099: Going through the ARP for “Porn Addiction” Pt 1

Natasha Helfer Parker interviews Ryan Flake, who was referred to the LDS Addiction Recovery Program by his bishop due to confessions about viewing sexually explicit material and masturbation. They discuss his upbringing as a Mormon and the many messages he received from an early age that contributed to quite a bit of sexual shame by the time Ryan was preparing to go on a mission, even though he was not having any relational sexual experiences. Ryan’s story does a good job of highlighting how certain rigid expectations and attributed meanings can do harm in regards to self-esteem, anxiety management, relational dynamics, sexual development and self-identity. Ryan talks about his experience with the ARP and how he found the messaging shaming and unhelpful in his particular situation where “addiction” was not a correct assessment.

It is the hope of podcasts like these to educate the public about the difference between things such as chemical dependency from relational and behavioral problems that are more common among the general population. It is important to get help and find adequate resources for whatever issues one might be facing. Correct assessment and competent professional help are vital first steps. Unfortunately, the research shows that mental health professionals who come from a religious background themselves, will be more willing to follow a “sex” or “porn addiction” model even though there is no such formal diagnosis. Therefore, the Mormon community needs to be aware that getting adequate help for this topic is complicated and one needs to use caution and good research to get appropriate help.

For more information on why “addiction” is not the correct way to go about treating relational and sexual issues please visit mormonsexinfo.com.

And the following article which I helped author:

How Concepts of Sex Addiction and Porn Addiction are Failing Clients

 

Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She writes at The Mormon Therapist for Patheos: Hosting the Conversation of Faith, runs Mormon Sex Info and is the current president for the Mormon Mental Health Association.

11 comments for “099: Going through the ARP for “Porn Addiction” Pt 1

  1. T.D.
    April 12, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Hmmm… I found this episode to be quite unsettling and it left me with a lot of questions. I understand that this is only part one, however, I would have liked a little more clarification on a couple of things 1. Had Ryan and his wife previously agreed that pornography and masterbation would or would not be welcomed in their marriage? 2. Did Ryan confess each porn/masterbation incident to his wife so that she was aware of what was going on or was he hiding it from her? 3. What were Ryan’s wife’s feelings on his porn/masterbation issue? As I listened to this episode I couldn’t help but feel that Ryan was being flippant towards the topic of pornography. As the wife of a porn addict in recovery I felt like this episode was a bit of a slap in the face to those of us who have lived through the horrific trauma of discovering that our spouse is addicted to porn. I understand that my story is different from that of Ryan’s which is why I would have liked a little more clarification on the questions above so that I wasn’t left feeling so unsettled. In my situation, my husband knew that I did not want porn and masterbation as a part of our marriage and yet he hid his porn addiction from me for nearly 6 years. This then led to him feeling entitled to the physical aspect of sex and use of my body however he saw fit. I was raped by coercion on multiple occasions and only viewed as an object or means to an orgasm. My husbands hidden porn use nearly destroyed my life and our marriage. The trauma that I still face to this day (1 year later) is overwhelming at times. I cringed when I heard Ryan say that porn use isn’t a big deal and that he needed to cut himself some slack. I’m not sure if he was just being flippant or if he was referring to self compassion as a means to healing and recovery when he made that statement. Some clarification on that would be appreciated.

  2. April 14, 2017 at 9:13 am

    T.D. – I am very sorry to hear of the pain that you disclose in regards to your marital experience. This is really a topic for a different podcast. Your issues are ones of marital contracting and negotiations that went horrifically awry… to the point of domestic violence. It is fairly typical for a pornography disclosure in a Mormon marriage to be extremely painful… because it is usually a behavior done in secret (for a variety of reasons that this podcast does address – mainly the shame and expectations of 100% compliance) and because it doesn’t typically fall within the values parameters of one or both parties.
    At the same time… this is different than classifying porn viewing as an “addiction”. Some of the most common pushback I get when I challenge the addiction model is that then I must believe that pornography is not a problem. Pornography can be a problem… just like any other human behavior can become a problem (especially if done in secrecy and not within the parameters of marital consent). And there are issues with pornography that are concerning (i.e. adolescents using it as their main resource for sexual education). But for many marriages, where values and expectations differ from those within Mormonism (or even are more flexible within Mormonism)… pornography itself is not necessarily the problem. In fact erotic materials can enhance relationships for some and is even used to treat certain sexual dysfunctions (if the client is comfortable with using that type of material).
    I’m not willing to blame pornography for the horrific way your husband treated you… the majority of men (and women) who enjoy viewing sexually explicit material never rape their spouse or feel entitled to sex whenever they want. In fact the research shows that those who view pornography tend to have more egalitarian views than those who don’t — something that most people don’t know and that can seem contra-indicated. What you are describing is much more indicative of a personality disorder, other mental health issues or general “assholery.”
    Again, I am so sorry about your situation and can understand why this would be difficult to listen to. At the same time, I hope that accurate information can help you understand your relationship better and place responsibility where it deserves to be placed.
    I have many podcasts on mormonsexinfo.com that go much more into depth as to helping understand why the framing of how we approach sexually explicit materials matters… both for those who unnecessarily shame themselves (or their spouse) and for those who do not deserve to be let off the hook because they are supposedly a “porn addict.”

  3. Anonymous
    April 20, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Interesting podcast, but I feel like I need to comment. There are a number of issues that should be addressed. First, it seems that Natasha (who I love and respect) does not agree that sex addiction is real, which must then rule out food, gambling, exercise and other behavioral addictions. I won’t debate this point but just know that many, many revered and highly respected experts in the field of addiction believe there are behavioral addictions. And, it has been proven that behaviors can trigger the same brain chemicals (dopamine, adrenaline, endorphins, oxytocin, etc.) as drugs and alcohol (especially sexual behavior). However, as someone who has worked with sex addiction for more than 25 years, I can attest that it behaves like any other addiction. The true tests: have you experienced negative consequences and have been unable to stop the behavior despite repeated attempts to stop (perhaps thousands)? Does the behavior occur compulsively and obsessively? If you don’t like the term addiction, perhaps sexually compulsive disorder may work better. See the great work of Patrick Carnes, Alexandra Katehakis, and many, many others. Real addiction is when a person uses anything, whether a behavior, alcohol or substance, to avoid debilitating negative emotions. When this happens, it can turn into a compulsive cycle. At root, addiction is affect disregulation (emotional disregulation); a person cannot regulate their emotions in a healthy way without turning to something unhealthy.

    Ryan’s story is unfortunate and perhaps he is not an addict or sexually compulsive. However, it seems he has been unsuccessful at stopping the practice that is clearly offensive and unacceptable to his wife and others. I agree that the Church’s ARP program is lacking. However, Ryan went to the wrong program. He would have had a much different experience in the Pornogrpahy Addiction Support Group (PASG) program. But, those are also lacking in that the church currently frowns upon the term “Sponsor”, which is unfortunate and does not use sobriety chips and recognition. Nevertheless, 12-step programs are amazing and beneficial to anyone that wants to improve their lives. I wish all people would do it. I think the repentance process should have 12 steps. Read the steps, they are amazing and are at root the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have found so much good in SA (Sexaholics Anonymous). I have not acted out sexually for nearly 1.5 years, as a result of the fellowship in SA, a good sponsor, and being able to sponsor others. The meetings are accepting and open, not led by a missionary (who mean well but change the tone) and are non-denominational. The Church is not a Swiss Army knife (tool for all things). My behavior was truly compulsive and affected my family, work, and life in general in negative ways. But, things have never been better for me. I was confused by Ryan’s concern with the ARP program focusing on character defects. I think he asked why they were doing that, it was outside the scope. There is a quote that “you can sober up a horse thief, but you’ll still have a horse thief.” If we don’t address the underlying issues, such as character defects as well as anxiety, depression and emotional disregulation, you will never find freedom from destructive sexual behavior.

    Here is the recipe that has led me to where I am today, happier than I have ever been and full of hope:

    1 – Good therapy from a certified sex addiction therapist (CSAT). LifeStar is excellent, but I’ve seen others as well. My anxiety, depression and cognitive behavioral issues were all treated.
    2 – A good 12-step group. The LDS PASG groups were good and a good start, but I found true healing and recovery through SA. The White Book is one of the most outstanding books on the subject. See also Katehakis: Sex Addictiton as Affect Disregulation and Patrick Carnes books.
    3 – Working the steps. Inventorying my life, my weaknesses, my injuries to others. Making amends to others. Working on my character defects. Daily inventory. Seeking the will of God daily, etc.
    4 – Getting help from a sponsor and others: making calls and taking calls when I needed help or others needed help.

    I acknowledge freely that not all men that have a problem with lust are addicts. But, again, ask the questions and have you been able to stop the behavior that is causing negative consequences.

    Lastly, the goal is to move from unhealthy sexual behavior to healthy sex. Katehakis has an amazing book on this subject called “Erotic Intelligence.” She has worked with people struggling with sexually compulsive behavior for years and she wrote the book to help those people move to a healthy sexuality rather than just abstinence, the ultimate goal.

    • natashaparker
      April 25, 2017 at 1:36 am

      Oofta… I hate to even post this comment (and yet I will) because I strongly disagree with all of the resources and recommendations offered here. Thank you for your respectful way of posting…
      At the same time… CSAT’s are not trained in a way that is in adherence with a body of mental health professionals… they go through a program that was developed by one particular person (patrick cares being mentioned)…
      LifeStar offers very religiously biased services…
      All of the sex addiction 12-step programs have been shown to have shaming factors..
      Katehakis is what I would deem an “apologist” if you had to make a comparison to for example a historical expert vs. the arguments you find on FAIR
      So… again, I will not censor the comment… but everything listed here is what I try to take positions against on.

      I’m glad you feel like you got the help you needed… but there are wonderful ways to get help without resorting to practices and clinicians that are practicing unethically or misinformed.

      • Anonymous
        April 25, 2017 at 9:56 am

        Wow, Natasha. “Unethically or misinformed”? You cannot deny that there is a body of evidence on both sides of this issue. Just because you happen to subscribe to the idea that sex addiction is not a real thing doesn’t mean you are right. I think a healthy amount of humility would allow for this. I just listened to part of the podcast with Dan Wotherspoon and I’m amazed by the lack of objectivity and arrogance (the so-called experts were questionable; never heard of any of them and they certainly haven’t published anything groundbreaking on the subject). This is not your area of expertise, it simply is not and you know that is the case. Thanks for the condescending response to my post.

  4. Kristal Hoeh
    April 21, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    I am so happy to see this and the subsequent recording. I have grown up with an unhealthy amount of fear of pornography, due to my parent’s divorce and mom being institutionalized which I attributed to my dad’s porn use. His comments about other women being fat and my mom being fat along with stacks of the magazines in his file cabinet when I was 10 years old and then hearing all of bad stuff at church about how you loose the spirit, get unreal expectations about sex, and basically become a sex crazed maniac at the cost of your family and salvation. When I got married in the temple after meeting my husband at BYU, I ran into an “addiction” book while cleaning out the house. I asked him what it was for, and he said it didn’t matter and her didn’t want to talk about it. Usher in 7 years of hell. I was convinced that if I was going to have a happy family, it was my duty to everything I needed to the point of severe scrupulosity. One person came into Relief Society back in 2009 here in Arizona and said that a new program for “spouses” of those addicted to porn was starting and that you had to meet with the bishop to get the time and place. I did that and actually became the facilitator for the group after 3 years of faithfully going. Long story short, I thought my husband who was a sex-crazed maniac who couldn’t help himself and when I found out our first child was a girl, started having OCD that he was going to sexually abuse her if I didn’t leave him. I was told to have my husband give me a blessing to “help” me overcome these thoughts when I told a member of the stake presidency. Anyway, I had my daughter and I saw what a great man I had married in helping me take care of her. I started to question whole “looking at porn” once in a while is an addiction and now my husband and I, along with our children, are out of the church, going to a protestant church and super happy. I was bothered that my husband thought I didn’t like him looking at porn because I was jealous. While that could be a little true, the main reason I didn’t like him looking at porn is because I didn’t want my family to fall apart (like my family of origin) and for our salvations to be on the line.

    • Kristal Hoeh
      April 21, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      Funny thing was, he kept asserting that he wasn’t addicted, and I kept thinking that his denial was a symptom of the addiction.

  5. Amanda Ireland
    April 28, 2017 at 4:43 am

    Loved the podcast and grateful for Ryan’s honesty. A very important message and perspective.

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