I’ve moved! I’m still producing great, thought-provoking content just now at my own domain:
Visit me at https://drjensrecoveryreadings.com
I’ve moved! I’m still producing great, thought-provoking content just now at my own domain:
Visit me at https://drjensrecoveryreadings.com
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.
Halloween is at the end of this week. Those of us who work in the field know that this is the time of year that probation officers ask us if we have made sure all of our clients have a plan for Halloween and know they are not to participate in the holiday. Luckily, the area of the country where our practice is located does not ask for more than for our clients to not participate in the holiday. In other parts of the country, things are much different.
For example, here is a little summary of the news in the past week regarding sex offenders and Halloween.
The Patch, a news source all over the country, posted multiple articles providing detailed maps of the location of all of the registered sex offenders in their target areas. A town in Indiana performed a Halloween crackdown sweep of Sex offenders who failed to register. A news source in Ohio posted an article on how to keep your children safe from sex offenders on Halloween.
In Georgia, the Butts County Sheriff’s Office places warning signs in front of the homes of anyone on the sex offender registry for Halloween. Several people on the registry sued the Sheriff’s office and recently lost the lawsuit. The court ruled that this practice did not violate their rights.
In some states, registered offenders who are still on probation or parole are provided with a list of Halloween requirements that may include: being home after a certain time, not answering the door to children, not handing out candy, not having outside lights on, and having a sign on your door that specifically states you are not giving out candy.
We can all agree that sex crimes against children are profoundly serious and something that everyone should work to prevent. The question arises as to whether Halloween is a higher risk day than any other day of the year. To answer this question, Chaffin et a. (2009) conducted a study that analyzed child sex crime rates on Halloween.
The authors analyzed child sex crime victims from 1997 to 2005. The data came from up to 30 states. They looked at a span of days that included Halloween as some locations have trick or treat events before or after the actual date of Halloween.
There was a total of 67,307 abuse reports during the Halloween time frame over the 8-year period. The results of the analysis indicated that for the children who were abused on Halloween, 73% were female and 27% male. They were abused primarily by male offenders (94%) who had an average age of 24 years old. The main result of this study was that the distribution of sexual offenses against children during the Halloween time period did NOT significantly differ from all other days of the year.
The authors of this study also looked at other crimes committed during the Halloween time period. The most common types of crime during Halloween are theft, destruction of property and assault. Vandalism and destruction of property accounted for a significantly greater proportion of the crime around the Halloween time period. Sex crimes accounted for a little more than 1% of all Halloween crime and sex crimes against children accounted for less than .2% of Halloween crime incidents.
This data, and the fact that we know that the majority of sex crimes against children are committed by someone known to the child, call into question the efficacy of spending the valued time and resources of police and probation departments engaging in extra monitoring or policing of registered sex offenders on Halloween. Perhaps resources could be better spent policing other crimes on Halloween such as vandalism. The CDC has reported that children are four times more likely to be killed by a pedestrian/motor vehicle accident on Halloween than any other day of the year.
Extra policing of sexual offenders on the registry during Halloween might make the public feel better or feel that their children are safer. However, it appears that these efforts are more publicity than efficacy in reality.
Chaffin, M., Levenson, J., Letourneau, E. & Stern, P. (2009). How safe are trick or treaters? An analysis of child sex crime rates on Halloween. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. (21) 3, 363-374.
As a clinician, I live at an intersection between three worlds. Sex Addiction Therapy, Sexual Offender Therapy and Sex Therapy. These are often conflicting worlds. The sex addiction world can (used to) tend to think all non-normative sexual practices are an addiction. The sex offender treatment world can tend to label out of the box practices “deviant” and the sex therapy world thinks that all consensual sex practices are pretty much just fine. It is probably safe to say that these three different (but connected) worlds all likely have different thoughts about sex dolls.
Sex doll use and sex doll ownership is something that is seriously stigmatized in most arenas. People who own sex dolls can be labeled perverts. Many people think that there is something really wrong with someone who might want to own a sex doll. And many people think that if a minor attracted person has a sex doll it will increase his likelihood to sexually molest a child. This can be attested to by countries or states enacting legislation about importation and/or ownership of sex dolls as well as a recent controversy in Texas about the opening of a sex doll brothel. The reality is that most of these statements are either stigmas or assumptions as it is a topic that is little researched.
That is why I was so excited to see a session at this year’s ATSA conference dedicated to research about sex doll ownership. Dr. Craig Harper and Jeremy Malcolm presented preliminary research regarding sex doll ownership. The first study that was presented was a qualitative study about the motivations for sex doll ownership. The proviso here is that the sample size is still small (6) but is growing as the research is ongoing.
So why do the men in this study own sex dolls? Two themes emerged. First was that of the “perfect partner’ and the second was about sex. The owners of the dolls identified deficits on real people or themselves that made relationships difficult. The men in the study cited things such as a doll not always being critical as a reason to have a doll versus a real relationship. Some men cited their own personal deficits as reasons for having a doll. They suffered from great anxiety when interacting with others and found it easier to have a sex doll. In these cases, the dolls took on emotional significance as well. Another reason to have a sex doll is that you can create the perfect partner. We all know that real people have flaws. When creating a sex doll, it is totally customizable and can be created to perfectly match a person’s arousal template.
The second study was quantitative and looked at whether or not doll ownership predicted sexual aggression. This is a topic of great importance as many people hold the belief that having a sex doll (particularly when you are talking about child sex dolls) will increase a person’s likelihood to offend against a real person (or child). This study only looked at adults with adult sex dolls. This study had both doll owners and a control group take a survey that looked at many variables. Without digging into all the results, I will summarize. Owning a sex doll did not increase the likelihood endorsing sexual aggression. There were no differences between doll owners and non-doll owners on measures of sexual assault proclivity or paraphilic interest. There were also no differences between doll owners and non-doll owners on the emotional factors studied nor in attachment style.
The study did find that doll owners scored higher in some of the implicit rape theories endorsements. Particularly, doll owners scored higher on hostility toward women, seeing women as sexual objects, seeing women as dangerous and sexual entitlement. It should be noted that the study did not look at causation. Therefore, you cannot say whether owning a doll increased these scores or that people with these attitudes are more likely to get a doll. We can just note a difference.
Again, as a reminder, this is preliminary data. The second study has 70 doll owners and 90 controls at present. However, the research is a step in the right direction as it is empirically looking at doll ownership. The second study found preliminary evidence that owning a sex doll is not associated with an increase in sexual aggression.
Some people might ask why this is important research. Laws in states and countries are being enacted regarding sex doll ownership. These laws are being proposed without research to back up whether or not bans would be effective. It is easy to pass a law about sexual behavior on an emotional basis. However, if the science ends up saying that the law is unhelpful or even harmful, it is nearly impossible to get these types of laws overturned.
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
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
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
The news is awash with reports of famous men, actors, directors, and politicians whose victims are coming forward to report the sexual abuse and sexual harassment they have been subject to at the hands of these people. I applaud the bravery of each and every victim who has come forward to share their painful story. It takes an immense amount of courage to break through years of shame and silence to confront one’s abuser. Bravo. I am glad that these men and women’s voices are being heard and hopefully they can find some sort of justice or closure.
My writing today is not for those brave men and women but for the media. As someone works with sex offenders every day I have a pet peeve. That pet peeve, which sometimes gets me in hot water in facebook posts, is the fact that people throw around the word pedophile every time someone is found to have abused a minor. Besides frequently being inaccurate, it sends a message that pedophiles are the only people who abuse children. It generates fear. If we are truly going to protect children from sexual abuse by adults, we need to spread accurate information and create effective prevention plans.
So, let’s talk about attraction. When we specifically are looking at age, attraction is clinically categorized three ways.
Pedophile: A person who is attracted to PRE-PUBSECENT children. Doesn’t matter the gender of the child. The attraction is to the lack of sexual development.
Hebephile: A person who is attracted to pubescent children. Again, gender does not matter. The attraction is to a child who is in early adolescence and has signs of sexual development.
Teleiophile: A person who is attracted to adults. This attraction is to fully sexually developed adults.
A person does not have to fit into just one category. There are people who are what we call fixed pedophiles. This means they are only attracted to pre-pubescent children. Other people are attracted to several categories of sexual development. I work with many men who are attracted to pre-pubescent children, pubescent minors AND adults. They do not have a fixed attraction but find all ages of people to be sexually arousing.
The next piece of this puzzle is that ATTRACTION DOES NOT EQUAL ACTION. Many people who have a pedophilic or hebephilic attraction do not ever have any sexual contact with minors. They live with this attraction but have the awareness to know that they cannot act on these urges and they can inhibit any behavior toward minors to whom they may be attracted. In the clinical world, we call these folks non-offending pedophiles.
In Germany, there is a great program called Project Dunkelfeld that offers free treatment to any person who identifies as attracted to minors to help ensure they do not act on those attractions. This project runs ads on buses or billboards and runs public service announcements on television. These folks are getting prevention right.
The next piece of the abuse puzzle is that people offend against children for many reasons, only one of which may be sexual attraction. There are many, many reasons why adults sexually abuse children. There are too many to go into here (future post on this topic forthcoming). Only one of the reasons a person sexually abuses a child is attraction. I have worked with many contact sexual offenders against children who were not sexually aroused to children. This may make no sense at all to someone who doesn’t work in this field, but it is true. Why else might someone abuse a child? Power, control, emotional identification with children, using a child as replacement spouse (frequently seen in incest), and/or antisociality to name a few.
As I am sitting here writing this, I am trying to determine why the misuse of the term pedophile pokes my buttons. I think that if we throw around the term pedophile to label anyone who sexually abuses a child we can put them in a metaphorical box. It makes it easy to put abusers into a category and then not think about it as much. We can think, “oh watch out for pedophiles, they abuse children”. Even if it were true, how do you identify one? They look just like you and me and act just like you and me. There is no way to know someone’s sexual preference by looking at them. Labeling gives people a false sense of security that children are abused by people in this category and not by anyone else.
If we put child molesters in this lump category we diminish the complexity of the issue. It is not just about attraction to minors. The people perpetrating the abuse most often are not “the others.” They are most frequently family members or close friends of the family of the children. They are frequently people in positions of power who have the trust of the child and the child’s parents. Abusers are, most often, people that know you and your child. (the exception here being cyber cases).
If we are going to truly protect children from sexual abuse, we need to make sure that everyone has accurate information. Creating a fear reaction to a clinical label does nothing to enhance child safety. What can you do to enhance your child’s safety? Learn the truth about the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Create an open and safe relationship with your child so that you can talk to them about sex, sexuality, sexual boundaries. Learn what grooming is and help them to identify behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable, so they can come to you immediately. Arm yourself with knowledge, not fear.
Dr. Jennifer Weeks is the owner and director of SATS, an out-patient program that treats sexual offenders, problematic sexual behavior and trauma.
Her book The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about pornography and cybersex in the digital age is available on amazon.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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
I am writing to you today from the annual conference of ATSA, the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. I come every year to ensure I stay on top of all the latest research and to make sure that the methods we use to treat people at SATS are state of the art and evidence based.
Each year, in addition to traditional talks, there are poster presentations. Today, Marion Desfachelles, a Ph.D. student at the University of Montreal, presented a poster on her research on girls and sexting.
Because this research is from Canada, I will take a moment to explain how Canadians handle teenage sexting. Sexting is divided into two categories, Primary and Secondary. Primary sexting is defined as sending or receiving sexually explicit content in a private context. Secondary sexting is defined as distributing the image or video to the public.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this year that to establish an intimate photo exception to the juvenile pornography laws. This exception allows “two youths, who engage in lawful sexual activity, to consensually record their own lawful sexual activity as long as that recording is made or possessed for their personal use.”
As most of the research on secondary sexting is focused on boys, Ms. Desfachelles wanted to look at how girls engage in primary or secondary sexting. To do this, she looked at the arrest records of 27 girls who were arrested or suspected to be involved in cases of juvenile pornography.
What did the study find? Girls are sometimes the primary sexter and the secondary victim, meaning a girl may have taken an image for a partner but it was then distributed outside the context of that relationship. Girls also distributed sexual imagery to others. An interesting finding was that the girls did acknowledge that sending these images would be hurtful to the victims, but the girls thought that the victims of the secondary sexting were responsible for the situation.
The study found three main motivations for secondary sexting. The most common motivation was that of revenge or hurt. The other two motivations seen were goodwill and fun, meaning peer pressure. Boys continue to be most frequently the originators of the secondary sexting, but girls sometimes start the process and definitely participate in the secondary sexting.
We know that there is significant emotional damage to the victim of secondary sexting. Prevention campaigns often focus on not sexting at all. The author suggests that, as sexting is becoming a more normative behavior for teens, the prevention efforts be moved to focus on prevention of secondary sexting.
Help teens understand that they should keep something that was sent in the context of a relationship private. Teach teens about consent and that consent also applies to distribution of images sent with the expectation of privacy.
As always, parents should be talking to their children about sexting. We also need to expand our discussions about how, if their child does engage in sexting, they can do so in a safe and respectful manner and to understand the risks involved in sending an explicit image to another person.
For more information on the effect of sexting on children, please see my book, The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography in the digital age.