Capstone’s scope of practice regarding sexual issues includes sexual abuse, sexually addictive behaviors including pornography, their effects on the development of an individual’s arousal templates (what a person experiences as erotic) and an intimacy-based approach to healthy sexuality (intimacy defined as the depth, richness and quality of the relationship). Our therapists’ specialties – certified trauma therapist, certified sexual addiction therapist and master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy – give us the expertise to work in these three interconnecting areas.
Sexuality is probably the most confusing aspect in human existence. Part of the reasons for that confusion begin with the brain. Sexual arousal, pleasure and orgasm are, by God’s design, wonderful blessings intended for our enjoyment and to grow intimacy and connection. They are primary ways of releasing oxytocin and endorphins in the brain. Oxytocin, a hormone, is stimulated by touch. It is one of the most powerful feelings that a human can have. Oxytocin is the attachment hormone that gives the feeling of trust, belonging and love. When a baby is nursing and locks its eyes on the mother’s eyes, there are fireworks of oxytocin going off in both of their brains. For the baby, this experience is powerful in building their attachment neural pathways for relationships. For the mom, this experience strengthens the attachment to her baby.
Closely related are the endorphins, among the brain’s naturally occurring opioid neurotransmitters. Endorphins are associated with attachment, bonding, love, physical and emotional-pain, and relief. Endorphins and oxytocin are two inseparable neurochemicals. Humans not only need and long for them, we live for them. (See Bonding Matters: The Chemistry of Attachment, by Dr. Linda Palmer.)
This is why Dr. Patrick Carnes and many others describe addiction as an “intimacy disorder.” Deprived of the release of endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin, we cannot live without medicating either the pain of their absence or the pain they didn’t medicate with their presence. Endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine are matters of survival.
The need for attachment powers a lot of sexual intensity, which is often an impostor for sexual intimacy. Orgasm, whether from sex with another person or from masturbation, releases oxytocin in the brain. God designed this to happen but intended sex to be in the context of marriage. Our culture had has sexualized everything from toothpaste to butter, then altered our collective arousal templates through pornography. The result is a very distorted and harmful view of sexuality by most young people.
Gail Dines’ book Pornland is a must read for all parents, therapists and church leaders, not to mention politicians. The power and prevalence of pornography today are shaping our sexuality like nothing ever. I agree with Gail that it is the biggest health crisis in America. According to Focus on the Family, the average boy sees porn for the first time at the age of 8. It used to be 11, and some research studies have recently found the age to be 5, but we will use 8 to be conservative. The more that unaware parents give mobile devices to their children, the younger the age of first exposure is going to be.
You’ve probably heard of the book (now a movie) Fifty Shades of Grey, which is about BDSM (bondage-dominance-sadomasochism). Dr. Patrick Carnes warned our therapy staff during a CSAT training several years ago about the tsunami that was coming in BDSM sex, and that this book was going to have a significant impact.
Sadomasochism is defined as the derivation of sexual gratification from the infliction of physical pain or humiliation, either on another person or on oneself. It is so repulsive and just downright wrong. The very idea of inflicting pain on another person, or having it inflicted on you, during sex is absurd. It is promoted under the auspices of “two consenting adults,” but of course it’s often impossible to distinguish between true consent and a compulsion to repeat trauma, meaning an arousal template that originated in being the victim of sexual abuse as a child. BDSM has become the main genre in pornography, and it has become mainstream in our culture, just as Dr. Carnes warned.
When boys grow up on this style of porn, it conditions their arousal templates, what’s erotic to them as individuals. When those boys start being sexual with girls, all they know about how to treat a girl sexually is what they’ve learned from porn. According to Gail Dines’ interviews with the major porn manufacturers of the world, the girls who apply for jobs in the porn industry today do not have to be taught how to act because they already know. How? Because they are the first generation of girls to grow up with boys who are the first generation to grow up with BDSM porn as their primary teacher about sex. It’s such a sad statement about the missing links of parents and churches teaching about true intimacy.
Porn is a powerful force. As a matter of fact, video porn for a male has an 1100 percent dopamine potentiation, equivalent to crack cocaine and crystal meth. Gonzo porn is the predominant style of porn on the internet. It is a style of porn that is filmed at the point of action. It has removed any storyline from the film and just goes straight to the sex acts, one after another. Gonzo attempts to put the watcher directly into the scene as if they are doing the act portrayed. Add to this poison that the kind of sex filmed has no kindness, tenderness, love, or respect in it, but instead almost all of it is BDSM. Now imagine your daughter marrying a young man who learned what he knows about sex from this “teacher.” As I said above, it’s “a very distorted and harmful view of sexuality by most young people…sex-based intimacy instead of intimacy-based sex.” Intimacy-based relationships, or attachment-based relationships, are the antidote for this distorted and harmful view of sex.
Marital intimacy has been operationally defined by E.M. Waring as a multifaceted dimension composed of affection, commitment, compatibility, expressiveness, identity, sexuality, conflict resolution and autonomy (Waring et al., 1980, 1981a). Capstone adds spirituality as a component, which is mentioned in David Olson’s early work on intimacy (Olson, D.H., 1975).
Intimacy-based sexuality is the opposite of sex-based intimacy. Intimacy-based sexuality means that the pieces of the Intimacy Pie (a Capstone term) of affection, commitment, compatibility, expressiveness, identity, conflict resolution, autonomy and spirituality are the foundational components of a relationship – of any close friendship. When the sex piece of the pie is added to a relationship in which the other pieces are solid, it is good quite naturally, with the exceptions of medical problems, unhealed trauma or an unhealthy arousal template from sexual abuse, porn or prior unhealthy sexual relationships.
Because Capstone is a Christ-centered program and unapologetically so, I am often asked about how we approach a resident with same-sex attraction. One of my friends in the treatment industry, actually one of the best teachers/presenters in our field, asked me once during a tour of Capstone, “So how do you handle the gay kid?” I responded, “The same way we handle a straight kid.”
To us, kids are kids and we love them all. Almost all our young men since 2001 have been big-hearted, hard-headed, deep feelers, crusaders for justice and defenders of the weak. And we think that’s all good. Every person is created in God’s image to love and be loved at a core-to-core level of intimacy in the four contexts of relationship – God, self, family and friends – and to use their unique gifts in meaningful life purpose.
It is crystal clear what we do and don’t do with a resident who has same-sex attraction. It is also crystal clear what the American Counseling Association says we can and cannot do when it comes to sexual orientation. And both those clarities match up in our program. We have many residents who have same-sex attraction that ranges from 100 percent complete to bisexual attraction that is mostly opposite-sex attraction. Some residents and parents are good with this and others are not.
Capstone’s work is the same either way, as is our respect for either way.
We don’t do conversion therapy or reparative therapy or any other sexual orientation change effort (SOCE). First, we can’t by our ethical code, and second, we can’t because it is not the focus of our program. Capstone is a very intensive 90- to 96-day program that tackles three very challenging and systemic areas from a Core Systems Model approach: unhealthy, compulsive and addictive behaviors; core underlying issues of trauma and attachment; and the family/cultural contexts in which the first two exist.
We work hard to protect the focus of our program. We are an all-male facility because if we had a male and female program, I think we would lose over half of our focus and spend over half of our time and energy in the coed drama that would ensue. Is there a place for that? Yes, much later in the process – not at this stage. We don’t allow flirting or romantic relationships between our residents with same-sex attraction for the same reason. Capstone is very committed to protecting its focus, which is clearly described in this website.