—Robert Weiss, 2006
Last week I published a blog on why men cheat. The piece generated an unexpectedly overwhelming response from all sides, with one of the main comments being, “It’s not just men who cheat.” And that statement is absolutely correct! Our cultural stereotypes tell us that it is usually men who step out on wives or girlfriends, but research actually indicates that nearly as many women cheat as men. And it does take two to dance the infidelity tango.
Studies on modern Western culture universally suggest that between 10 and 20 percent of men and women in marriages and other committed, long-term relationships are sexually unfaithful to their spouse or significant other. Interestingly, the reasons men and women cheat often differ by gender, and these reasons tend to parallel our general understanding of male versus female sexuality.
For example, when actively viewing pornography, males are typically more aroused by a rapid-fire succession of visual images, objectified body parts, and concrete sexual acts, whereas females tend to be more responsive to sexual imagery that includes some kind of emotional connection.
Studies universally suggest that somewhere between ten and twenty percent of both men and women in committed, long-term relationships and marriages are sexually unfaithful to their spouse or significant other. Of course, in today’s world of social media, chat rooms, webcams, instant messaging, and instant pornography, the concept of “what defines cheating” can feel somewhat more malleable and significantly easier to deny than back in the day when cheating meant actually having live physical contact.
So what exactly does it mean to be unfaithful in today’s digital world?
Is a live physical interaction still required, or does a webcam encounter with someone half a world away count equally? What about pornography, or flirting with a sexually available woman on Facebook or through smart-phone apps like Blendr and Ashley Madison?
Let’s face it, for older individuals (say, the over 30 crowd), it’s a new and confusing world. That said, after two decades spent working with hundreds of betrayed spouses and their ultimately remorseful mates, the answer to the question of what defines infidelity remains as clear today as it was when Monica Lewinsky first stored away that stained little blue dress (for those who remember that story).
Infidelity can be defined simply as the breaking of trust that occurs when secrets are kept from an intimate partner. In other words, with sexual infidelity it’s the betrayal of relationship trust caused by consistent lying that causes long-term intimate partnerships to crack wide open.
Stepping It Up in Treatment
Sex addicts, like many in early addiction recovery, are often highly resistant to the idea of attending 12-step recovery meetings. Their reasons are myriad and usually without merit, though they sure can sound convincing on first listen.
Basically, it boils down to this: individuals who hang out in adult bookstores, cruise local red light districts looking for prostitutes, download hard-core pornography on work computers and masturbate in their office during business hours, post hi-definition photographs of their exposed genitalia on dating websites, and openly announce their extramarital availability on Ashley Madison (with a face photo but without a second thought) are the same folks who become very concerned about being “spotted” at one of “those” meetings.
“What if someone sees me there and thinks I’m a pervert?” they fret. Never mind the fact that these meetings usually take place in churches, school classrooms and local businesses after hours with no neon signs announcing what’s going on. Resistance to change is what it is, and even though sex addicts invite risk when acting out, they are risk averse in terms of being seen in 12-step sexual recovery meetings like SAA, SLAA, SCA, SA, and SRA.
It is therefore up to the addiction therapist, when working with a 12-step-averse client, to bring the themes, neurobiological rewiring, and experience of 12-step recovery into the treatment arena—especially in a group therapy setting. Once the sexual behavior problem has been clearly assessed and client/treatment goals and expectations aligned, sex addiction treatment is well served by the therapist initiating discussions on themes like surrender, feeling out-of-control/powerlessness, developing personal integrity, asking for help, accepting responsibility, turning it over, establishing accountability, etc., all within the framework of cognitive behavioral treatment.
Pride and Problems
June is unofficially “Gay Pride Month,” when major cities around the world host gay and lesbian focused celebrations and events featuring parades, parties, festivals and forums. In Los Angeles (home of The Sexual Recovery Institute), Pride takes place this weekend, June 8th – 10th, in the form of a huge parade and a weekend-long outdoor festival.
And there is much to celebrate. Without doubt, the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender) community has come an incredibly long way since the American Psychiatric Association was labeling homosexuality as a diagnosable and treatable pathology in the 1960s and early 1970s.
In most American urban areas, gay people now can adopt children and openly build lives together without fear of repression or overt discrimination. Gay marriage is now legal in many countries (Canada, England, and Spain, to name just a few), and the topic is being addressed in the US.
Most notably, last month, for the first time, a US President spoke out in favor of marriage equality. But for every step forward, we slide a half-step back, and gay and lesbian people remain in many ways marginalized, stereotyped, and highly susceptible to prejudice, negative bias and oppression.