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Latter-day Saint sex therapist faces excommunication over views on sexuality

Posted at 4:57 PM, Apr 16, 2021

DERBY, Kan. — A sex therapist may lose her membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints due to her public statements that contradict the church's teachings.

Natasha Helfer, 49, will have a disciplinary hearing Sunday with her former local church leaders in Kansas — where she lived prior to moving to Utah in 2019 — she told The Washington Post.

The hearing — also known as a "membership council" — was set in a letter Helfer received in March. The reason for the meeting was her “repeated clear, and public opposition to the Church, its doctrine, its policies, and its leaders,” which she denies.

The Post reports that Stake President Stephen Daley sent Helfer a letter in November 2020, in which he expressed concern that her public views on pornography, masturbation and same-sex marriage went against the church's teachings.

In a 2012 blog post, Helfer wrote that she did not view masturbation itself as a sin. And in 2018, she was involved in the movement to end controversial one-on-one interviews between local church leaders and children.

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However, communications between Helfer and Daley indicate that the regional church leader was concerned about recent posts Helfer made on her personal Facebook page.

While church leaders have previously said members can have their own opinions on church policies and practices without risking their membership. However, as The Salt Lake Tribunereports, apostle D. Todd Christofferson said in 2015 that it becomes a problem when one makes a "deliberate and persistent effort... trying to pull people, if you will, out of the church or away from its teachings and doctrines."

According to the Post, Helfer says she has never encouraged anyone to leave or stay in the church, adding that it would be unethical as a therapist to do so.

After Sunday's hearing, Helfer could have her membership withdrawn or restricted (terms chosen by the church last year to replace "excommunicated" and "disfellowshipped").

READ: LDS Church releases new handbook for leaders and members

Helfer, who described herself as a “semiactive” member, can make a case for herself to remain in the church. However, she said she believes expulsion is more likely.

According to the Tribune, Helfer's fellow mental health professionals have come to her defense, saying her professional work is in line with current licensed practices.

“We are concerned that withdrawing Natasha’s membership will create a culture of stigma and shame for potential clients seeking therapy,” a letter signed by more than 300 mental health professionals states, adding that it could also harm “other therapists providing culturally competent, clinically sound, and evidence-based care.”

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins wrote in an email to the Post that the church does not comment on disciplinary matters.

However, he reiterated that the church condemns pornography in any form and considers masturbation to be immoral.

“The Church teaches its members to be morally clean in every way, and that sexual feelings are given by God and should be used in ways He has commanded," Hawkins wrote. "These are the principles that will be considered by the local leaders in this circumstance."

It was not known whether senior-level church authorities are or have been involved in Helfer's disciplinary process, as they sometimes do in cases of "apostasy."