Thursday, March 15, 2012

Recovering your sexual self after the cult

ICSA Annual International Conference: Manipulation and Victimization
Montréal, Canada; July 5-7, 2012 - more information

Steve Eichel, Ph.D.; Linda Dubrow-Marshall, Ph.D.;  Andrea Emmett; Carla  Brown
Most cult observers are aware of the common tendency of cultic groups and leaders to manipulate and abuse members’ sexuality. Cultic sexual degradation can vary greatly between groups and even within a group (e.g., “inner” circle vs. “lay members”).  “Flirty fishing,” polygamous marriage, devotional-leader sex, child sexual abuse, coerced group sex, and enforced celibacy are only a few examples.  Other groups concentrate on prescribing sexual behavior through arranged marriages, or within existing marriages.  In almost all cases, people who exit cultic relationships continue to feel shame and confusion.  Women may continue to struggle with how sexual objectification and the violation of significant boundaries are obstacles to relating even casually to men. For those who struggled with minority or alternative sexual orientations, the demonization of their nonheterosexual desires often lingers long after they physically exit the group.  These concerns may be examined during exit counseling or other interventions; however, even therapists sometimes avoid these issues.  Those who leave on their own and never seek or find the appropriate sources of help can be left with sexual conflicts that persist long after the termination of ongoing cultic influence.  In some cases, postcult shame causes loss of sexual desire and functioning.  In other cases, leaving a cultic relationship can launch a former member into a period of intense (and sometimes dangerous) sexual experimentation.  Still others find themselves getting lost in sexually compulsive behavior, such as engaging in multiple anonymous partners, inappropriate relationships, or Internet pornography.

This panel will discuss some of the common sexual dynamics that have been experienced, observed, and documented in cultic groups and relationships.  We will also provide an overview of postcult sexuality issues and concerns.  We will speculate about some trends in sexual recovery we have observed in former members, as well as the possible effects of mainstream culture, both positive and negative, on facilitating or obstructing that recovery.  Finally, we will discuss what cult interventionists and therapists might need to do, including specialized training in sexuality counseling, to better assist their clients in making steps toward reclaiming or recovering an integrated, sex-positive sense of the Self.