Let’s Talk About Sex.Posted: March 24, 2012
The most interesting question I have ever asked in couples therapy is “How is your sex life?” Even if the couple never mentioned problems with their intimacy, the responses I get almost always make me say “Hmm. Let’s talk about this.”
We don’t talk about sex. Not freely anyway. We were taught as kids that sex is taboo, prohibited, sometimes dirty and bad. “Good” girls are often not supposed to enjoy sex. If they do they are “bad” girls. Men identify with their penises, their size, performance, endurance, and so on. The penis is not just a penis . It’s one’s manhood. Vaginas often propel men to a pathetic, ridiculous, adolescent state of silliness. Have you ever seen a man beg for sex? Sex is very powerful yet we don’t talk about it. But sex is the worst kept secret. Couples know this better than I do.
Maybe if we talked about sex the same way we go about talking about current events, we would realize that sex is as normal as thirst. Enjoying sex is as normal as enjoying a great meal (illegal sexual behaviors like rape or pedophilia excluded). The fact that meals come with less guilt, more communication, collaboration and sharing is purely a moral issue. For instance, when we are young we learn women have vaginas and men have penises but no one talks about women’s sexual epicenter, the clitoris. The clitoris is invisible. How many women have been acquainted with their own clitoris? All men can pick themselves out of a line up, no question. But how many women know what their clitoris and vagina looks like?
Why is talking about sex uncomfortable? We all have sex, we just don’t talk about it. And how does not talking about it affect a relationship? Which brings me to what I really want to talk about. Sex addiction.This phrase is thrown around the internet a lot but what does it really mean? I don’t believe sex addiction exists. Maybe we can talk about compulsive sexual behaviors but even then how much say masturbating is too much? Who decides that? How many partners make you a slut? When men can’t seem to stop cheating, why do we say they have an addiction problem and send them to rehab? Who diagnosed Tiger Woods as sex addict? It must have been the media given that an official sex addiction diagnosis does not exist. Don’t get me wrong. I think often people feel out of control when it comes to their sexual choices. Clients will tell me that engaging in sexual relations with other women via internet, sex chat, phone sex or in person has had devastating consequences for their relationships, finances, self-esteem, etc. But problematic behavior is not necessarily addiction. The reason why it’s important to focus on the behavior and avoid labeling is that “sex addict” more often than not means pervert. And when we label people we move away from their complexity. When we label people as sex addicts we inherently pathologise a very normal, healthy and important aspect of human experience: sex.
If sex addition is a a pathology, a problem, then what does recovery entail? With drug addiction, abstinence from drugs is the first step and also the ultimate goal. If we employ the same principals, does recovery from sex addiction means abstinence from sex? I don’t know about you, but I have a problem with that. I suggest that instead of getting caught up in labels, we have to explore problematic behavior for what it is. A behavior. That can be changed. Sex is not to be taken lightly. Sex is emotional and psychological. It’s complex and spills over many areas of one’s life and relationships. Lets talk about it. Let’s explore how to have healthier, happier sex. Let’s have the difficult conversations about intimacy, pleasing each other and ourselves, communication, fantasy. Let’s talk about what cheating does to trust, emotional safety and self-esteem. Cheating is not an individual problem. It is a relationship problem. Compulsive sexual behaviors are often not an addiction problem. They are a life problem. They are a way to deal with life, relationship problems, mental illness, even childhood wounding. They are expressions of a selfish Ego that wants what it wants and gives itself permission to go against the rules. Or have none.
Culturally, American women take cheating personally. When cheated on an American woman asks “What did I do wrong?”. A European woman asks instead “Are we OK?” Your upbringing, religion, family background will also define how you perceive cheating or other sexual behaviors. How does this fit in today’s sex addiction treatment? The problem is, it doesn’t. And that’s not helping anyone.