“Sex addiction and the Church” was the title of a new training I recently attended. As you can imagine, the session was standing room only. The title alone is a taboo! The person giving the lecture was a former priest—even more taboo! Filling the seats of the room were clergy and professionals like myself, all there to better understand how we as counselors can work along side clergy more effectively with the goal of helping a very isolated population: sex addicts.
What are The Challenges?
Within the Church, clergy who are sex addicts live with the shame, fear, and guilt involved with their compulsive sexual behaviors, while acting as a moral compass for their congregations. It is a lonely journey. Who do these individuals confess to? Fellow clergy? I think not. In time, the Church will have to change the way it approaches and interacts with individuals suffering from sexual addiction.
Within the greater community, Church members also need to be respectful and open to listening to individuals who suffer from this disease. How will the church community respond when knowing their fellow Brothers and Sisters are engaging in compulsive, immoral, acts of sexual pleasure? Will these individuals (who once held the hands of sex addicts in the sacred church) defy the stigma associated with sex addiction in order to be supportive? Or will they simply look the other way? I wish I knew.
Spirituality & Sexuality
There may be a link between spirituality and sexuality. We are sexual beings. Where do we draw the line between healthy vs. unhealthy sexuality as it relates to religion? How sexual are we allowed to be in the eyes of others? From a Catholic lens (under which I was born), God created us to be like him and to connect and engage in fellowship with others. And we do this by expressing ourselves in healthy ways. An important aspect of our sexuality is not in erotic language but in our maleness and femaleness. Of course, this is not to say we have to fit into the common stereotype. Society sees us as male or female, regardless of the relationship we enter (e.g. whether romantic or friendship).
We can use our spirituality (and sexuality) in healthy and unhealthy ways. For example, we can use God’s gift of sexuality to connect with others, or we can use it to hurt others. I hear this idea in my practice quite often: “I am only going to give him sex when he deserves it.” A more extreme example would be individuals forcing unwanted sex, as in rape or sodomy.
Another unhealthy way to act on our sexuality is to become a compulsive sex addict. In this way, we utilize negative coping skills and give all the power to this empty world of serotonin/dopamine highs instead of giving ourselves to God.
Let’s be clear, I am not clergy, nor am I entirely comfortable in my faith. But one thing I am comfortable with is treating addiction.
What is our Role in helping our fellow clergy?
& How do we help clergy help their patrons?
- Have an open dialogue with Pastors about what it means to have a compulsive addiction.
- Reiterate the stigma, shame, isolation, and fear involved with this disease and that these individuals are already living in secrecy. A community of people who can help support them is essential.
- We misuse sex in many ways, especially in what seems on the outside as loving, healthy relationships. Softly remind them that to judge one’s morality is unkind and unnecessary. Addicts do this enough by themselves.
We alone are more than capable of helping this population. However, for some, a Pastor’s acceptance and acknowledgement of (fill in the blank) pain and suffering is more important. The Clergy want our help and assistance but we, the professional Counselors, may need to take that first step and start the dialogue. Together, we will take a leap of faith! Adina Silvestri is a licensed professional counselor, researcher, and counselor educator who works with adults and children in her private practice, Life Cycles Counseling.It is her passion to work with individuals with addiction through counseling, research and advocacy efforts with the hope of raising awareness to the lack of gender specific treatment and recovery programs. Read more about her at www.adinasilvestri.com