A Mormon sex therapist has opened up about facing excommunication for supporting the LGBT+ community, and holding science-backed views on porn and masturbation.
Natasha Helfer is a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist, who is also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as the LDS church or Mormon church.
Helfer is one of very few sex therapists within the Mormon church and, making her even more rare in the religion, is an “advocate for sexual health in marginalised populations”, including LGBT+ people, religious minorities and women.
Although she grew up in the church, and has more than two decades of experience as a sex therapist, she has now been summoned to a Mormon membership council.
A membership council is a disciplinary meeting between a church member perceived to have done something wrong, and can result in complete excommunication from the church.
Stephen Daley, the president of Helfer’s former stake (a group of congregations) in Kansas, told her in a letter that the church had specifically taken issue with her support for same-sex marriage, her scientific view that masturbation is a “normal part of sexual development” rather than a “sin”, and her belief that viewing porn automatically constitutes an “addiction”.
The letter also accused of being “critical of church leaders”, and “encouraging people to leave the church”.
In a video posted to Facebook, Helfer said: “The reason I am choosing to share this on my professional page, is that the reasons I am being called to such a meeting all have to do with the fact that I am a mental health professional and a certified sex therapist. In fact one of only a handful in my community.
“And I am public, and vocal, about my stance of supporting and educating about sexual health, which it seems they do not see as in compliance with doctrine.”
The Mormon sex therapist said that while she denies encouraging people to leave the church, she added: “I do stand by all my positions that are backed by sexual science and I have called on church leaders to educate themselves on such matters.”
Helfer continued: “I am bound by ethical and regulatory processes in my profession and, in fact, had been specifically trained on many ethical trainings, that to bias my professional services through my own religious beliefs or background, is unethical, causes undue harm, and could get my license revoked.
“Not to mention, that after much education into all of these matters, and serving my community who have brought these issues into my office daily for almost 25 years, I not only speak to my positions from a professional perspective, but also from personal conviction.
“Inappropriate sexual shame harms people.
“When churches and religious communities reject sexual health, principals supported by decades of research and science, the community suffers, and this has tragic and violent ramifications.
“Violence is either turned inward, self-loathing, substance abuse, mental disorder symptoms, and suicide as just some examples.
“Or [they are] turned outward, discrimination, harassment, sex crimes, and hate crimes.
“I have felt compelled to speak to these issues. I do not believe that educating and speaking publicly about how our communities are being harmed or could be helped is critical.
“I actually see it as my ethical responsibility.”
Helfer called for those within her church community who have been affected by the issues she discussed to submit letters to church leaders ahead of the membership council, scheduled for Sunday (18 April).
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, hundreds of mental health professionals have already come to Helfer’s aid, writing in a joint letter that “withdrawing Natasha’s membership will create a culture of stigma and shame for potential clients seeking therapy”, and that excommunicating the sex therapist could harm “other therapists providing culturally competent, clinically sound, and evidence-based care”.
Eric Hawkins, a spokesperson for the LDS church, told the Washington Post that the church will not comment on Helfer’s membership council specifically, but said: The church teaches its members to be morally clean in every way, and that sexual feelings are given by God and should be used in ways he has commanded.
“These are the principles that will be considered by the local leaders in this circumstance.”