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Fantasies, Safe and Dangerous
Changing Inappropriate Arousal
Sexual Behavior Problems
Come in many different forms
Problems with sexual behavior can be of very different kinds. If you would like to skip reading materials that do not apply to you, you can click on the one topic below that comes closest to describing your sexual issues:
Having Difficulty Being Sexual
As I'm sure that you have discovered, sexual arousal is not directly under your conscious control. When you are having a problem with sexual arousal there are many possible reasons, and these can be sensitively explored. The main thing to understand at the beginning is that it is important for you and your partner not to read a lot into your lack of arousal. It is more important to take the time to focus on other kinds of caring until we have the opportunity to understand a bit more about what's going on.
If you have not already seen your family doctor, it would be good to do that, to rule out any physical problems. Then we can get some history and explore how things have been with you, all the time working toward designing some exercises that are specifically made for you in your situation. These may be physical, mental, or emotional, involve your partner or not - it all depends on what's going on with you. Sexual arousal is an involuntary response, but it is subject to interference and also to learning. It is also very responsive to any history of being a victim of abuse, which can take many forms, remembered and forgotten. If any of these factors are relevant for you, we can work with them.
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Having Inappropriate Sexual Thoughts
If you find that you are attracted to someone who is not appropriate for you, there are some definite things that you can do about that. First of all, "not appropriate" can mean two different things. Please click on the one that comes closest to your situation:
Being Attracted to Someone who is Not Right for You
Being attracted to "Mr. Wrong" or "Ms. Wrong" is more common than you think, and having a hard time getting free of that attraction is one of the most common of the things that lead people to seek counseling. It is definitely possible to get over being attracted to the wrong person, and my clients have a good track record on this one. They either learn how to behave in ways that stop being a turn-off to Mr./Ms. Wrong (which allows their hoped-for lover to have a better chance of becoming Mr./Ms. Right), or they get clear on just how wrong that person is for them and learn how to stop being attracted to that person.
If you are tired of what seems like an uphill relationship battle and want to make some definite progress one way or the other, I would be happy to talk with you.
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Having thoughts about doing something sexual that would be morally or legally wrong
This next section is for you only if you are having thoughts of doing something sexual that is morally or legally wrong. I have worked successfully with more than 200 adult sex offenders, and I am here to tell you that having the wrong kinds of thoughts is where it all begins. I would like to offer you something that you don't see every day. What follows is two chapters from an extensive self-help workbook that I have written for adult sexual offenders. Hopefully that's not you at this point, but if you don't get a handle on your inappropriate thinking, you are more at risk than you realize.
Sexual offending is almost always not a bad person making a big wrong choice. It is a good person making a lot of very little wrong choices that seem harmless at the time. These next two chapters will help you to avoid making those little wrong choices that lead you gradually and blindly down the path to ruined lives for yourself and anyone you would eventually victimize. If you have already started down this path, I sincerely hope that these chapters will help you to turn around and never look back.
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Content Warning: The following chapter contains a section of language that is very explicit. This is needed for it to be effective with the intended audience. There is a warning before this explicit section.
David Ayers, Registered Psychologist
Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada. Reproduce free forever.
Sometimes a person will tell me that they donít fantasize. What they are saying is, they donít do what they imagine others to mean when these others talk about fantasizing. Actually, everyone fantasizes.
A fantasy is simply thinking about something that isnít really happening at the moment. We all do this. People have different styles of fantasizing:
If you are a visual thinker, you will be having mental pictures about something.
If you are a verbal thinker, you will be talking to yourself or hearing words being said about something.
If you are a physical thinker (you think with body movement), you will be imagining body feelings and movements.
A fantasy is different from an ordinary thought in terms of how long it takes. If a thought carries on long enough for a person to get involved in it, even get lost in it for a moment, it is a fantasy. Sometimes this is called a daydream, which is another name for a fantasy.
During the Second World War, the US Army did some experiments on starvation. A group of conscientious objectors volunteered for alternative duty, which was being locked away for several weeks and maintained on a diet that was just barely above the starvation level.
What happened to these men is that they became obsessed with food. They spent much of their time cutting out magazine pictures of food, copying recipes, and putting together menus for the meals that they were going to have once the experiment was over.
Their very strong need for food resulted in long and detailed fantasies about food.
Itís the same with sex. We all know what itís like when we are horny. The stronger the need, the longer and more detailed the fantasies. In the case of sex, the only exception to this is if you find it threatening to have sexual fantasies. In that case you will suppress or represses your awareness of the sexual interests that are frightening you. You will have a clue that you are doing this if you can recognize that you have fantasies about other things but not about sex.
Which of the following is true for you?
I have fantasies, including sexual fantasies.
I have fantasies, but not about sex.
I donít have fantasies.
Did you pick the last one? If you did, think about it carefully and try again.
In terms of sex, a typical fantasy for me would be (here take a piece of paper and write it down, or at least mentally acknowledge what it is).
Fantasy is one way that human beings have of checking things out. What would it be like to be this way? To do this thing? To try this approach? Because fantasy is a natural process that we all use to check out ďhow it might be if . . .Ē. Fantasy is potentially a very powerful tool.
The longer and deeper a fantasy, the more power it has. Fantasies that are deep enough actually cause us to spend long periods of time in a very suggestible state, similar to hypnosis. Except in this case, no one is hypnotizing us Ė we are hypnotizing ourselves. Our thoughts have a powerful impact on reorganizing our personality at those times. Therapists who use guided fantasy as a therapeutic tool take advantage of this fact.
Consider this imaginary sequence. You see a girl. You notice that sheís attractive, spend some time wondering what she would look like with her clothes off. Then you wonder what it would feel like if you touched her. She is starting to develop, so you wonder whether she has had any sexual experiences. Then you start to imagine her with a boy friend, and this leads to imagining her with you. Imagining this feels good and a bit exciting, so this develops into imagining how you would get her into this sexual situation Ė what you would do, how she would react, and so on. At some point you actually try out your fantasy, and you end up offending.
Somewhere in this imaginary sequence between noticing a girl and actually offending, you had a fantasy about the girl that gradually transformed itself into an action plan. Thatís what fantasies do. The longer a person has a fantasy, the more it slowly changes from dream to plan to action.
Because fantasies play a strong role in the learning of sexual arousal, because they have the power to change your personality and because fantasies gradually become a plan of action, itís very clear that fantasies are something to take very seriously.
Your thoughts and fantasies are your most intimate and strongest sources of sexual arousal. They color the rest of your sensory experience. Whatever is happening for you mentally at the time when you are sexually active is what you are learning the most. If you are making love with your partner but thinking about someone else, itís the someone else that is getting your vote for being sexually attractive. If you are present and paying attention to touching and being touched, itís your partnerís touch that you are learning is exciting, and so on.
It is extremely important to be very aware of your partner in a healthy way whenever you are sexually active. If you masturbate, it is just as important to be having healthy fantasies any time you do this. These safe fantasies are the cornerstone of healthy sexuality. Without this level of awareness, you run the risk of training yourself into an unhealthy pattern of arousal.
Dangerous fantasies are any fantasies that involve children or non-consenting people. They are also dangerous if you imagine yourself behaving in any way that is hurtful. This applies not just to sex, but also more generally to relationships. Donít imagine yourself hurting someone.
From what you already know, it should be easy for you to see that this is true: If you donít want to do it, donít think about doing it.
Just take a minute to let that last sentence sink in.
More often than not, a person who has sexually offended started down that path by having some ďinnocentĒ fantasies that grew and deepened and in time took over his life.
In my experience, the majority of offenders who have children as victims report having had thoughts and fantasies of their victim sometime before offending. Often these offenders believed that they were doing something safe or harmless by ďjust thinkingĒ or by masturbating while they fantasized in this way.
If you have sexually offended, what kinds of dangerous fantasies were connected with your offending? (Here take a piece of paper and write them down, or at least mentally acknowledge what they are).
Sometimes a person will want to stop certain thoughts or fantasies, but will not be able to. For this person, his thoughts have an intrusive, compulsive quality that is hard to turn off. If you need help turning off unwanted thoughts, your therapists can teach you the various techniques of Thought Stopping.
If you are working on a Safety Plan, you can refine it now by including your discoveries about your fantasies. Where in your Behavioral Sequence did you start to have dangerous fantasies? What can you do about these to make yourself safer?
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Content Warning: This second chapter contains explicit language throughout. If you can handle the language and the ideas, this chapter contains the answers to reversing pedophilia or rape arousal. It can be a life-saver for any individuals who have such problems, and for their potential future victims.
David Ayers, Registered Psychologist
Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada. Reproduce free forever.
Every time you experience sexual excitement you are teaching yourself what it is that you find sexually arousing. The process of learning is always taking place, 24 hours a day. You are learning about what you like to eat, what you love and hate, what you are afraid of, what makes you angry. You are also still learning, after all these years, about what turns you on sexually.
Every time you have sex, get turned on to a beer commercial, or masturbate while having a fantasy or looking at pornography, you are going to school. Each time you become sexually excited, you are learning the connection between that sexual excitement and whatever it is that is going on in your mind at that time. It might be thoughts, mental pictures, plans, or it might be particular things in the outside world that you are actually seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, and so on.
You don't particularly notice the effects of this learning because you have been at it so long you have developed a kind of consistency. You keep re-learning the same things over and over, so your tastes don't change very much. You continue to like some foods and dislike others, love some people and hate others, get sexually turned on by some things and not others. Because your experience stays the same, your activity continues to reinforce the learning patterns that you have already developed and it keeps these patterns strong.
Remember from earlier chapters that in order to keep a learned habit strong, you need to reinforce it every now and then. This reinforcement happens when you encourage your sexual excitement instead of just ignoring it. What would happen if you just ignored your sexual excitement every time it was inappropriate? The inappropriate habit would just fade away, leaving you with room to develop a healthier kind of sexuality. This process of the fading away of a habit is called extinction. The habit just slowly dies.
Arousal reconditioning is simply the process of extinguishing one habit and learning a different one. In this case, the habit that you want to extinguish is the learned connection between your inappropriate thoughts or mental pictures and your experience of sexual arousal. At the same time that these old habits are being extinguished, you will be learning new, appropriate habits.
The more intense an experience, the faster and stronger the learning. If you get violently ill after eating some tuna, chances are that it will be years before you are able to put any tuna in your mouth, maybe never. A dramatic example like this is called one-trial learning, because all it takes is one time and the learning is completed.
When we talk about arousal and sexual learning, we are actually talking about a whole range of intensities. In order to understand this better, we need to look at a sequence of sexual behaviors. By its nature, a sexual sequence starts out at a low intensity and builds to a high intensity. The learning that takes place at the beginning of a sexual sequence is not as strong as the learning that takes place at the end of a sexual sequence. Let's take a look at a common sexual sequence that starts by noticing an attractive person and having a fantasy.
One purpose of a fantasy or a daydream is to take you to the next step. A fantasy is like having a goal or a plan that develops more detail as it goes, always headed toward completion. In this case, the completion that wants to happen is having an orgasm. So you might start out by seeing someone on the street or in a blue jeans advertisement. There will be a vague feeling of interest or a vague excited feeling and a wish to see more, to take the fantasy further, or to do something. The process always has a next step, and there is always some part of you that wants to take that next step. The final step in this sequence is doing something sexual and having an orgasm. So seeing an attractive woman in a beer commercial can eventually work its way into having sex with your partner later on or, if you are single, a trip to the corner store to buy some pornography so that you can masturbate.
From the point of view of learning sexual arousal, each step in a fantasy involves increasing your sexual excitement. Each increase in arousal represents reinforcement. What is being reinforced is the connection between your fantasy elements (your thoughts and mental pictures) and your feeling of sexual arousal. The weakest learning happens at the beginning of the sequence, stronger learning happens in the middle, and even stronger learning is happening toward the end when your physical body is actually receiving direct sexual stimulation, and the strongest learning takes place when you actually have an orgasm. Throughout the sequence, you are learning to be turned on to whatever it was that you were fantasizing.
Itís easiest to stop a sequence at the beginning, a little harder to stop it in the middle, very hard to stop it towards the end, and almost impossible to stop it just as an orgasm is beginning.
What we want to do with arousal reconditioning is to break up the learned connections by not allowing negative fantasies to be rewarded by progressing and getting completed.
Wherever possible, masturbation is used as a training technique. Masturbation is good because it is convenient, powerful, flexible, and harmless to others. It provides a vehicle to not only extinguish bad habits, but also to train good habits of sexual arousal.
The principles are very simple to say, and not always so easy to do:
Keep a record of each session after itís finished
Masturbate to an appropriate fantasy or appropriate sexual materials
Stop masturbating instantly whenever a bad fantasy intrudes
Wait for the bad fantasy to stop (donít masturbate to it, and donít fight with it)
Continue masturbating whenever you can re-establish the appropriate fantasy
Always try to be having your appropriate fantasy when you reach orgasm.
Letís take these one at a time.
Your therapists will provide you with a form for keeping track of the results of each session. They may want you to start by simply keeping a record of your ordinary sexual activity before you actually begin the arousal reconditioning process. This is called establishing a baseline so that you can see how things are looking at the start.
Record-keeping is important, because the changes that come with arousal reconditioning take a while to happen. In my experience, the process usually takes from 4 months to 2 years to complete. Progress is gradual, and without being able to see the ďbig pictureĒ of the trends in your records, itís hard to tell how you are doing. Charting this big picture is easiest if you or your therapist has a computer with spreadsheet software.
An appropriate fantasy involves a sexual partner who is attractive, willing, and about your same age. If you are in a relationship right now, an appropriate fantasy would be of your present sexual partner.
An inappropriate fantasy would be anything else. If the person is unwilling, younger or not actively participating the fantasy is inappropriate.
Some people prefer to masturbate to a fantasy that they make up in their own minds. Others prefer to help their fantasy by doing something like watching a pornographic video or looking at pornography, for example. Pornography is not appropriate because it is always presented in away that is demeaning to the actors in the video or to the models who are being photographed. If you need to use visual materials you can get an illustrated book about sexual enrichment. Such books are sold in the self-help section of an ordinary bookstore. Often the pictures are sexually explicit and they show adults who are consenting and who are respectful of each other.
If you are verbally oriented, you could read sections of the description of love making in an ordinary popular novel. You could even tape record these sections and listen to the tape while you masturbate.
If you will be using materials other than your own imagination, you need to show these materials to your therapists to make sure that they are OK for you to be using.
When you first start using this procedure, your old fantasy habits will be trying very hard to reassert themselves, and you will be getting a lot of intrusions.
It is very important to drop your penis like a hot potato every time this happens. If you are not consistent about this, you will be adding a lot of time to the length of time it will take you to extinguish your old habits and complete your arousal reconditioning. This is very true, but explaining why itís true is complicated. Itís easiest to understand by an example. Suppose you were trying to stop smoking. You were successful in not taking a puff for a month. How far would it set you back if, at the end of that month, you were to take a puff on a cigarette? It would set you back a lot farther than just one puff, wouldnít it? And the next time you tried to quit smoking, you would not only have to battle the craving, but you would also have to battle the habit of caving in Ö
It is sometimes hard to maintain your appropriate fantasy because it is unfamiliar. You might just physically masturbate at those times Ė simply masturbating and feeling the sensations without any fantasy. Otherwise if you are having lots of problems with intrusions, you might have difficulty getting enough time free of intrusions to actually be able to have an orgasm. This is really only a problem at the start of the arousal reconditioning process. It gets easier.
Fighting with a bad fantasy is a good way to actually keep that fantasy alive. Did you ever play a game in grade school where you stood with your eyes closed and someone in front of you kept saying, ďDon't fall backwards, don't fall backwardsĒ? Eventually you fell backwards into the arms of the person who was standing behind you waiting to catch you. The reason this childhood game worked is that thinking negatively about something is just another way of focusing on the thing. Whether you're thinking positively or negatively about something, simply thinking about it is giving it juice. The way to extinguish certain thoughts or mental images is simply to wait for them to go away and not to fight with them while you are waiting. You just drop your penis, notice the thought you are having, and wait for it to leave. Once itís gone you can remember your positive fantasy and start masturbating again.
Itís best to re-establish your good fantasy before continuing to masturbate, but if this is too difficult, just start masturbating again to no fantasy at all.
Part of arousal reconditioning is extinguishing the bad habits, but the other part is re-learning good habits. The strongest re-learning will take place if you are having your good fantasy at the moment of orgasm. This is the strongest training possible. If you can't manage this at first, not to worry, but do make absolutely certain that you're not having your bad fantasy during your orgasm.
Now you know all that you need to know in order to be successful with arousal reconditioning. This process is extremely powerful. It is not easy to practice at first, but if you manage to get past the first few weeks, you can expect to eventually succeed. The harder you try to follow the principles, the less time it will take you to finish. If this technique were the only thing that you ever learned in treatment, your treatment would be worth it.
Special Issues in Arousal Reconditioning:
Just as with quitting drugs or
alcohol, things get worse before they get better. Any habit headed for
extinction will fight back before it passes away. If your inappropriate
fantasies become more insistent and intrusive a few days into the program, it
is important to keep a firm resolve to continue with the reconditioning.
Switch to ďJust Plain MasturbationĒ as often as you need to, but never
masturbate to an inappropriate fantasy.
If you get slack and allow yourself to
occasionally masturbate to an inappropriate fantasy, you will be making the
retraining process much longer, because you are changing the process
from one of straight extinction to one of partial reinforcement. This is like
playing a slot machine that lets you win occasionally, instead of playing one
where you always lose. You quit sooner if you always lose. You will take a
very long time to quit if you occasionally win. Your therapists can explain
the details of this to you.
Donít be discouraged if, when things
have been looking good for a while, your old bad habits try to re-emerge.
This is a natural event with any extinction process, and it is so common that
it has a name: spontaneous recovery (of the old habit). Your old
habits are just checking to see whether the rules have changed. Continue
consistently with the reconditioning, and this spontaneous recovery
will happen less frequently and less strongly, gradually fading away
altogether after a long time has passed.
The fading away of spontaneous
recovery has been compared to a bouncing rubber ball. If you donít give the
ball any encouragement, then the bounces steadily lose power. Each bounce is
lower than the last, until it finally stops bouncing altogether.
If you have no therapist and no
computer spreadsheet with which to chart the progress of your records, thatís
still OK. This technique will still work if you just simply follow it.
Charting your progress is just to help you get the encouragement of seeing
that the process is working. Knowing that it works helps you to ignore your
inappropriate fantasies whenever they are strongly trying to intrude. If you
can simply follow the process and believe that it will work, you donít need
charts. I have known people who have read this chapter and followed it
with no-one to help them. They successfully changed their arousal on their
own, just by following the principles in this chapter.
Arousal reconditioning is a lifetime commitment, just like giving up alcohol or drugs. There is no time when it would ever be safe to masturbate to an inappropriate fantasy.
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Counseling for Those with Inappropriate Sexual Thoughts, or Those who have Sexually Offended
If you have inappropriate sexual
thoughts but have not sexually offended, I would be
willing to work with you on the basis that you are trying to prevent yourself
from developing any tendency toward the risk of sexual offending. I have
confidence that this treatment would be successful 95 times out of 100.
This type of treatment is sometimes undertaken when the Ministry of Children and
Family Development has identified a possible risk, but for whatever reason is
choosing not to act on this information. In this case my requirements for
reporting have already been fulfilled (see below), and we can proceed with
CONFIDENTIALITY WARNING: If I have reason to believe that a specific person who I can identify is at risk of being abused or assaulted by you, I have a legal responsibility to report this. For children at risk I have to report this to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. For adults at risk I have to report to the RCMP.
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If you have already been charged with a sexual offence, or if this has already been reported and is under investigation, or the investigation has been completed, then you and I can work together on issues that involve risk to others. In this case, you need to be aware that my records can be subpoenaed in court by Crown or defense, as well as my testimony.
You should know that the Province of BC provides a free treatment program (presently  lasting about 15-16 weeks) for those convicted of a sexual offence. In my experience, receiving private treatment does not influence the outcome of a trial, and does not often influence sentencing for those found guilty of a sexual offence. By this I mean that having successfully completed private treatment does not often mean that your Probation Officer will exempt you from also being required to attend the free treatment offered by the Province, although this has happened in the case of one of my clients.
So if you are cost-conscious, then you should know that you would on balance be better off with the free Provincial program, and that there are only a few things that you could gain by receiving treatment from me rather than from the free program: [this section was last updated July 27, 2006.]
I am able to start now rather than waiting for your sentencing and free program availability if you are feeling strong remorse and want to get started with your treatment as soon as you can. You should know that once you have been sentenced, you can receive free psychiatric support from the Provincial program.
I am able to help you with arousal reconditioning (see above) if you need it. At present the budget of the Provincial program does not provide for service that would be long enough to effect arousal conditioning (4 months to 2 years in my experience), so this is typically not offered to completion in this program.
I am able to provide special help if your offending has its roots in an unresolved experience of yourself being sexually victimized. Typically this takes special skills that are presently not required of therapists in the Provincial program, nor is there to my knowledge a treatment module in that program that addresses this in any depth.
I am able to help if your offending was driven by unconscious motives (although if this were true, you would not be aware of it, so how will you know to ask for help? ... someone else will have to refer you and pay for it ...). This kind of treatment generally takes more time than is presently available through the free Provincial program. Your biggest clue will be that you are fully able to admit to doing what you did, even to admit that your actions appear to others to be sexual. But you will sincerely believe that your reasons for doing what you did were entirely innocent. Others will be getting frustrated with you after many tries to talk with you about it, because what they are saying just seems to slide on past and not connect with you.
I am able to help you if you are high-risk, and you know this about yourself, and you want to change it. The free Provincial program was originally designed for low- to moderate-risk individuals. The program is making attempts to deal with high-risk offenders, but at this writing  budget constraints make this difficult. They can require that you take the same program again, but being high-risk you may want a more individualized and deeper approach than this.
I have worked with more than 200 adult sex
offenders, and the recidivism rate (re-offence rate) for these clients is about
5%. This same low recidivism rate was also true for the therapists who are
now providing the free Provincial program before they began providing this
presently shortened, 15-16 week program. The present free program is
collecting recidivism data. These data look good, but it is too early to
know  what the 5- and 10-year recidivism rates will be for this program.
I expect that the rates will be reasonable.
If you decide that you would like to receive private treatment from me, the program I offer is detailed below. It is similar to that offered by the free Provincial program except for those things mentioned above, and for the fact that my flexible completion schedule allows for in-depth treatment of any individual issues that would require more attention than can be given by the limited number of group and individual sessions that is the present free Provincial program.
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Risk Reduction Program for
David Ayers, M.A., R. Psych.
Qualicum Beach, B.C. Reproduce free forever.
While the risk of SO is never zero, no matter who we are and what our background is, this risk can be made smaller, and sometimes quite small with the right kind of program.
Research has shown that the following components contribute significantly to the lowering of SO risk:
Autobiography and disclosure to establish a good working relationship based on understanding key facts and issues of importance.
Understanding the role of fantasy helps you to see how fantasies gradually evolve into action plans and then into behavior. Your specific fantasies are reviewed and healthy fantasies are developed.
Changing inappropriate arousal is possible through the careful use of arousal reconditioning principles. These can be understood simply by anyone. Changing an arousal pattern is accomplished by commitment and consistent practice.
Disinhibition is the loss of self-control. It is important to understand how this takes place, and to strengthen your sources of self-control.
Self-Deceptions (sometimes called cognitive distortions or thinking errors) are the ways we have of tricking ourselves into thinking that offending is OK.
Empathy is a very important skill because it helps to prevent us from offending.
The build-up of stress, anxiety or anger can lead to specific types of offending. It is important to know whether these factors can play a role for you, and if so, how to manage them.
Barriers to offending are those things that normally prevent people from offending. In order to offend, a person had to get past each of these barriers. This section is about understanding how to make these barriers stronger.
Thoughts, feelings, behaviors and events are the things that were taking place before, during and after offending. It is important to understand what these were, and to learn how to deal with any patterns and risk factors here.
Good relationship with an appropriate partner is a skill that can offer much protection against offending.
Behavioral Progression is a thorough understanding of all of your own personal factors that came into play to increase the risk of offending.
Self-Management Plan is your own personal plan for dealing with any risk factors in a healthy way.
Special Topics have to do with those things that are unique to you and your risk. These vary greatly from person to person, but are often some of the most important things that need to be addressed.
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