Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sexually Explicit Material

One of the more controversial issues in the field of sexual addiction, sexual compulsivity and sex offender treatment is the role and use of sexually explicit material. Notice the language: I use sexual explicit material to highlight anything of any sexual content versus the term pornography. Part of the reason for the change in language is to step beyond the conflict and highlight the need to adequately assess the use of ANY sexually explicit material. Pornography is often assumed to be nude magazines or nude videos. In my experience, sexually explicit material is any material you use for any sexual purposes. This can include sexually explicit magazines and videos but can also include what some people would consider benign advertisements such as the classic Sears Catalog of old. The number of clients who report they looked at the bra ads while growing up highlights how a lot of material is sexually explicit without being pornographic. Another example is Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Magazine or Men’s Health. While not pornographic, my experience suggests that this material is used for sexual purposes including but not limited to masturbation and fantasy material. In the topic on the Internet, ease of access to sexually explicit material via computers, cell phones, and other devices simply highlights the importance of addressing how the acting out cycle and sexually explicit material are present in your life.

As you review your sex history and timeline, highlight the types and content of the sexually explicit material. As mentioned, the content can range from pictures, videos, online materials, stories, advertising material, and even art. The “nudes” of classic art can be considered by some clients as sexually explicit material. As a starting point in your personal assessment, start with an extreme conservative definition of sexually explicit material: Any medium with any content that you sexualize or could be sexualized. The key is to help you highlight the degree to which sexual content is present in your life. The level of bombardment is amazing and will probably surprise you once you start this assignment. Next, focus on how much material you explicitly seek out versus simply in your environment.

As you start to increase your awareness of the type and amount of material, start to focus on what is arousing or attractive to you. What themes might be present? Where do your thoughts and fantasies go regarding the material? As you recognize the material, I’d also encourage to highlight any thoughts, feelings or memories that come to mind. Much of what we see as sexually arousing is defined by our culture –such as family, racial, gender, religious, orientation, or national culture -and can change over time. What were the messages you heard while growing up? What are the thoughts you have now?

The role of sexually explicit material in your future is the part of sexually explicit material in your definition of sexual health. The scholarly field is divided. Some clinicians believe that almost any sexually explicit material is unhealthy by definition because it can be misused and can be used to exploit others. Some religious traditions believe that looking or using sexually explicit material is tantamount to infidelity and is therefore a sin (because of the 10 commandments, it is the equivalent of coveting your neighbors wife). Some clinicians find sexually explicit material as neutral and focus on the surrounding context in any given setting about the value of the material in that context. On the other end of the spectrum, clinicians sometimes use sexually explicit material as educational to help couples address sexually functioning issues, and to help facilitate the sharing of sexual thoughts with a partner. And as a final example, other clinicians have no general concerns about pornography and see it as something that simply is.

My approach is a little bit of all of the above. For me, the key is to have you identify your current use of sexually explicit material, review what your values are regarding the material and focus on the role the material has in your cycle. If sexually explicit material sets you up for repeated periods of acting out, then I would suggest that it is not helpful in your case. For other people, sexually explicit material is a form of harm reduction thus reducing the risk of acting out. How do the values you choose to live by in your life shape your use of sexually explicit material. A common theme throughout the book has focused on your definition of sexual health: how does sexually explicit material foster that development. Whatever your choice, the key is to demonstrate integrity between the use of the material and your definition of sexual health.

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