Does married sex really need to imitate porn and sex addiction? If sex in a long-term relationship was, on average, as erotically compelling as other kinds of sexual encounters, then about half of all books, plays and movies and other forms of entertainment would never exist. And that’s not even counting the various forms of X-rated cultural products.
Certainly many comedians would be out of a job. You may remember Chris Rock’s clever riff on this topic:
“I’ve been married for 14 years, and in 14 years I’ve never had sex! I’ve had intercourse—sex is something you have in the back of a rented car!”
So now in this age of pornified culture there are cottage industries devoted to the goal of making marital sex as erotic and irresistible as it “should” be. The trouble is that thinking sex in a committed, long-term relationship has to be erotically supercharged is utter nonsense.
Sex is a crucial part of our relationship life. Couples need to make time for sex. I’m for getting help with sexual roadblocks such as a lack of sex or different levels of desire, while bearing in mind that our sex lives may change and evolve.
This is a huge topic cutting across psychology, sociology, neurobiology, and more. All I can hope to do here is to explain my view on one aspect, especially as it relates to sex addiction recovery.
What is “hot” sex?
Hot sex is the sugar high of sexuality. It is sex that is amped up to a heightened level by some form of fear or other strong emotion. This is not the same as passionate sex. The sexual intensity of a new romantic relationship, the rapture of falling in love, is described in scientific circles as “limerence.” This is a biochemically altered state. It resembles but is not the same as illicit sex or any sex in which the intensity is heightened by an arousal escalator such as risk, danger, or secrecy.
The state of limerence is time-limited. Heightened sexual arousal which relies on intense feelings such as danger, chaos, threat, even anger, can be rekindled repeatedly. And in some high-drama relationships it is.
Pornography can be used to intensify sexual arousal precisely because it relies on fantasies which are taboo, frightening, painful, degrading, or otherwise guaranteed to elicit an intense emotional reaction. If you review the statistics on porn searches published annually by Porn Hub you will see how these themes emerge.
The intense fantasies of the sex addict are not about a real person. As fantasies, they objectify the person involved. Would we really want to objectify our partner? Do we want the fantasy of a relationship or the real thing?
Culture promotes the idea of extreme arousal
While I have no quarrel with highly intense sexual arousal per se, I think that should not be seen as a necessary goal for people in a committed relationship or marriage.
For one thing, people are different. Not everybody wants or needs to have the same kind of sexual experience. The stock scene in the movies where two people are so sex crazed that they are frantically ripping each other’s clothes off need not be accepted as the ideal.
The preoccupation with hot sex tends to devalue traditional, tame, heterosexual sex as “plain vanilla” sex. Married sex is then seen as needing to dig its way out of old puritanical hang-ups using porn, experimentation, equipment or whatever it takes to make it “hot.” This may be fine for some people. Folks should feel free to try anything they want, but they shouldn’t feel ashamed if they don’t. We are in danger of being talked into wanting something we may not really want.
What can recovering sex addicts and their partners expect?
For recovering sex and porn addicts as well as their partners, the whole question of what sex should be like is confusing. For them, the pornographic, exotic and intense ideals are especially problematic. The addict who is into multiple hook-ups knows damn well that sex with a stranger in a hotel can be more arousing. For many addicts this was their definition of great sex.
This quest for the holy grail of hot relationship sex puts pressure on the addict and partner alike to find ways to make the sex in their relationship equal the hyper-arousal of addictive sexual acting out. If they can’t, then they may be left feeling that there is something wrong with them.
The sex addict often has an arousal template created early in life in frightening or traumatic experiences. It is a distorted sexual pattern that relies heavily on repeating some aspects of the intense emotion surrounding the trauma. So while these intense emotions may be sexual arousal escalators for all of us, we don’t necessarily want this as the norm in our lives.
Sex addicts may have spent their life fixated on addictive fantasies and my have little experience with any other kind of sex. It would be a mistake to tilt the playing field in the direction of addictive sexual acting out. Many spouses and partners feel they should buy into the addict’s sexual preferences in order to satisfy him or her. This can be unhealthy for both people.
I would encourage recovering sex addicts and their partners to promote romantic passion in their relationships and to trust that in recovery a great sex life is not only possible but likely. Sex addicts in recovery relinquish an old, entrenched need for what is sexually over the top. Old pornographic fantasies may still lurk in the corners of the addict’s mind. But then we are all allowed to have our fantasies.