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“Unbearable Penis” Use of the Penis and Sex Addiction as the Crystallization of a Sex Negative CulturePosted: October 8, 2013
…The psychopathologies that develop within a culture (such as sex addiction), far from being anomalies or aberrations, are characteristic expressions of that culture, as the crystallization…of much that is wrong with it (such as sex phobia).
Whose penis is this? Your partner or wife, medicine, psychology, religion, and job all claim ownership over it. The male sex addict is a constellation of socio-economic-psycho-relational-sexual factors that combine to produce a “man” who is colonized by the male relational-work industrial complex. The hegemony of work, family, partner, keeps him feeling depleted and trapped, his extensive and consistent sexuality shamed.
The characteristics of “healthy” sex are covert attempts to police and control sexuality. Why is “healthy” sex that which is situated within committed relationships? And why always with a partner? Neither truly legitimize sexual behavior. If our current models of “marriage” and “relationships” were truly “healthy” then they would not have a 60-70% failure rate, as shown with rates of cheating, divorce, and marital dissatisfaction. These symbols of failure are not due to the individual’s internal pathology. That lazy analysis is for the naïve. These high rates demonstrate they are a statistical norm. Failure can be an expected sign of “health.” There needs to be more options and better templates for relational functioning (standby for this in my book out next year, wink wink). The conception of the sexually addicted as indicator of a special type (psycho or bio) that distinguishes the sexually addicted man from “healthy” man is erroneous, as we are all on the spectrum and continuum with differing degrees of struggle with cultural-sexual distress. We all will at times struggle with sexual-relational compulsivity, sexual boundaries, and sexual-relational drives.
What is “healthy” sex? Undefinable. Sex is far too complex, diverse, multi-faceted, historically based, and relationally embedded. Most “disorders” are created by traditional, white, hetero, cisgendered, married, high socio-econ males. I know I do not want my father determining what is “healthy” sexually for me. Morals and values cannot help you either, as these too follow current socio-cultural trends and socially constructed norms and fears. “Healthy” is subjective and relativistic. There is no universal standard. Sex has undergone a bifurcation leaving sex unrelated in most cases from procreation or “relationship”. Evolutionary psychological theorizing is no longer relevant for understanding human sexuality. Thank you Internet for expanding the uses and experiences of sex far beyond what I can catalogue.
The “sex addict” is a “healthy” “self” attempting to find balance and relief and return to a “natural” and functional homeostasis. The “sex addict” is a symptom of our sex negative and phobic culture. Overregulated, over contained, and over shamed. Watch five hours of a baseball game and you are healthy, five hours of porn and you are an “addict”. The hegemony of the sex addict “treatment” perpetuates the toxic label of “addict”. This sex negative cultural pathology is forced onto the psyche of “healthy” men (most diagnoses “sex addicts” are men), then further traumatizing “clients” into sexual-relational 12-step programs where non-academics and professionals maintain a closed system of sexual “health” mythology. The “sex addict” is understandably trying to live in a postmarriage, postmonogamy, postmedical-model world.
Porn actors, sex addict, strippers are all counter balances to our primitive and sexually anorexic culture. They would just be actors, individuals, and dancers if we had a sexually healthy culture. They would seamlessly be integrated into our society, without requiring caveats, distinct labels, or pejorative “warnings”.
“Sex addicts” do not need treatment programs as the real problem is with the “erotophobes.” This extreme mental disorder, run by fear and anxiety about sexuality, dominates most literature, media, and cultural understandings of sexuality. There are various neurological studies, full of brain scans, showing how under-activated and diseased the brains of this clinical population are. They obsessively and compulsively create sex addiction literature, write books about avoiding pornography, over dramatize the impact of sex upon youth, and create diagnoses with no reliability, validity, or useful operational definitions.
If a partner or friend shames, judges, or objectifies your sexuality, please immediately diagnose them as an “erotophobe” and get them help. I’m sure there will soon be a 12-step program for this mentally ill group.
We need more divorces. This has been my relational battle cry for over a decade. There is no valor in staying trapped in an institution that no longer meets your desires or supports your growth or happiness. Individuals own psychological health and functioning must come before a rigid failing system of needless agonizing contracted commitment. Contracts are for business ventures, ownership, and vacation rentals. The bond that “marriage” creates often makes “love” and “commitment” tenuous and toxic. Being and staying in a relationship is best born out of interest, fulfillment, and love. Once these qualities have dissipated and are replaced with resentment or resignation, it’s time to reconsider the contract. “Love” and “commitment” should not be slandered and held together by a contract. Have enough integrity to want a partner that wants you, and not one that feels trapped, obligated, or stays under the duress of divorce. Leaving a relationship MUST always be an option, or we are talking about a hostage situation and imprisonment.
I want my clients and friends to have lifelong intimacy, support, and love, but “marriage” is not what builds or sustains this. The individuals own love and commitment do this. Contracted relationships instead erode and deteriorate as it introjects a wall of finite possibilities. Relationships are fluid, ever-changing organisms that do not adhere to social constructions such as contracts, fantasies, or “grand narratives.” The vision of lifetime dyadic synchronicity is both flawed and unrealistic. I cringe when I read articles and books by “experts” that promote “marriage” as the only or ultimate form of intimacy building, reified display of love, or the “healthy” form of relational configuration. Love is about choices and desires. Love is about wanting what’s best for your Other. Love is to take pleasure is seeing your partner happy, and not trapped. M Scott Peck had it right when he discussed the confusion between “love” and “cathexis”. What we often deem to be “love” for our Other is often just our own self interest and seeking of comfort. Your partner is not like your pet, whose life is solely built around always keeping you content and happy with restricted freedoms and autonomy (“cathexis”).
Date, have relationships, even get married if you want to, but the underscoring of commitment and love with a state sanctioned contract should not be needed to “hold it together” long term. This keeps many couples unhealthily tethered, abusively bludgeoning each other due to anxiety and stress about the work required for a divorce. Then add on the cumulative impact of culture, media, religion, and society policing and enforcing the primacy of the “marriage” contract above personal mental health and happiness, and you end up with catatonic immobility; freeze response due to impending death.
In my professional life, I aid many individuals in making their marriages work when the marriage is chosen by all and serving the desires of all involved. Marriage can be a beautiful sustainable venture, but it can also be poor decision making. Marriage is not forever; it is for now. Marriage needs to be renegotiated when desires change.
Cheating is a social construct. That means it’s not real outside of what we make of it. It is something our culture created as a term and concept to describe a behavior. The statistics show it occurs as often as in 60% of all relationships. But cheating doesn’t even come with a universalizable definition. And most couples have never discussed the specifics of what they deem to be “cheating”. This concept has permeated our society for long enough that most people live with it unquestioned as an apotheotic absolute. Monogamy was created, as was marriage, and we all fall into line and agree with these concepts and their assumed boundaries that we ourselves have not even chosen. When someone cheats, nothing actually changes but our own subjective interpretation of the event and of our partner’s character. Individuals are harmed, but only by interpretation and perspective. Humans lie, humans hurt, and humans cannot be trusted implicitly. Relationship, any engagement with an Other, must involve the conscious acceptance of this fact. “Cheating” needs to be downgraded from a relational act of emotional violence, to one form of many relational injuries to be expected from well meaning flawed humans. The sexual context of a behavior need not make it more “heinous”. Law & Order SVU loves this concept, as the show opens stating “sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous”. This sex phobic and sex hating statement exemplifies our cultural struggle to see sex as not being an inherently “special case”. We have colluded with the notion that lying is bad, but sexually themed lying is worse. This conceptual bias manifests with much consensus and support with shelves of “betrayal” books, and entire marital and sex addiction treatment programs existing to heal this “wound”. They both perpetuate the fantasy that within relationship or marriage one can expect no relational or sexual harm, ever. Only singledom comes with this promise. The “cheating industry” sadly does more damage then the act itself, by enforcing the notion of its consequential destruction and pain.
Cheating doesn’t injure. How cheating is conceptualized and dealt with does. How we see and treat “cheating” is an existential choice. The dismantling of this concept would alleviate the bulk of marital discord and misery and save most of them.
“How will I trust my partner again?” is the common question. You can’t. You cannot “trust” that you will never be disappointed, upset, uneasy, insecure, or wounded again. You will be! That is an outcome of being in a relationship with an Other. The acceptance of this can liberate you. I am NOT giving permission to relationally injure your partner by cheating. I am NOT condoning emotionally triggering behaviors. I am providing a much needed critical analysis of a concept that has been erroneously misused to villianize partners, needlessly end marriages, and assassinate the character of people we love. Monogamy, marriage, and relationships are difficult. The problem is often within these institutions and the associated unrealistic expectations carried parasitically within them, and not within the person.
We do have to be able to expect commitments that are made to be upheld. But cheating is a boundary violation, and these do occur often. Boundary violations and relational injuries are expected parts of the cycle of relationships. 21st century technology is creating new grey areas of sexual-relational engagement with others outside our primary relationship that couples are just now learning how to navigate. We are living longer and therefore experiencing longer marriages and periods of monogamy. This allows for more opportunities of struggle and more work to maintain a sustainable sexual life with our partner. Failures are to be expected and need to be “worked through” as normative phases of relationship.
Are therapists and psychiatrists the new Saint Augustines? Attempting to convert heretics into pious automatons. Diagnosing is an escape from the freedoms of self-definition and into a disempowered clinical and social identity.
When did mental health become monotheistic? A belief in one “god” and truth of “right”. There are many ways to think, to behave, and to identify.
Diagnosis is the Trojan Horse masquerading as a gift of healing when it’s truly an impending attempt to normalize and whitewash diversity of psychologies. Disruptive children labeled disordered and placed into medicinal straightjackets to aid parents and teachers in controlling them. Sexually confident individuals shamed into labels of addiction. It’s the modern day psychological eugenics. Attempts to weed out and perpetuate a mental survival of the fittest only. This concepts ignores the beauty of variability and liberty, by working to reform the “broken” to ensure a society of “fit”. The world of addiction and trauma therapy already operate from a paternalistic geographic of condescension. The poor elementary client is unable to recognize his own pathos and needs an “expert” to frame a “could be” neutral experience as a trauma, thereby victimizing them. All to what end?
The emergent academic field of “Disability Studies” has much to teach us about our views on mental illness and social pathology. The concepts of “impairment” versus “disability” call into question how an “expert” or institution (medicine/psychology) can so patronizingly turn an impairment, a physical fact, into a social identity and experience of “disability”, a social construct. Lennard J. Davis brilliantly states that Disability Studies demands a shift from the ideology of normalcy…to a vision of the body as changeable, unperfectable, unruly, and untidy. I grew up academically worshipping the deities of brain scans, SPECTS, and psych testing (modern day psychological eugenics) and do believe in the existence of brain functioning and neurology. But there is NOT a one-to-one relationship from brain functioning and localized brain activation to personality characteristics, mental health functioning, or mood (this is called “reverse inference fallacy”, an embarrassing blunder not to be made by a neuro intellectual). I love brain science but it is sloppy and lazy to myopically ignore all the social, relational, cultural, even epigenetic (read up on this fascinating emergent field) implications upon that which occurs between brain functioning and local activation and what one thinks, feels, and does behaviorally. To label ones “impairment” or “sexual interest” as an “illness” is taking the physical and turning it into the psycho-social. The undereducated “experts” with flimsy certifications to legitimize the work of a sex phobes, and psychiatry education which provides little to no psychology or therapy training, both police sexuality like the Nazi’s policed racial identity. Both work towards extermination of diversity.
We get to choose our identities and labels. A body (mind and personality, too) that isn’t functioning up to par with the “ideal” (which is what?), is not “disabled” or “ill” unless one chooses to subscribe to the social construction of non-ideal as “broken” and in need of rehabilitation and fixing. “Disability being in the eye of the observer and not the observed.”
As a sex therapist, psychologist, and sexologist I’m quite familiar with concepts like being “sex positive”. But others may wonder about this “sex positive” term I yap about and weave through my tv show, blog, and lectures? It’s a clinical and social “lens” that aims to not demean or pathologize individual’s relational/sexual choices, interests, and expressions. If you follow any of my work you hear me support polyamory, BDSM (fun times), open relationships, sex upside down, in a monkey (or dog) suit, and hanging from a chandelier. Well, my parents have heard all of this leak out of me on the phone, at family events, and especially on the beach during vacations where I oh-so-proudly proclaim my support of pee. On a phone call last week , my father said “Wow, I’m curious to see who you date next, because they better be interested in an open, upside down, nontraditional relationship full of pee.” His comment, full of humor and yet completely serious, made me reflect on the misunderstanding of both my message of being “sex positive” and of sexual activism. The “work”, my “work,” is not about creating new “norms,” expectations, or a new hierarchy (kinky sex is above and better than vanilla sex, and sex positive peeps better do it all!). Sexual activism, sexual health, and sex positivity are about a perspective and a lifestyle of not perpetuating or creating “norms” or policing borders of what is acceptable when consensual, non-damaging and pleasurable.
I support both clinically and socially a full range of myriad and diverse relational and sexual styles and behaviors, to the fullest extent, with all my integrity, but do not necessarily have an interest in them for myself. One can be very vanilla and very sex positive all at the same time. Being sex positive is about being open, flexible, non-judgmental, and choosing one’s sexual style and relational configuration while fully acknowledging all available options. It’s about allowing partners to do so as well without shaming them, and landing with what makes sense to you. Many of my married clients realize they have many options, still. They do not have to maintain monogamy, traditional concepts of “motherhood” or “wife”, or even “marriage”. I get to choose my identity, style, and commitments, as necessary. Renegotiation is an option always, and at all times (more of this in my upcoming book). This is being sex (and relationally) positive and sexually and relationally “healthy” and “mature”. Many people do not realize all of their options until after making primary decisions. I support you now in asking for what you want. Martyrdom and relational hostage situations are not acceptable!
So be asexual, bisexual, queer. Be both a man and a woman depending on the day and your mood. Date multiple people, have emotional monogamy but physical nonmonogamy. Have a primary leather lover with a sub secondary, and marry all three. Make masturbation your primary sexual style and partnered sex secondary to it. Fuck upside down while peeing, but make it all consensual, legal, and recognize that if an individual is on the receiving end that they have feelings and thoughts and take that into consideration (empathy). Awareness of options and consequences is what makes behavior functional. Impulsivity and compulsivity rebel against this and that’s when problems occur. “Why am I having sex or in relationship with this Other?” Ask this as template from which to make your sex positive decisions, as sometimes avoiding sex or a relationship is the positive move. Sex and relationships are meant to be pleasurable additions not necessary irritants and problematic baggage.
Masturbation, solo sexuality, is often relegated to a secondary position behind partnered sex. Our lack of concern for the quantity and style of sex with a girlfriend or husband elucidates our partnered sex bias, as though adding an Other valorizes and makes a sexual scenario “healthy”. The psychology field and sexual/relationally based 12step worlds often put limits and complete avoidance on masturbation while leaving partnered sex to roll on any way it wants. If a specific level of masturbation is villanized as abnormal, that same level should apply to partnership. The importance and serenity of solitary sexuality is due to it being a meditative and nourishing experience. It is a boundary-less space where socialization, shame, and pathology are rendered irrelevant and authentic full representation of ones sexuality is allowed to creatively run free. The complexity of partnered sex is obsolete, the concern of judgment about ones sexual desire, fantasy, and interest are absent, and the constraints of time, place, and reciprocity do not exist.
Anna Freud spoke about our “central masturbation fantasy” as providing the “key to our psychological life”. Within our fantasies reside our strengths, goals, and histories. It is the purest form of our sexuality, untainted by socialization, law, culture, and reflection. Do not let an institution or sponsor (plumber or dentist) breed this last vestige of freedom and creativity out of you.
The psychological, biological, and social benefits are vast and great. Masturbation is an accessible antidepressant, stress reliever, and self esteem booster. One is able to engage in their full sexuality in comfort, undeterred or interrupted by the responsibilities of a partner or relationship. Shame of sexual self is decreased as one finds a world supporting the vast array of all the parts of their arousal constellation. For those partnered, healthy relationships allow for a separate self to exist, and a sex life that is one with oneself is a powerful enactment of this truth that relationship does not mean the loss of ones selves. The solitary world of solo sexuality demonstrates the beauty of privacy and boundaries even while married or committed. One does not relinquish control of their sexual self to an Other, as erotic imprisonment.
Healthy sexual development includes exploration of various sexual behaviors, interests, scenarios, partner types and situations, object use, forms and levels of stimulation This is how one builds confidence and worth of self by liberalizing their attitude towards sex and allowing all parts of their arousal constellation to flourish. Disowned sexual parts coalesce as shame and create a tension that does not allow one to feel safe with self or Other. Shame is reduced first at the proximate individual level by accepting and caring for ALL parts of oneself. Until this occurs, one is not able to present themselves sexually or often at all, to an Other. Partnered sex involves this presentation of self to an Other
One’s views and relationship with their own and others masturbation is a large indicator of how comfortable they are with sexuality. Sadly I have heard clients, therapists, and 12 step sponsors erroneously saying “one doesn’t need to masturbate”, “I haven’t masturbated in years and I’m fine,” etc. My first thought is, “how boring.” Solo sexuality, fantasy, and use of pornography are healthy and safe ways to stimulate ourselves and expand our pleasure. Biologically, masturbation and orgasm are necessary(and needed quite frequently). It keeps sperm fresh, vaginal muscles tight, and pelvic floor muscles toned and functioning. It keeps the vaginal cavity lubricating, greatly reduces the risk of cancers, and relieves headaches. It relaxes, reduces stress, eases muscle pain…the list goes on and on.
This blog may sound repetitive or redundant, but many people still feel a need for permission to masturbate, even while married, in a committed relationship, or in recovery from “sex or love addiction.” None of the aforementioned need to take away the joy and benefits of solo sex.
The relational revolution is occurring faster than any current sexual revolution. The sexology field is bursting with writings about nonmonogamy, polyamory, and other formerly alternative relational styles. But many still want the traditional committed monogamy, some driven by anxiety and others by lack of time and ability to manage much more than career and a primary partner. Dating multiple people, open relationships, and polyamory are sometimes workable for those that have the time, energy, and high levels of relational skills to manage the multitude of interests, needs, and attention seeking of multiple partners and relationships, but few of us have such relational-sexual maturity. I tell my clients, if you cannot manage one relationship, you cannot manage two or more. And all of these relationships have various trajectories, so much so that plotting the subtypes becomes nearly impossible and we struggle both clinically and socially, limited by our vocabulary, to find ways to label and identify the myriad configurations. Our post-postmodern world of multiplicity and proteanism, is great on so many levels, while also confusing and disastrous on others.
The key words in relationships are “safe” and “comfortable”. Sometimes even with all the security building statements and behaviors from a partner, one is still left feeling anxious and uneasy. In this pluralistic relational time we are embedded within many relationships that can easily disrupt our sense of safety. Our friends, even with the best intentions, can dilute or aggravate a sensitive situation. Often they are driven by their own fears and are not stable enough to help hold you and your partner together. Do NOT get relationship advice from friends, because they are as lost as you are. Go to them for support and to hold you accountable to be your best. Its in relationships that we show the best of who we are, how healthy we are, and how much integrity we have. It’s our “big moment”. There is always another human being on the receiving end of all that we are doing, so take it into account and act accordingly with your integrity. Relationships challenge our “intimacy tolerance” and often our anxiety or dis-ease is a sign that we are being asked to grow. My mantra is when you want to “lean out” of the relationship, you need to “lean in”.
Evolutionary psychology describes mating concepts such as mate poaching, mate retention, and market values. All of these are dense ideas that speak to the complexity of the sexual-relational field. Dating is a social experiment and only the strong and passionate survive it. One must work to create time to tend to a relationship, work to maintain closeness and priority to this relationship, then protect it from outside “poachers” and disruptors, and also struggle with their own market value and that of their partner to keep a high status of worth and value. This is all driven by external forces outside the relationship which are either eclipsed and made irrelevant by the internal strength and passion the two partners create, or taken over by them due to no internal drive or interest. Part of long-term relational sustainability and success is how two people manage and navigate outside forces that can interrupt and derail the partner’s sexual-emotional drive to remain connected.
If outside forces aren’t detrimental enough, our own inner process can also be an enemy to our relationship. Far too many clients use their decoder rings to decipher their partner’s thoughts and actions, to then act and relate from what they think their Other wants. Early dating and relationshiping can be an uneasy time and is best dealt with by being more “self centered.” (There is a whole chapter about this in my upcoming book. Plug!) Do not direct your behavior around the fantasy you have of what you think your partner wants. Call as often as makes sense to YOU, make plans as often as YOU are comfortable, and let your partner set the boundaries they need to set and take care of themselves. Far too many clients struggle with attempting to act from the fantasy they have created of what their partner may want, when instead they should be “self centered” and act from what they themselves want. You have to trust that your partner is an adult and will tell you how they feel, if you do not have such an adult relationship, then build one or get out and grow up a bit.
While watching a report on the Amanda Knoxs trial, I was stunned when journalist Diane Sawyer repeatedly mentioned Amanda’s interest in “casual sex” as a qualifier for her having bad character. It’s ridiculous how an expected, healthy and “normal” (there’s that evil word I hate) developmental stage becomes bastardized and used to shame this girl. Sexual-relational developmental milestones are achieved by dating and being sexual throughout an individual’s life. For those that are comforted by statistics, and require social science research data to support all claims, you will feel satiated to know that the stats report that the average teen and young adult will have intercourse many times prior to adulthood, and this is a good thing as sex is learned and not innate. These encounters are how we all learn to increase self-esteem, utilize erotic capital, social negotiation skills, and boundary setting. Let’s not infuse this necessary social education with our own sex phobia and anxiety.
Poor Amanda had her “character” in question because she wanted to be sexual and date a boy. This is a sign that she is statistically “normal” and average, and doing exactly what her peers are doing. The equation of acting on inborn human sex drive and mating as congruent and symptomatic of being “out of control,” “sex crazed,” or “murderous” is both absurd and naïve. The media pushed it further and then equated her possible engagement in an orgy (good for her; she is sexually creative and adventurous) with being more evidence of her poor “character” and a sign of her ability to murder.
This sex shaming is far from rare as I often hear clinical clients being labeled as having a fetish, sex addiction, or being “ill” due to their sexual behaviors. I’m not talking about illegal, coercive or compulsive and problematic. I’m talking about non didactic , non committed, and non vanilla. The word “fetish” as a concept is made irrelevant as everything is a fetish, and no part of our arousal constellation should be shamed by such a “perspective.” You like boobs, that’s a fetish; women, that’s one too. Feet, shoes, and leather (god forbid), they all are, too. It’s all needless modernist attempts to “re-center” a pluralistic postmodern “de-centered” sexual world. Frequently engaging in odd, different, alternative sexual behaviors is not being addictive, its called sexual confidence. Good sexual lovers are open to pushing the boundaries to maintain novelty, the linchpin of high arousal sex. They go after what is arousing for them in every sexual experience. The seeking of high arousal when being sexual is what I advise and what long-term sexual satisfaction within relationships require. Monogamy will limp along otherwise. If you want long-term monogamous commitment, you better break out the monkey suit and hang from that chandelier. Roll with it folks, a sexual revolution is brewing and I’m leading the charge! If these behaviors sound unhealthy or make you anxious, this says everything about your sexual confidence and sex education, and nothing about the other engaging in them. I agree with old Kinsey when he said “the only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform.” If your body can do it, then its “natural.” Whether or not Amanda Knox is a murderer, someone who has poor “character” or is sex addicted has nothing to do with the contents of her sex life. And I worry for Diane Sawyers’ sexual partners. I hope she keeps good reading material by the bed to entertain them because her sexuality sounds like a snoozefest!