In today’s world the mainstream understanding of healthy sexuality or healthy sexual relationships often points to the sexual act itself as the beginning and the end of what a good intimate relationship is. We often read headlines in pop magazines like:
“25 new ways to satisfy your partner”
“7 positions that will change your sexual relationship forever”
“5 new ways to spice up your sex life”
Really? The list goes on and on and people are trying all kinds of things and new ideas to improve their sexual relationships. It is not uncommon for some “experts” in the field to even advise the use of pornography to “stimulate” things in the bedroom.
Here is the big problem: anything that can make us feel good or that gives us an intense feeling or “high” can become addictive or compulsive. This means that in a rather short period of time, we will need more or a more exaggerated dose to have the same feeling. After more than 5 years working in the field of substance abuse and addiction, in addition to being a marriage and family therapist, one of the most common signs of compulsive substance abuse is the fact that people who are in the vicious cycle talk about having to use more to get the same effect. When sex is isolated from relationship and emotional connection, people will basically find themselves in a very similar vicious cycle.
So often people find themselves in a very painful yet hidden or secret battle to find satisfaction in their marital sexual relationships (or, heaven forbid, somewhere else), and others complain that they just don’t feel “that connected” to their spouses anymore. When the focus then turns on making the ACT of sex more “creative” things can often get even worse. It is true that some couples need to explore and learn more about the act of sex, their own bodies and how to pleasure each other. This will potentially help them find a more physical satisfaction. But over time, if the focus remains only on physical satisfaction, couples can quickly reach an apex or peak, a place where things are slowly starting to get “boring” or “not like it used to be” and frustration starts to set in.
When humans get frustrated with life, they use coping mechanisms to deal with the frustrations or pain. Fantasy is one of the most common and natural ways for us to deal with disappointment. People dream of a bigger house, a better job and a nicer car. They talk about the “good old days” and wish things were different in the midst of a difficult time. When it comes to unsatisfying sexual relationships, pornography or visiting strip clubs and even reading romantic/erotic novels can also provide a way to fantasize and escape the current reality of struggling relationship.
Emotional and/or sexual affairs are most of the time an escape from a currently reality. People in affairs create in their minds a perception of how they want their “new lover” to be, and act in ways they want this lover to perceive them. Such people will chase this relationship “high” by pursuing sexual and romantic feelings (often called love addiction). Yet they ignore the realities of really getting to know who the new lover really is and what life really will be like to live with this secret partner openly. This phenomenon is similar to the honeymoon phase in relationships, but obviously comes with devastating consequences in most cases. In addition to love addiction, the problem with pornography and other forms of mental or visual sexual “stimulators” are that they tend to OBJECTIFY the individuals involved where the focus is not on a person, but on body parts and satisfying a primal urge disconnected from the partner or self. The satisfaction of this erotic “high” is short lived, and soon people have to start looking at strange or more high-risk pornography and the frequency of looking at porn or visiting strip clubs increases rapidly to get the same effect. Or, they start taking more risks just to get that same “satisfaction” they thought they would get. The risks of having an affair and the so-called sexual satisfaction in this secret relationship often go hand in hand. It is true that fear can actually increases sexual arousal. And so the vicious cycle begins. After every sexual interaction or pornographic episode more and more despair sets in which only leads to more and more compulsive behaviours, because acting out is the only way to cope with the ever increasing shame and disconnection. No relationship can reach true intimacy when caught up in this vicious cycle.
Healthy sexuality satisfies the individual and the relationship at a deeper level which keeps people happy and connected to one another and protects them from compulsions that can only promise, but never deliver. It starts with true intimacy, where both partners can be “naked” (physically and emotionally) yet unashamed of who they are. Where no secrets are kept and partners do not have to pretend to be someone they are not. Here is a chart which compares addictive or unhealthy sexuality with healthy sexuality. Each person must discover what healthy sexuality means for him or her.
Adds to self-esteem
Is illicit, stolen, or exploitive
Has no victims
Draws on fear for excitement
Uses vulnerability for excitement
Re-enacts childhood abuses
Cultivates sense of being adult
Disconnects one from oneself
Furthers sense of self
Creates world of unreality
Is self-destructive and dangerous
Relies on safety
Uses conquest or power
Is mutual and intimate
Takes responsibility for needs
Serves to medicate and kill pain
May bring legitimate suffering
Originates in integrity
Requires double life
Integrates most authentic parts of self
Demands and obsesses about perfection
Accepts the imperfect
Source: Carnes, Patrick. Don’t’ Call it Love. New York: Bantam Books, 1991
If you are finding yourself or your relationship longing for the deep satisfaction and joy a marital relationship was created for, don’t hesitate to come and explore your options for change at the Vita Nova counselling centre.