Our Discomfort with Sex and Sexuality

UncomfortableThe name Anthony Weiner has resurfaced again. Well, it never really went away since he was running for political office. But an old issue about  him reared its head. Weiner is once again being lambasted for sexting. He has apparently once again been exchanging sexual texts with women other than his wife.

I wrote a piece about Weiner’s last incident for a different blog. My point was that I think our biggest issue is that we get distracted from the real issues at play and make it about sex. Sex is an easy target. We love to criticize people who are openly sexual and enjoy it.

I’m very open about the fact that I don’t believe in the concept of sex addiction. There is no agreed upon definition. There is no research supporting it. My personal opinion is that sex addiction is an easy way to avoid dealing with real issues. It is popular in our culture because we our society is so sex-negative. I am a big fan of Dr. David Ley and his book The Myth of Sex AddictionNow, Dr. David Ley has written an article in Psychology Today titled Is Weiner Ashamed Enough? I agree with Dr. Ley’s points here.

As part of my work I speak about relationships, desire, sex and sexuality. These presentations are really 2 or 3 hour discussions driven by questions from the people in attendance. My experience is that there are many people interested in talking about sex (and not just intercourse but a wide variety of sexual activities), being sexual and improving their sex lives. The problem is that our society says this isn’t a topic for polite conversation. And if it comes up, we all need to act shocked and dismayed. And if someone is the subject of these discussions, they need to act suitably embarrassed and ashamed. Even if none of us actually believe it is a bad thing.

There may be legitimate questions about Weiner’s actions and choices. There is a lot of sympathy for his wife. But the truth is we don’t know her real feelings on the matter or even what agreement they had about sex and sexual activities. And with the pressure of society to condemn sex and sexual activities, there is little hope that she will say anything publicly that doesn’t conform to societal norms. We just like to make lots of assumptions and show our disapproval.

Perhaps Weiner did violate the spoken or unspoken expectations of his relationship. If that is the case, isn’t the real question less about why he was enjoying sexual activities and more about what it is that made him unwilling or unable to discuss his sexual desires with his wife? What does it say about our society that a person can’t deal with their sexual desires openly and honestly with their spouse? What kind of fear and shame do we put on people that they feel they need to hide sexual desire?

I think things are changing. There is more awareness of sex and sexuality. There is more conversation about it. Unfortunately I think we have a long way to go before our culture is open to the idea that sex and sexuality isn’t inherently bad. My hope is that one day we won’t have to act so shocked by the “news” that people are engaging in and enjoying sexual activity.

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About awentherapy

I am Jay Blevins, LMFT (www.awentherapy.com). I am a licensed systems therapist with a private practice in Madison, WI. While I work with individuals and partners around a wide variety of issues, my primary focus in on alternative relationship structures, alternative sex and sexuality, and power dynamics. I am a contributor to various relationship and sexuality blogs and publications and have been a frequent presenter at alternative lifestyle events and psychotherapy conferences.
This entry was posted in Anthony Weiner, Awen Therapy, David Ley, MFT, Psychotherapy, Sex, Sex Addiction, Sexting, Sexuality, The Myth of Sex Addiction, Therapy and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Our Discomfort with Sex and Sexuality

  1. What do you consider someone like Weiner, then who compulsively surfs porn or other sex activity… not out of enjoyment, but out of perceived need… who has very negative consequences in their life because of it, who does want to quit and ‘can’t’, who feels very deep shame as a result of his/her actions, and frequently lives a double life to cover it? What do you consider other behavioral ‘addictions’ such as gambling?

    • I think it is just what you said, a perceived need. I think those people are looking for something else and haven’t developed the ability to find it. They are people who confuse sex with love, attachment and acceptance. People often continue bad behaviors out of a lack of emotional understanding of why the do it or what to do instead. Many people emotionally eat, and continue to do so, even thought they are causing health issue, are feeling shame about their size and are harming relationships. They don’t do it because they are addicted to food. They do it because they don’t have the coping skills to deal with emotions in a healthy way.

      Gambling depends. I believe some people are actually addicted to the adrenaline rush…an actual chemical process. Others use it as a coping mechanism just like emotional eating. I think they tend to get lumped together under one label.

      In Weiner’s case, I’m not sure he feels those things you are talking about. I believe he says them because that is what he has to say in public. But as Dr. Ley points out, people seem outraged that he isn’t ashamed enough. What if he isn’t ashamed at all? What if he and his wife had an agreement that it was okay? Do you think that in this culture they could admit that and expect to continue in public life? Our judgments are based on a lot of assumptions.

      • I don’t know about Weiner specifically either.

        Can dopamine from sex, the adrenaline from the shame and the chase behave in a like manner to gambling addiction?

        What do you call a person like I described, with a sexual compulsion and lack of healthy connection abilities?

      • I am not a fan of labels. I think they are just that, a person that doesn’t have the tools and experience to create healthy connections for one or more of a myriad of reasons. My issue with calling it an addiction is that it puts the focus on sex when I think the sexual part is just the symptom of something else. Like calling a depressed person a sleep addict if they sleep a lot. There are lots of people that have trouble with vulnerability, forming secure attachments and/or connection. Seeking out sex and sexual activity is just one way of coping with those issues. I think the focus should be on those issues, not the fact that our society uses sex as a scapegoat.

        Our standard response to addictions is abstinence. We don’t diagnose over-eaters as food addicts because the answer would have to be to abstain from food. Instead we deal with the underlying emotional issues and teach other coping strategies. Are sex addicts expected to abstain from sex for the rest of their lives?

      • Isn’t there a difference between fantasy induced orgasm to deal with anxiety and intimate sex? Just like over eaters learn healthy eating mechanisms can’t sex addicts (or whatever you choose to call them) also learn healthy sex habits? It sounds as though the semantics is your problem with the term ‘sex addiction’ more than lack of belief that there are a large number of people that turn to unhealthy sex to fill the gaps in their coping mechanisms or lack of interpersonal attachments. Much as gambling or food fills that hole in an unhealthy way for others.

      • Absolutely there is. But there is also the option of fantasy induced orgasm that isn’t to deal with anxiety. Simply for the fun of it. And yes, the point is to teach healthy habits. But changing the symptom, like drinking, eating, sex, etc. won’t succeed unless you address the underlying issue. We are already such a sex-negative society that calling it sex addiction puts the focus on the sex, not the real issue. Would there be such outrage if we found out a politician was overeating or an alcoholic? But when it is sex there is huge judgment. Let’s put the focus where it belongs and deal with the underlying issues.

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