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Censorship or barrier to sexual health conversation? Followup on SAMHSA online forum's censorship of 'sexual' health

September 15, 2011
by Douglas Braun-Harvey
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Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief of Behavioral Healthcare spoke with SAMHSA Public Information Officer, Brad Stone about my recent blog describing the surprising censorship of "sex" and "sexual" on their online feedback forum. (See previous blog ( ******health: ***/drug-linked patterns of addiction: SAMSHA Online Stakeholder Forum on Principles of Recovery censors "Sexual Health" )

Mr. Grantham had previously interviewed me to discuss what happened and asked for my perspective on what at first glance looked like sexual health censorship. As in most matters of censorship surrounding sex, the truth is in the details, not our emotional reactivity. Yes, I was surprised, but I was not suspicious. Mr. Stone confirmed that the situation involved a too large of a protective filter to ensure that potentially inappropriate or offensive remarks did not taint open, public debate and commentary. SAMHSA's backup process for the imperfect world of software filtering and avoiding the expense of live forum monitoring is to identify words essential to their mission as they are censored (like sex and sexual) and then notify IT department to fix the situation. Mr. Grantham empathized with SAMHSA's well intentioned invitation for safe and pertinent public comment. "How does a large government agency that impacts important areas of public health have a really open, public comment process, yet somehow assure that the process doesn't offend, won't cause embarrassment, or can't be thrown off the track by an angry or clever verbal saboteur?"

This is common question I must address in almost all of my sexual health training, education and psychotherapy. How do I help men and women have sexual health conversations and navigate their feelings of shame or embarrassment while managing their behavioral defenses provoked by these feelings, behaviors which of course are designed to throw the conversation off track? (I will be discussing this issue in my Wednesday September 21st morning workshop at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders in San Diego. (You can preview the content at my website www.DBHnow.com)

I applaud both Mr. Grantham and SAMHSA's public information response. The journalist avoided common defenses of looking for a suspicious motivation unwittingly discovered (makes for good press, bad sexual health conversation). The PR person (SAMHSA) handled the sexual health conversation with candid transparency about the fallibility of technology.

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Douglas Braun-Harvey

Sexual health author, trainer and psychotherapist

Douglas Braun-Harvey

www.dbhnow.com

Douglas Braun-Harvey, MFT, CGP, is a psychotherapist and certified sex therapist based on San...