This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It has come to our attention that the group called "Fight the New Drug" is being allowed to present its material in public school districts within the state of Utah without soliciting approval of the school board or parents. As certified sex therapists, it is concerning that sex education that is neither comprehensive nor accurate is taking place in such settings.
Many share the desire to help adolescents navigate today's sexual landscape. The type of sexual education they receive matters. False and fear-based information exacerbates problems. And minors often turn to adult films ("pornography") for education when they have not been given adequate resources at home or at school.
Research supports that those who come from religious backgrounds where there is moral disapproval of pornography are more likely to identify themselves and others as "sex addicts" for behaviors that do not differ from the general population. FTND fits this description and yet is being allowed to address students in public schools.
Claiming that pornography affects the brain "like a drug" and that "cutting back can lead to withdrawal symptoms" is false. Drugs introduce chemicals into the brain. There is not a single study that demonstrates what neurochemicals are released in the brain when watching porn, nor that these neurochemicals are any different from those released while eating chocolate or watching football.
The largest published neuroscience study of this topic to date, as well as a series of published behavioral studies, shows that those who report problems viewing sex films do not resemble any other substance or "behavioral" addictions. According to their own website, 90 percent of FTND attendees end up agreeing that "pornography releases the same chemicals in your brain as other hard drugs" compared to 43 percent who believed this prior to their presentation. FTND is advertising their ability to successfully spread false information.
FTND claims they use "peer reviewed science and research" to back their information. A "sex/porn addiction" diagnosis does not exist in the DSM-5, which was explicitly rejected for "lack of scientific evidence."
Sexual educators in the USA are highly regulated by concerned parents, legislators and religious leaders. So much so that they are generally impeded from offering effective and comprehensive education. Just this spring an opt-in sex education bill sponsored by Rep. Brian King didn't even make it to the floor. Sex-ed curriculum for public schools goes through a rigorous process to get approved. FTND avoids all regulatory procedures/standards and lands right in the middle of our public schools by something as simple as getting approval from a PTA board or approaching individual teachers directly.
Unapproved curriculum, offered by untrained professionals, is happening right under our noses. For many kids growing up in Utah this will be the only form of sex education they will receive. Before we educate students about the positive and negative aspects of porn, we need a positive curriculum that educates them about sexuality and human development. Utah families deserve to be informed and given the skills and resources to provide accurate, age-appropriate information around sexual health.
Natasha Helfer Parker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist working in private practice in Wichita, Kan. She is the president of the Mormon Mental Health Association and runs a podcast called "Mormon Sex Info." Kristin Hodson is a licensed clinical social worker and certified sex therapist, founder and executive director of The Healing Group in Midvale, co-author of "Real Intimacy: A Couples Guide for Genuine, Healthy Sexuality," and president-elect of the Mormon Mental Health Association. Kristin Marie Bennion is a licensed clinical social worker and certified sex therapist, owner/therapist at Intimate Connections Counseling in Orem and Conference Committee Chair of the Mormon Mental Health Association. Shannon Hickman is a licensed clinical social worker and certified sex therapist and owner/therapist at Core Healing Counseling in Murray.