In 2005 I wrote Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men, a book that I took out of print in late 2010 because it desperately needed an update. Essentially, the volume was penned prior to the rise of social media, the explosion of user-generated porn, the advent of smartphone hookup apps, and numerous other advances in digital sexnology. And let us not forget the cultural changes “gay marriage” (and its effect on “gay monogamy”) has wrought in the past few years. Remember, many in the gay community used to deride marriage as an old-fashioned, demeaning, heterosexual ritual. Now, however, gay marriage is a hard-fought-for reality in several states, and with a forward-thinking president who has spoken in support of it on more than one occasion, other states are likely to follow. This has created a dramatic shift in gay men’s attitudes toward marriage and monogamy, leading in turn to quite a lot of individuals rethinking their sexual behavior, wondering if all the “fun” they’ve been having is actually compulsive and destructive rather than enjoyable.
I have written extensively about the intersection of technology and sexual addiction, examining the topic in blogs here and here, and in the upcoming book (Summer 2013) “Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effects of Digital Technology on Sex, Relationships, and Intimacy.” Because of that, I was hoping to take a time out from all the “sexnology” writing, but the recently concluded International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has pushed me toward this all-too-familiar topic yet again.
By most accounts, this year’s CES was a bit of a snooze-fest. Several major players (Apple and Google among them) stayed away entirely, though plenty of smaller vendors were busy hawking Apple and Google related devices. The general consensus seems to be that this year’s CES fell short of past years in terms of completely new technologies to see, enjoy, and make plans to buy. Instead, vendors presented a lot of enhancements and tweaks to existing technology.
Two Behaviors: One Addiction?
Although the intersection of stimulant abuse and sexual behavior is extremely under-researched, in recent years it has become increasingly apparent that there are many individuals who abuse or are addicted to stimulants who consistently fuse their drug use with sexual activity. It is also clear that when a stimulant drug addict consistently fuses drugs with sex, the sexual fantasy/behavior can both reinforce the intensity and frequency of chronic or binge drug abuse and act as a significant contributor to post-treatment relapse. One recent study (focused on HIV+ gay men and methamphetamine use) strongly supports this idea, finding the leading factor for crystal meth use for these individuals was sexual enhancement, including lowered inhibitions and prolonged duration of sexual encounters.1 The study concluded that with some addicts it is virtually impossible to separate their sexual behavior from their drug abuse. While this study is limited in scope and focused on a specific population, it is not unreasonable to assume that as further, broader studies are conducted these findings will translate across the board. After all, the plethora of research on stimulant abuse shows remarkably consistent results, particularly in terms of how it affects patterns of decision-making, overall functioning, and social isolation – regardless of cultural background or the specific stimulant abused.
“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.” – Sophocles
“To be in love is merely to be in a state of perceptual anesthesia.” – H.L. Mencken
“Sometimes love is stronger than a man’s convictions.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer
“Loves makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” – Zora Neale Hurston
So, What is Love?
Romantic love, next to whatever happens after we die, has always been one of mankind’s greatest mysteries. LOVE is difficult to define, differs from person to person, yet somehow is easy for all to recognize. You sure know when it hits you – not unlike the flu. For eons men and woman have philosophized about what love is, how it occurs, and why it’s necessary, rarely coming up with anything more useful than really cool comments like, “Love is friendship set on fire.” Such sentiments make good song lyrics and poetry, but are not much help from a psychotherapy perspective. Nevertheless, despite centuries of vain attempts to fully define it, there is no denying that love exists, and that it’s as natural and essential to most human beings as breathing, eating, and sleeping.
Men and women typically experience sex – both fantasy and reality – in different ways. It has long been known that when it comes to sex men tend to be visually oriented, whereas women tend to be more interested in a connection or relationship. Basically, when a man sexually admires a woman, he is usually focused on certain body parts and their potential use for him (as sexual objects). When viewing pornography, for instance, males are typically most aroused by a rapid-fire succession of images depicting concrete sexual acts and/or specific sexual body parts. Females on the other hand tend to be most aroused by sexual imagery that includes or at least infers some type of emotional connection.