August 23, 2023

Category: Communities

Cults, Love and Community

I watched the movie Jesus Revolution recently, and was struck by it. I was already thinking a lot recently about how many parallels the 2020’s have with the 1960’s and 70’s, when so many movements began and several converged.

The psychedelic movement seems to have re-emerged after an almost 40-year nap. Free love has reappeared in the mainstream in the shape of consensual non-monogamy. Disillusionment and distrust of authority is rampant, and there is a resurgence of self-help and spiritual expansion books, websites, and communities.

History repeats itself, but rarely in precise ways. I’ve been really aware that a need for communities that promote love, reasonable trust and deeper self-knowledge is blooming–and that need may even become desperate. We can’t live in this awful tension of paranoia for much longer, it’s already begun to tear the fabric of this nation’s sanity. I’m cautious, though, about the vital component of personal accountability in new communities that form. Communities can become culty if they aren’t mindful of their power and how it is used.

It’s often incredibly appealing and fulfilling to be part of a loving and accepting community, no matter what type of community it is. In the field of sexuality, we have many that include polyamory, CNM/ENM, fetishes and kink. These communities can be incredibly liberating, loving places. But how do we know if we’re entering the wrong one? Do we know how to exit if we see that the community is, or is becoming, abusive or cultlike? When sex is part of the equation, the vulnerability to undue influence is much more intense.

Is the answer to avoid these communities altogether, then? Encourage our clients to do the same?

I don’t think so. What we need is some warning signs to watch for in communities, as well as offering these signs to clients, students and those we serve. When I’m part of a community, I can take responsibility for being a member by advocating to create and maintain safeguards so that the healthy organism of a loving group does not become malignant. I am not discussing enforcing guidelines at any given event, or with individuals. I am talking about looking at the nature of how an organization is run, to see if it is particularly vulnerable to abuses of power.

When I look at an organization or community, my questions are these.

    1. How is leadership chosen? How does leadership rotate? How often? Is there one main figure or a main couple, or is it more of a committee? Is there a procedure for removing someone from power if they become problematic? Does the organization have written guidelines for this?
    2. Is it clear to members of the community who they can go to and/or what they should do if they feel unsafe, abused or concerned? What happens when they come forward? Are they thanked for this act, ignored, pacified or treated as a troublemaker? Is this in writing somewhere, so that people can feel there is an established procedure? Is the procedure accessible and made easily available and visible?
    3. Is any financial information for the community accessible? Is the use of funds transparent? Who makes the decisions about funding? If the community contributes financially, does the community also get a vote either through representation or through poll?
    4. What are the values of the organization? Is it clearly spelled out somewhere? Does the community appear to be following its own mission and values? Is there a method for examining how the community is doing on these issues, and how often does the group have some type of meeting, survey or temperature taking about it?

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      These questions may be ways to ask ourselves not only whether we want to join an organization or community, but also how we can improve the ones we are already a part of.

      We need love in our lives, not just from a partner or intimate group, but also from a larger community. Most people need to feel that we can be part of something bigger that has our good and the greater good as a goal. It is the cure for so many of our current society’s ills: connection, not isolation. A support network, not a support person. Love, not fear.

      Just as a relationship with one person takes risk and work, so does my relationship with my culture and my communities. I work to keep my risks are sane and measured, to hold my communities accountable, and I watch to see that their efforts take root. In this way I hope to avoid undue influence, and to experience well-deserved trust.

      Dr Rosalyn Dischiavo


      Dr. Rosalyn Dischiavo EdD, MA, CSES, is a sexologist, professor, former family therapist, and a professional sexuality educator. She is the Founder & Director of Institute for Sexuality Education & Enlightenment, and the author of “The Deep Yes, the Lost Art of True Receiving.” Dr. Dischiavo is also currently President of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) as well as past Professional Education Steering Committee Chair on the Board of AASECT. She is a Certified Sexuality Educator and a Certified Sexuality Educator Supervisor.

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