Sunday, October 4, 2009

Regular Sex

After working as a social worker with families for nearly 15 years, one thing I know FOR SURE is there is no such thing as "regular sex."

I'm not hoping to start a discussion her about sex per se - what people like or don't. My point is that whatever you can imagine, someone is probably doing it out there. I've had to redefine what I thought "most people did."

Lots of people have sex with more than one person, at the same time. And with the easy access of digital video and photos, WAY too many people are taking pictures. Personally, I really don't want to see myself, but apparently lots of people do.

Here's the downside - when they break up - here's a major shame inducing / help preventing aspect. When I'm talking with a client and I sense something "there" but she (sometimes he) doesn't want to tell me - it is generally somehow related to sex. Second is related to drug use.

I talked with a woman for quite a while and I never could get at what was scaring her so. We did the whole lethality risk assessment. He'd shoved her around and had been harassing her, but the level of previous violence didn't match up with the level of fear she was displaying. FINALLY, she told me. She'd let him take all these naked pictures of her. He was threatening to send them to her family and friends if she didn't get back with him. What a class A jerk. And, what a great control technique on his part. It worked. For a while. But, she finally told someone (me). Her shame and fear were palatable. It turns out he did send out those pictures. And, she lived. And, we got a protective order for her. Life went on. Turns out, we are all naked under our clothes.
I was in protective order court with another client of mine. We were getting ready for her contested hearing (that means her abusive ex-husband wanted to have the judge decide if the PO should be granted her not - he, or course, has the right to have the case heard). She told me she needed to tell me something. OK, generally people do. She told me that she and her husband had been in a swingers group. I suppose she felt she was telling me something that I hadn't heard before. Or, something that would impact the protective order hearing. Neither was true.
But, to her, it was a great shame. I will never, ever forget that moment. The look on her face. How her whole body went rigid, tears in her eyes, as she confessed to me her secret. She said she wasn't forced, but she didn't feel good about herself and this is what her husband wanted, so she did it. She even enjoyed it. But, she never felt right about it. I told her lots of people do lots of different things. In my job, I hear all about it. And, that's not why we were here. We were here to see about getting her protection.
I've learned to ask direct questions. Obviously, I don't need to know about clients' sex lives in general. But, when it impacts their ability to live safely or in peace, I've learned to specific questions like:
1) What happened when he wanted to have sex and you didn't?
This is a great way to get at accessing power and control in a relationship. Often I get answers like:
I didn't say no, he'd be mad...I had sex when he wanted to keep him calm...Sex was the only thing good about our relationship...He hit me if I didn't have sex
2) Is there something else you are afraid of. Sometimes people have things they are embarrassed by, like something to do with sex or taking drugs. If this is something that is going on with you, you can tell me. I've heard everything before and I won't judge you.
Confession really is good for the soul. Often what people are ashamed of, has nothing to do with our case (like getting a protective order). But, they think it will impact the case, so they don't say, but they are afraid. After I ask people like this, they'll tell me they did drugs, or did something sexual they've never done before. I think it often makes them feel better to say it out loud so we can discuss it.

So, my point, on a personal note, I had no idea. On a professional note, the best thing is to just talk about it. As Brene Brown says, the anectode to shame is empathy.


Marsha Lanier said...

I'm so proud of you and your work, Jennifer. I remember how much you helped me when my case was in court. And how much you help others.

You have a long body of work to be proud of and many lives saved because of it.

You and Cindy are among my top sheroes!

And you are a really good writer!

Robin Mallery said...

I enjoyed this article all the more, following it from a link sent via Marsha. Thank you for not only performing this noble and necessary work, but for doing so with empathy and compassion.

CJ Social Worker said...

Wow - you both really made my day!

And - Marsha - you were the DV expert when we were in grad school - so high praise indeed!

Felicia Thompson said...

Jennifer I, too, was led to your blog via the a link posted by Marsha Lanier. The depth of your compassion,and your obvious dedication to your clients, is so uplifting.

If there is a way to contribute to the continuation of your work, pease let us know. If there is a way to end the neccesity for it, let us know that, too.