Can you remember the days when The American Psychiatric Association labeled homosexuality as a mental illness? I can, as can just about anyone over the age of 50, as the APA only abandoned this indefensible stance in the early 1970s. And even after the APA grudgingly chose to recognize homosexual attractions and behaviors as a natural variant of human sexual expression, many jurisdictions continued to criminalize same-sex sexual activity. While those antiquated laws are for the most part off the books in this country and other first-world nations, social discrimination nevertheless continues, with many people feeling that the “heterosexual norm” is the only right way to do things, and anything different is either immoral or just plain disgusting.
Over the course of the last several years, I’ve written repeatedly about the ways in which technology can both facilitate and exacerbate addictions. For instance, drug addicts can purchase and abuse “prescription” medications through the Internet, set up buys with local dealers via text messages, and learn about certain parties – events at which drugs are likely to be prevalent like raves, ragers, and smoke outs – on social media. Meanwhile, compulsive spenders avoid the mall (where friends and family might see them overindulging), choosing instead to shop secretly on Amazon, Overstock, eBay, and other online shopping meccas. Similarly, compulsive gamblers often skip the casino and the track, preferring to engage with their addiction in private via online poker sites, digital bookmakers, and other gambling outlets. And then we’ve got sex and love addicts, nearly all of whom struggle with online porn, social media, dating sites, hookup apps, and all sorts of other digital sexnologies.
As a psychotherapist, I am constantly amazed by the number of couples who either seem surprised that they don’t agree on every little thing, or who seem unable to healthfully resolve even the smallest of conflicts. What they fail to understand is that healthy intimate relationships are a bond between two different people, each with his or her own interests, thoughts and opinions. Yes, there is probably a lot of common ground, but two separate people will never be completely alike. Furthermore, people change throughout their lives, meaning that even if two people start out remarkably similar, differences will inevitably arise as they mature in different ways. As such, if intimate relationships are going to work over the long haul, both parties must we willing to learn, grow and adapt.
As discussed in my previous posting to this site and in my recently published book, Always Turned On: Sex Addiction in the Digital Age, coauthored with Dr. Jennifer Schneider, the definition of cybersex sobriety and the content of cybersex boundary plans both vary according to the needs and life circumstances of the addict in question. That said, whatever the definition of sobriety and whatever the boundaries in a particular addict’s plan, the purpose is to hold the addict accountable to his or her commitments – particularly when faced with challenging life circumstances, emotional pain and other powerful triggers.
Manny is a 43-year-old cybersex addicted construction worker. Fifteen months ago he started going to Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings. For the next year, his behaviors did not change and his life actually got worse rather than better. Finally, in desperation, he asked another member of the program for help, and he was assigned the task of creating a personalized definition of sexual sobriety and then a boundary plan for future sexual behaviors. Almost immediately, the program began to work for him. He says, “In my head, I knew what I needed to change and how I needed to change it. But somehow I always ended up fooling myself and relapsing. I would just find a way to rationalize that going back online for sex was OK, just this once, even though I knew it wasn’t. After I finally wrote down what my problems were, and clearly stated which online behaviors were not acceptable, I had some ‘official’ clarity and my life started to get a lot better.
Sexual Medicine Open Access has just published a paper coauthored by Nicole Prause and Jim Pfaus entitled “Viewing Sexual Stimuli Associated with Greater Sexual Responsiveness, Not Erectile Dysfunction.”[i] This was not a study on porn users complaining of unexplained erectile dysfunction (ED), and, despite the study's title, no penile responses or erections were measured in the laboratory.[ii] Rather, the authors pulled data from four earlier studies, none of which investigated ED as a function of weekly porn use, and then they "reanalyzed" those data to make claims about ED as a function of porn use.
For the last five years (at least), Jerry, a handsome 36-year-old office manager, has put the search for sex ahead of all else – even though he’s not having any in-person sexual encounters. Instead, he looks at and masturbates to hardcore pornography for several hours each weeknight and all day on the weekends, and occasionally he engages in mutual masturbation with strangers via webcam. Until a few years ago he tried to also date in real life, usually going out with nice women who were interested in a long-term relationship. He says that he really liked one of them, but that he was never really present with her and she eventually broke things off. He admits that on their dates he was usually more focused on going home and going online than on her. As it turns out, she broke up with him because she thought he was cheating on her (and in a way he was). That was three years ago, and Jerry has not been on a date since. He has tried several times to quit using porn, and sometimes he manages to do so for a day or two. But before long he feels depressed and lonely and he goes back online as a way to escape the pain. Recently, he’s started using his office computer to access porn during work hours – a situation that he knows will not end well. And yet he continues.
It’s March. Valentine’s Day is a distant memory and wedding season looms. Essentially, this is the time when psychotherapy clients often want to review and discuss their romantic relationships. For clients who struggle with problematic behavioral choices related to love, attachment and intimacy, in particular love addiction (also known as romance addiction and relationship addiction), this can be a very difficult undertaking. These individuals see friends and loved ones finding relationship success, while they take one manic spin after another on the relationship merry-go-round – desperately hoping to find that one special person who can make them feel complete and worthwhile and loved for longer than a few days or weeks at a time.
A few weeks ago I was given a spreadsheet showing which of my online blogs and articles (on numerous websites) have gotten the most views. And no matter the website, the postings that topped the charts almost always dealt on some level with relationships and intimate emotional connections. And why not? After all, relationships help us to feel understood, loved, and part of – all of which are deeply important human needs. It’s only natural that people would be interested in this topic.
I’m of a certain age – if you don’t know what “certain age” means, then you’re not there yet – and I tend to watch television programs geared toward my demographic. With these shows I am inevitably treated to a barrage of commercials featuring impossibly attractive middle-aged and older couples looking unusually romantic in some wonderfully bucolic setting. Most often they’re either cuddling by a lake at sunset or sipping Chardonnay on the veranda of a remote mountain cabin. Whatever the locale, these doe-eyed twosomes are very clearly in the process of kindling and/or rekindling the flames of their relationship. Suddenly, before I can start to feel too badly about the fact that neither of these people has even an ounce of extra belly fat, they look into one another’s eyes and they experience “the moment” – the instantaneous realization that a bed is nearby and they both want to use it for a purpose other than sleeping. Then the ad’s voiceover screams: “Hey old guy! Yeah, you with the aching back! If you take one of these pills, you can become the sexual dude that you were 30 years ago!”