I have long argued that the literature and treatment protocols for sexual addiction are heavily skewed toward male clients – as if it is only men who act out sexually. At least part of this shortcoming arises from the fact that female sex addicts are less likely than their male counterparts to seek direct help for a sexual problem, which makes them harder...
Same Story, Different News Cycle Fame: Reality TV star Josh Duggar of 19 Kids and Counting was an active, respected member of a highly visible conservative Christian church, and he served as Executive Director of FRC Action, a conservative Christian political group affiliated with and sponsored by the equally conservative Family Research Council. Reality: Duggar has admitted to molesting at least five underage girls, including two of his younger sisters, to repeatedly cheating on his wife, and to being a porn addict. Fame: Weight loss icon and Subway sandwich pitchman Jared Fogle presented himself as an advocate for childhood health and wellbeing via speeches and his Jared Foundation – an organization focused on raising awareness about childhood obesity through educational programs and tools provided to parents, schools, and community organizations. Reality: Fogle recently pled guilty to a variety of child porn charges and to crossing state lines to pay for sex with minors. These, of course, are just a few of the stories about supposedly exemplary people betraying the public trust. Think about Tiger Woods acting as a role model while cheating on his supermodel wife. Think about famed evangelical pastor Ted Haggard repeatedly condemning homosexuality while secretly having sex with male prostitutes. Think also about General David Petraeus, Congressman Anthony Weiner, Congressman Mark Foley, Senator Larry Craig, Senator John Edwards, Governor Eliot Spitzer, actor Rob Lowe, actor David Duchovny, actor John Travolta, biker Jesse James, President Bill Clinton, and dozens of other well-known men who’ve been caught with their pants down.
In the wake of the recent Ashley Madison hack and data dump, sexual infidelity is in the news more than ever. Because of this, a growing number of spouses are actively checking up on what their partners are doing with their free time. Smartphone apps, texts, emails, and the like are being surreptitiously (and sometimes overtly) checked, and countless scores of cheaters are being found out. Plus, some unfaithful spouses are using news of the hack as an opportunity to come clean about previously hidden sexual behavior by voluntarily disclosing their infidelity. As a result, therapists of all stripes are encountering a rising tide of betrayed spouses, nervous cheaters, and couples in crisis. For clinicians who don’t specialize in this type of work, the loaded, swiftly changing emotions that surround sexual and romantic betrayal can lead to a lot of clinical second-guessing. To help alleviate some of this anxiety, I’ve created a short “Infidelity FAQ” for therapists, presented below. This list is created based on existing research and more than 20 years of clinical experience – specializing in intimacy issues such as infidelity.
The Plastic Brain The brains of human beings are highly adaptive. This is actually one of our most useful evolutionary traits, helping us to not only survive, but thrive. In fact, our wonderfully malleable brains are why we, and not tigers or sharks or bull elephants, are at the top of the food chain. In other words, as humans we are not entirely reliant on our instincts like most other species. Instead, our brains receive, process, and adapt to external inputs – learning and mutating along the way. This neurobiological ability to quickly adapt and evolve is known as neuroplasticity, and, in most respects, it is a uniquely human trait. Sharks, for instance, think and behave almost exactly the same today as they did 100 million years ago. Their non-plastic brains have not evolved in 100,000 millennia. Meanwhile, human brains are evolving almost by the minute in response to our environment and experience.
Different Motivations, Different Risks In part one of this posting I discussed the increasingly aggressive sanctions[i] that are levied against most child porn offenders, noting that current sentencing guidelines have been driven primarily by media, political, and social paranoia rather than research based facts about offenders and their behaviors. Essentially, the legal system seems to think that if a person is looking at child pornography, a hands-on offense is sure to follow. This is not in fact the case. Unfortunately, this shortsighted approach is the tactic du jour in most US courtrooms.
In previous postings to this site, I have written about the differences between sexual addiction and sexual offending, the various types of sexual offenders, the treatment of sexual offenders, and therapist reporting requirements when dealing with sexual offenders. However, I have for the most part left a crucial aspect of this therapeutic relationship unaddressed – advocating for (or against) sexual offenders (in particular, child porn offenders) in the sentencing process.
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.