  Many people who identify as asexual find romantic love, have great relationships and can even be kinky!  The nuances of these relationships are many and require honesty and communication between the parties.  But don’t all relationships require this anyway? 

The only downside to this book for me (and it is a small matter) is that, at times, it feels a bit preachy.  However, if I look at how our culture ignores, talks about or judges asexuality, I can understand how the author could end up writing in this tone for some of the book.  When you are part of a community that has been basically invisible, you want to be heard and heard authentically.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who works in therapy or sexual education.  Particularly this book is important for those of us who work with clients with sexual issues of any kind.  It can help us be better at our work and meet our clients where they are without judgement.

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.