As Latter-day Saint Sex Therapist Faces Expulsion, Others Are Concerned About Ramifications
Natasha Helfer is a sex therapist. She’s also facing potential expulsion from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because of how she talks about things like pornography and same-sex marriage.
Helfer’s case, which is being handled by local leaders of the Church in Kansas, is concerning for other sex therapists who are active in the faith. As Marty Erickson, a marriage and family therapist in Utah County puts it, Helfer’s situation is having a “chilling effect” among professionals and people seeking help.
“She's strongly opinionated, but what she's calling for is no different than what any mental health therapist would be advocating for,” Erickson said, “including any evidence-based, professional, ethics-based LDS mental health therapist, such as myself.”
Kristin B. Hodson is a licensed clinical social worker and certified sex therapist based in Salt Lake City. Hodson has already come to terms that she could also be kicked out of the Church for her work.
She said she’s concerned about what Helfer’s case could mean in the long run.
“I worry about the precedent that it sets for professionals at large,” she said. “Are we going to just cut off any profession that is not in alignment with the Church or can we do better than that?”
Patrick Mason, a Mormon historian and professor at Utah State University, said he doesn’t expect any kind of statement or reasoning from faith leaders for Helfer’s verdict. However, high-profile cases like this can sometimes lead to the Church “clarifying” some aspects of the faith.
“I wouldn't be at all surprised if — regardless of the outcome of the case with Helfer — the Church would refine its teachings,” Mason said. “It may be by way of strengthening them and reasserting them. Or it may be by way of development in terms of its teachings around masturbation, pornography, including what happens when the professional practices of somebody seems to come in conflict with Church teachings.”
Braxton Dutson is also a certified sex therapist in the Salt Lake area. He, like Hodson, knows he could be removed from the faith for what he does. But he hopes the Church will change how it approaches sexual topics.
“We're going to continue working to support positive and healthy sexual experiences, even if there's some consequences along the way,” he said.
Helfer posted online that she wasn’t allowed into her disciplinary council because she wouldn’t turn off her phone. The council continued on without her, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, and she’s now waiting for the decision on her membership status.