Last night, I read the news that noted Mormon sex therapist, 49 year old Natasha Helfer, was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Helfer is the latest person to challenge some of the LDS church’s more toxic beliefs. Typically, when someone does that, especially when the someone is a female, the church responds by holding a “court of love” and kicking them out. I wonder if excommunicated members get an insulting pamphlet inviting them to come back, like my husband did when he resigned his church membership.
Helfer has said that she thinks the LDS church is targeting the mental health profession, while church officials claim that she was disciplined for her public opposition to the church’s teachings. I suspect that church officials aren’t too pleased that Helfer, who is an attractive and intelligent woman with a powerful voice, is leading members away from the counsel of the old white dudes who have been running the church since its inception. That, and Helfer obviously knows a little something about clubbing, as she said “It was so ridiculous. I was treated like I was at a club with a bouncer in it.” Helfer said that when they didn’t let her into the council with her phone, “I did not plead or beg.” It wouldn’t surprise me if her lack of pleading and begging was also offensive. Evidently, church Helfer signed an agreement that she wouldn’t record the proceedings. Church officials asked her to turn off her phone. Since she had prepared her notes on the phone, Helfer declined to turn it off and left.
While I do have a basic understanding of how important religious beliefs can be to people, I also think that Helfer is probably much too good for the LDS church and she’s better off without being constrained by church leadership. I’m sure it was painful on some level for Helfer to be excommunicated, particularly since it was such a public decision. However, I also believe that now she has the freedom she needs to be completely open and honest. It’s like her eyes have been opened to the truth. And now, she can open other people’s eyes.
According to The Washington Post, Helfer ran into issues with church officials when she started saying such horrifying things like masturbation is not a sin, pornography should not be treated as an addiction, and same-sex marriage should be supported. Church stake president, Stephen Daley, who is also Helfer’s husband’s former boss, sent Helfer a nastygram about how “negative” Helfer’s posts were toward the church and its leaders. However, Helfer’s positions are in line with what licensed mental health professionals promote. So… it sounds as if Helfer chose to be a good sex therapist rather than a good (and obedient) Mormon woman.
Helfer specifically posted on her personal Facebook account and podcast comment sections, “The last thing I want for my people is to replace one patriarchal prick for another. You can quote me on that one. Beware of any person/organization/system that assumes they know better than you about what you need.”
Daley took note of that comment and its “colorful” qualities when he chastised Helfer. To her credit, Helfer’s response was, “When will they stop calling homosexual people degenerate and perverse and unholy? They’re upset that I called them patriarchal pricks. If they want me to stop saying bad words, they need to stop calling other people bad words.”
Helfer, and other progressive Mormon therapists, noted that many of her clients were left damaged by things they heard said from the pulpit, and they are left to “pick up the pieces” when members with sexual issues that go against the church’s teachings come to them for help. And Mormons, who mostly seem to support science and research efforts, are much less progressive when it comes to issues like sexuality. Below is a video I have shared many times in my blogs about Mormonism and why I think it’s so fucked up. Here’s a reminder for those who haven’t seen it or need to refresh their memories.
And here is a more humorous take on Mormons beliefs regarding masturbation. It’s partly based on a now retired pamphlet called “To Young Man Only”, which was passed out to young men from 1976 until 2016. The pamphlet was all about how to avoid masturbation. In it, Boyd K. Packer, a former church leader, refers to “the little factory”, which causes wet dreams.
This is a light-hearted, funny look at real church teachings and comments made by leaders such as Boyd K. Packer and Mark E. Peterson, whose words are regularly quoted by church members. But this is a serious issue. Church members have actually committed suicide over issues like masturbation and homosexuality. And some unlucky church members have wound up in “aversion therapy” sessions which have also caused great harm to their mental health. The church is also against banning “conversion therapy”, which supposedly helps people with “same sex attraction” (the church’s term) become straight. It doesn’t work, and causes harm, but the church’s stance is that banning it is disrespectful to their religious beliefs. It doesn’t seem to matter to the church’s leadership that people have DIED over these practices.
And those who haven’t died often suffer needlessly, thanks to unsound and inhumane beliefs that are promoted within the church. I dare anyone who doubts how painful and damaging this “therapy” is to read Jayce Cox’s account of his time at Evergreen, a conversion therapy program that was offered at Brigham Young University and employed electric shocks to reverse homosexuality. Cox’s experiences were featured on MTV in 2004. Evergreen is now defunct, but it was renamed North Star and revamped… and sadly, Jayce Cox, died in 2013. Prior to his death, he worked as a suicide prevention coordinator in Helena, Montana. He was a much beloved friend who died much too young.
Natasha Helfer clearly cares about her clients and doing good work that is promoted by professional mental health organizations. I congratulate her for her bravery, for I know that it’s not easy for people to leave Mormonism, particularly if one’s entire family is in the church and believes wholeheartedly in its tenets. But she’s in good company. According to The Washington Post:
Helfer’s disciplinary case follows those of at least three high-profile former members who were excommunicated from the church for apostasy. Kate Kelly, who advocated for the ordination of women in the church, was excommunicated in 2014. John Dehlin, a well-known advocate for dissenting Mormons, created a forum online to help them gather and was expelled in 2015. And Sam Young, who protested one-on-one interviews between clergy and youth, was excommunicated in 2018.
Helfer has said she plans to appeal the church’s ruling. She has thirty days to do that. Personally, I think she should just abandon the church and go on doing good work for people who need her help. Life is short, and I doubt she’s going to change the church’s stance on these issues. On the other hand, she’s definitely made some big waves… and, as famous Mormon woman Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once said, “well-behaved women seldom make history.” We’ll see what happens.