My Therapist, the Porn Star
Part 1: When your therapist is a porn star, how does it affect therapy?
Posted May 22, 2020
Like many therapists, I was taught that professional clinicians must lead extremely private personal lives, to protect themselves, their families and their patients, from the complex issues of transference. Therapists in training are often told by supervisors that they shouldn’t go to bars, because if a patient who is struggling with alcohol sees them, it might damage the therapeutic relationship and trust. I distinctly recall a supervisor telling me that therapists shouldn’t ever go to strip clubs, for risk of encountering a patient, or worse, having the therapist be seen as a person with any public sexuality.
Many people are surprised when they learn just how staid and socially conservative the therapy field is. Today, those rules and expectations are being challenged by therapists who choose to embrace their sexuality in authentic and public ways.
A few weeks ago, I introduced you to Daniel, a man who had worked for many years as a sex addiction therapist and who was now performing in pornography. Daniel is still practicing as a therapist, though he no longer identifies himself with the sex addiction model. That post described the evolution that Daniel went through, as a therapist and a man, as his views of sexuality changed. What I found intriguing, and extremely challenging for our field, was in exploring how his performing in porn affected him as a therapist, and might have an impact on his patients and his therapeutic work.
Over the course of this project, I was surprised to meet two other therapist porn performers: Ethan, a psychologist, who has also done porn, and Jasmine (Jet Setting Jasmine) who is a Florida-based licensed social worker and performer in fetish and bondage films. Like Daniel, both Ethan and Jasmine described that doing porn evolved out of their personal sexualities and relationships with lovers, and were expressions of their sexual fantasies that they decided they did not want to suppress.
Ethan works in traditional and standard aspects of mental health, doing office-based therapies, while Jasmine primarily provides online therapies. Adding their experiences to this dialogue about the therapeutic issues for therapists who make porn yielded a rich and fascinating trove of insights.
Of course, the first question that any of us would ask is, “What would your patients think, if they knew you made porn?” Most of Jasmine's clients come to her specifically aware of her involvement in alternative sexuality, she says: "Most of my clients come to me because I'm in porn, and they are seeking ways to incorporate sexual freedom in their own lives." Jasmine also treats other porn performers, as a member of the Pineapple Support Network, a group offering mental health support to sexworkers and performers.
While neither Daniel nor Ethan are as publicly out as Jasmine, both described that they also have patients who are aware, and that it has not had a negative impact. “I did once have a client who spoke about viewing a lot of porn, and one day he was talking about this and the way he was looking at me gave me the impression that he had seen a video of me. I felt a little uncomfortable but didn’t pursue it, and it never came up again. As his porn use wasn’t the main reason he was in therapy and wasn’t related to his goals in any way, I couldn’t see any justification in returning to it,” said Ethan. Like Jasmine, Daniel had a client who came to see him specifically because the client knew Daniel had made porn. “He said he knew that I would understand him, and he wouldn’t have to explain anything or be judged.” The client wasn’t a porn performer himself, but he was active in the gay sexual scene, and had experienced judgment and stigma from other therapists.
All three therapists felt that their porn performance, and acceptance of their own sexualities, have helped them learn how to avoid responses that their clients experience as judgment. Ethan said it clearly: “One thing my clients will never get from me is any kind of judgment about their sexual behavior (assuming it’s with consenting adults), or lifestyle choices they make. I know as therapists we’re not supposed to be judgmental, but many are, and there are also many who are but who don’t realize how their clients experience them.”
Neither Daniel nor Ethan have had a client confront or challenge them about being in porn, but both wonder how they will handle it when or if it happens, especially if the client is struggling with it. Daniel described how he has been thinking about it, planning how he will respond: “I’m not going to lie to my client, if they ask me. I’ve worked too hard to be a real person in the room with my clients to lie or refuse to answer. Hopefully, if it comes up, it will be a chance for me to explore with the client their fears of their own sexuality, their ideas and beliefs about porn, and to help them navigate it. I hope that seeing me, without shame, demonstrating self-acceptance, that my clients will learn something positive. Done well, this can be an inflection point for growth.”
In contrast, Jasmine has an up-front conversation with every new client about her work in adult entertainment. "I explain to them that it's out there, and I want them to know about it so it's not a surprise. I offer to refer them elsewhere if it's a problem, but it never is. Usually, it's part of why they came to see me, because they want help in developing sexual authenticity for themselves."
There’s a very real reason that therapists are trained to firewall off their personal lives: Clinicians are subject to intrusive scrutiny by their licensing boards and professional associations. The American Psychology Association ethics code draws a line between personal and professional lives: “This Ethics Code applies only to psychologists’ activities that are part of their scientific, educational, or professional roles as psychologists.…These activities shall be distinguished from the purely private conduct of psychologists, which is not within the purview of the Ethics Code.”
But many state licensure regulations include more prohibitive regulations. The Oregon Board of Psychology requires clinicians to be “of good moral character…the lack of good moral character may be established by reference to acts or conduct that reflect moral turpitude…The conduct or acts in question must be rationally connected to the applicant’s fitness to practice psychology.” In some regulations, license boards may only act on conduct involving “moral turpitude” if it occurs during commission of a crime, while other bodies, including most professional associations, may judge a clinicians’ behavior, even when not criminal. The National Association of Social Workers requires that “Social workers should not permit their private conduct to interfere with their ability to fulfill their professional responsibilities.” They go on to set requirements that “Social workers should be aware that posting personal information on professional Web sites or other media might cause boundary confusion, inappropriate dual relationships, or harm to clients.”
Many in the behavioral health industry hold very strong negative views about the sexual entertainment industry and view any association with pornography as an ethical taint. I personally have been threatened with complaints by colleagues and activists, simply because I have provided education on anxiety and sexual health to users of adult websites (discussed here). I've written about the "weaponization" of such licensure complaints, as they reflect a troubling trend of suppression of clinician's rights to free speech. Does performing in pornography represent a form of free speech? U.S. law has historically set that precedent, so long as such performances are within the law. "Therapists have the same right of self-determination as anyone else," said Jasmine.
All three therapists have worried about whether their personal lives as porn performers could impact their professional lives. They explored the risks, and feel that it is within their personal rights. Daniel hasn't experienced a complaint, but “I’ve considered this and I have researched the law and ethics for my license and I wonder what the basis would be for a complaint. Performing in adult content isn’t illegal, there’s no violation of any statute or code of conduct, my state of mind isn’t altered. So the only thing really left is moral judgment around the choice to make adult content. Therapists are allowed to have personal lives and this is my personal life – granted, I’m being public about it, but it’s still my personal life.”
This post is continued in Part 2, here.
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