Tag Archives: sex addicts anonymous

Sex addiction stigma debate (part two)

 

She spoke haughtily, which has a peculiar effect on me: I start questioning my right to think. “You’re speaking of men who acted out with their sexuality, and society is pushing back against that kind of privilege.”

“Acting out? Wait, are we now talking about something different than when you spoke of female sex addiction?”

“The men you indicated are compulsive philanderers, porn addicts, acting upon an exaggerated sense of entitlement. Women are no longer willing to tolerate that.”

“Whereas female sex addiction is…different?”

“Women are stigmatized for simply having sex before marriage. Men aren’t!”

“Okay, but women are not being assessed as sex addicts for simply having sex before marriage.”

She waved her hand in an expansive fashion. “No, but that’s part of the context, that generally lesser tolerance for their sexual freedom. It just makes it harder for women who do have problems to come forward and get help.”

I tilted my head, affecting skepticism.

“I can see you’re having a hard time accepting this.”

“You say ‘accepting this’ like you’ve already landed a truism, and I’m like a holocaust denier or something.”

“Seriously, you don’t think society has traditionally been harsher, more devaluing of women’s sexual behavior than men’s.”

“Traditionally is a key word there. Time’s change. Not sure I accept the conclusion based upon your premise.”

She shook her head. “You lost me,” she said.

“So let’s go back to the earlier point. You say that women feel a greater stigma around their sexuality than men, right? And this stigma, which is a societal phenomenon, is internalized by women, causing extra layers of shame?”

“Correct,” my colleague said cautiously.

“Well, consciousness leads to change. That’s the basic promise of our profession, after all. Now again, we’ve had at least two generations since the so-called sexual revolution, which sought to liberate men and women from sexually repressive values. I think many women now externalize the problem of that stigma you reference. They resent society’s traditionalist constraint of their sexuality, and therefore push back against institutions, including schools of thought like sex addiction treatment models, that would pathologize that newfound sexual freedom. It’s like when political outcasts used to get diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental illness labels: I think some people think the term sex addiction is a sex police invention, and I think it at least one alternative reason why women especially, as well as the gay community, might reject sex addiction treatment.”

My colleague offered a soft utterance, one aimed at neither agreement nor concession, but merely diffused conflict. I think she wasn’t sure if we were saying different things.

“Interesting,” she said neutrally. “Still, I think the women that I see and talk to retain that traditional internalization, and they hold other women to the standard they believe in.”

“With respect, most of the women you speak to are over fifty, and their husbands are John Wayne-types.”

“Maybe. But I just don’t think men judge each other about sexual misbehavior as women judge other women who act out.”

I sort of rolled my neck, like I was straining to take this in.

“You don’t agree? You don’t think men encourage other men, even boys, implicitly or not, to be sexually active, to have as many partners as possible?”

“I’m not sure that matters with respect to the issue at hand. If women, traditionally or presently, stigmatize men for their sexual misbehavior, and you aren’t disputing that—merely justifying it, sort of—then men will have problems in relationships. Period. It doesn’t matter what the ‘patriarchy’ thinks today. If I cheat on my wife, for example, it’s not like I can say, ‘but my buddy Jay says it’s cool’ and expect everything to be all good with her. And that’s what matters to the men who seek treatment, who are mandated into treatment: they want to fix things with their partners.”

She shrugged coolly, apparently more at home debating this issue amid tangents.

“Seems to me it’s the same for women, only I think history and tradition lingers more than you believe it does. But if, as you suggest, it doesn’t matter so much—this matter of stigma, whether it’s directed by the same sex or not—then what’s this discussion about?” She shrugged again, this time presaging finality. Suddenly, she sounded weary, not so much curious, only I wasn’t done.

“Because it seems important, this question of why people go into treatment and why they don’t—why women don’t seek treatment, which is what you said today, only your bias suggests that women are being under-served, which implies women would choose sex addiction treatment if they were offered it. Like I said, it’s 2016. I think many, perhaps most women are shedding terms like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’, or trying to, anyway—and that places the problem in society, not in individuals. Meanwhile, I think men are internalizing what’s happening to some of their fellow alpha males. That lesser judgement, or entitlement, that you perceive? It has a flip side, one that’s center-stage now. Justly or not, the men I talk to take on board labels like ‘horndog’, accepting their comparison to animals, their compliant exile to the ‘doghouses’ when they’ve ‘strayed’. Then they sit with me, feeling incompetent and saying, ‘I was never raised to share my feelings’, having internalized that feminine critique also.

Joanne averted her eyes, like she wanted out of this conversation; it’s ambiguous agenda and questioning of trends. What would she do with this, I could hear her thinking. She finished her coffee, asked a passing waitress where the bathroom was. The epicene worker whom she stopped had an untroubled, these-matters-are-not-on-my-radar look about her. She (I think) wordlessly pointed to a door just beyond our table, concealed by a disorganized gathering. It was a tiny room, this bathroom—not big enough for the café’s throngs, and amongst customers, unbeknownst to café owners, it was controversially unisex.

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Last Flight to Costa Rica

 

 

On July 6th, 2013, George Lewis languished in the window seat of a Boeing 777 bound for Mexico from San Francisco. It was a quarter hour after departure time and the captain had just announced that there would be a delay. He delivered the innocuous-sounding news–“waiting for a flight plan”–in a bored voice. George Lewis felt the same way, despite this being the first day of a long-awaited vacation. Seated next to him was his wife, Jean, who greeted the captain’s words with a disgusted sigh and then reached down for a fashion magazine that she’d brought for the journey. It seemed a preemptive action, designed to counter George’s subtle nod in her direction, his supplicant overture. No chance, she was saying. Ok, we booked this thing and it’s too late to get our money back, and we’re on the plane and on our way. But don’t get any ideas. We’re not going there. Not now. In the seats ahead there were some teens gazing out the window and then pointing outward, behind their seats and over George’s head. Annoying, he thought. One teen, a disheveled skateboarder-type about two years younger than George and Jean’s now college-ensconsed only son, let out a shrill, excitable noise. Jolted and glum, George looked up past the youth’s hairy, undeoderized armpit, and stared down the doltish-looking, unsupervised child. 
        “Sorry,” said the boy, suddenly without expression. 
George softly grunted, bit down upon perfunctory forgiveness and turned back to the window by his side. Clouds. Or smoke. That’s what was behind them. He couldn’t tell, but the teens in front could. One kid was from Burlingame and was guessing there was a fire near his old school. “That’s my home, fool,” he started repeating, certain of himself but undisturbed. The other boy was from San Bruno. He reminisced about a fire in his home town from two years earlier–a national story at the time, George recalled. It was “crazy”, the boy recalled; his excitability back in force. Jean didn’t react. Her head was in her magazine, a half-fashion rag, half-gossip journal, featuring women, fully clothed, many bearing sizable bulges, each looking hopeful and happy. Glowing: that’s the expression, George noted. The cover was of the British princess whose name George couldn’t remember–a likeable, girl-next-door type who had stolen the Prince’s heart, earned her fairly tale wedding, and was now waiting on her next big day, ready to give the King-in-waiting an heir. The empowered and not-so-empowered everywomen of the world were waiting with her, living vicariously this princess dream. Meanwhile, George Lewis flashed through his mind thoughts of the skin of semi-clothed women. In Costa Rica, their ultimate destination, there would be plenty of skin, mostly of the exotic, caramel kind and not the ashen complexion of his anglo wife, or the anglo princess whom she so admired.
 
George caught himself. He closed his eyes and winced, and then tried the action that his new therapist had taught him the previous week; this 3-second rule that members of Sex Addicts Anonymous swore by. Give yourself three seconds–that was the rule. Give yourself three seconds, acknowledge the trigger, then watch those thoughts and feelings drift by, mindful of their power, but make a choice. “George, you have choices,” his therapist exhorted. George returned a sad, defeatist look, but nodded agreeably. Now he tried to put the rule into effect. Think of the consequences. That was the next part; the next “tool” to use. The problem was guilt. Consequences? Too late, the consequences are already here, he answered sourly. Ever since Jean had caught him with his pants down, with a white towel over his ass, lying face down on that padded couch in that sordid office, sipping that honey tea supplied by…that woman; that sexy yet unglowing woman whose happiness was actually not important to George. The fleeting visions of supple skin, conjured smells of delicious oils, and hardest of all to summon, the tactile sensations of friction, were now coupled with stinging self-rebukes…George’s self loathing. Somehow, back in the therapist’s office, listening to sage, asexual counsel, he’d forgotten to ask the most important question: what do I do with the guilt? What he asked instead was a question about Jean. As George glanced tentatively in her direction, he thought of the urgent question that dominated the previous session: how do I get her trust back? he’d asked, to which the therapist was non-committal and borderline dismissive, insisting that such things were impossible to predict and that trust wounds, in his experience, were always mutual, or something like that.

George’s eyes fixed upon an overhead compartment several seats down which seemed loosened from its catch. As an attendant walked by George thought to flag the man down, alert him to the problem, the prospect of luggage tumbling out and possibly hurting someone. He’d strike an earnest tone in his voice, make sure to emphasize the threat to passenger safety; make sure that everyone–especially Jean–knew that he cared. But the moment passed. The attendant skipped by as though distracted, his impassive expression glancing over the heads of passengers all around him; past the eyes of George Lewis and out the window next to his seat. The loose compartment made an insistent clicking sound and its cover tilted outwards by an inch. It’s leaking, thought George, transferring more terms from recent therapeutic pedantry. That compartment: they think they have it locked. They think it’s airtight and that everything’s safe and tucked away, but it’s not. George knew that now. Why hadn’t he known it all along? After all, it wasn’t as though he’d not dreamed of the worst happening. In fact, he’d felt it in his gut, the foreboding. If only he’d trusted his…

He glanced at Jean, still determined not to speak to him; perhaps determined to never speak to him again. He felt a chill and stood up tall, looking over the tops of seats, over the heads of noisy teens, and into the distance. An attendant at the end of the aisle was half on a phone near the cockpit, half pleading with an agitated male passenger to return to his seat. Around them there were murmurings, and within earshot, barely, there were emerging fears rippling through the cabin, and more numerous observations of drifting, grey plumes of smoke from an area just beyond the airport control tower. Not clouds. News was filtering through the plane of something big. Someone was on the internet, disobeying the captain’s orders, which had asked for all electronic devices to be cut-off in anticipation of a take-off that was imminent a half hour earlier but now delayed indefinitely. George Lewis started to become suspicious. Reflecting on his therapist’s words, he realized he was not feeling the trust.
            “Sit down, George,” Jean said irritably, though unlike him, she seemed unperturbed by the growing unrest around her. Denial. Good, George thought: she’s still speaking to me, at least. 
            “Sorry,” he replied to her.

At that moment, the captain’s voice sounded out over the intercom, his voice now sounding more tired, not bored. The flight to Mexico City with connection to San Jose, Costa Rica, was regrettably cancelled, he announced–the result, he declared, of an airport closure in Mexico City. He followed up with some rote instructions about how to redeem ticket purchases at the airline desk in the terminal. George was half listening, and now peering out the window by his seat, just like the boys in the seats in front of him. Like a frightened child, he pressed his face against the window, straining to look through the thick double plastic to the sights behind him. He knew now that something unusual had happened. Something horrible: something the captain, and perhaps many others would not talk about for a long time.

* this short story is not based on real events, or real people. If you like this story, perhaps you might read the synopsis of my psychological fiction, entitled Crystal From The Hills.  
 

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