Sex-Positive therapist Galen Fous has worked with hundreds of men and women. What he’s discovered is the explosive, ecstatic depths of human sexuality.
There is a long unending stream of national news reports about politicians, teachers, religious leaders, entertainers, sports figures and other celebrities, caught in some variation of sexual dishonesty. Pundits and experts often label the behaviors, and the fall from grace that follows, the result of sex addiction.
These highly publicized celebrity cases point to, but overlook a larger issue of rampant sexual dishonesty that is found at every level of the culture. These cases are just the visible tip of the iceberg of our collective sexual shadow, and the secretive ways we attempt to express our sexuality. Imagine all the rest of the population that are indulging their sexuality in covert ways. The stats are astronomical!
Based on keyword searches for affairs, visits to hook-up sites like Craigslist ads and Ashley Madison themed websites, not to mention all the secret porning by men and women both, our level of sexual secrecy and dishonesty is off the charts. Pornuhub.com a very popular adult pic and video portal reported about 1.7 million visitors per hour came to the site looking for porn last year. This is just one web site. The approximate number of unique visitors to all adult websites in 2006, per month, worldwide was 420 million! Pornhub single-handedly brought in that many visitors in 2013 in about 10 days!
Many people exploring and opening to their authentic sexual desires are inclined to keep their sexual explorations secret due to tangible fears of being shamed, harshly judged or punished about their personally meaningful and normal sexuality. Many take risks, in some cases very high risks, to express their sexual desires in dangerous clandestine rendezvous’. When caught in their infidelity, the sad, ruinous, mythic drama – the fall from grace, gets played out over and over, individual by individual, celebrity and not.
Many of these people get labeled as sex/porn addicts or self-label as addicts after the fact, when they are discovered. I believe in many cases, the often vilifying, porn/sex addiction label, branded or grasped, misses a deeper dysfunction. The issue is what I identify as Sexual Authenticity Disorder – an extreme and often life-long effort to conceal aspects of ones sexuality and the fear of revealing or having your authentic sexuality discovered, shamed, judged or punished by others. The primary symptoms of Sexual Authenticity Disorder are intense fear of discovery, sexual secrecy, dishonesty, and an attendant shame and guilt.
You won’t find Sexual Authenticity Disorder listed in the DSM-V manual, and this is unfortunate considering the pervasiveness of the problem, but neither will you find sex or porn addiction. Neither are currently recognized nor accepted as psychological disorders by the American Psychiatry Association, so my defining SAD outside APA sanction is not without precedent!
The reason people hide or are dishonest about their authentic sexual desires may fall within the sex or porn addiction model in some percentage of cases. If addiction is the model that makes sense to the one seeking support around their sexual expression, by all means, pursue therapy under the sex/porn-addiction model. But if the label does not seem to fit, even if you are a regular porn user or have a high sex drive, then consider that you may have not yet owned and honored what is sexually true for you. You have a right to be who you are sexually, and define your own norm in ways that are conscious, consensual and risk aware.
The sex/porn addiction model also falls far short of explaining the explosion of sexual activity awakening worldwide within a pervasively sex-negative cultural reality. It is clear to me, from the hundreds of men, women and couples I have worked with the last 14 years, and analysis of over 1100 people’s responses on the Discover Your Personal Erotic Myth Survey, that these emerging sexual explorations are routinely conducted in clandestine, or secretive ways. My clients indicate this secrecy is due to fear of how partners, families, social, professional or spiritual communities may judge them, not because they are sexually addicted.
The narrow narrative predominate among sex/porn addiction theorists, the scandal driven news media, and sex-negative fundamentalists of every stripe, brushes over the emerging, explosive, ecstatic depths of human sexuality that are being explored and expressed globally, in a way that is unprecedented in the history of civilization.
In the global overview of emerging sexuality, the “normal” range of human sexual expression and desire has already shifted profoundly. Millions of people across the globe have already crossed the threshold of previous cultural, moral and spiritual norms for acceptable sexual behavior. Millions more stand at the threshold, eagerly peering in.
My concern is that the current psychological tools used to assess someone as a sex/porn addict, a hypersexual or a sexual deviant, are inadequate and outdated. They do not allow for or encourage this amazing range of emerging sexuality. Many assessed as having a sexual disorder may simply be men and women who have an alternative sexuality that is outside the range of those doing the assessment.
I am reminded of the poignant reply by sex researcher Alfred Kinsey when asked how someone can identify or diagnose a woman as a nymphomaniac. There was a similar over-the-top hysteria and handwringing about nymphomania in the 1950’s as there is now about hypersexuality, sex and porn addiction. Kinsey framed it perfectly with his deadpanned quip, “A nymphomaniac is someone who has more sex than you do.” In other words, Kinsey did not consider nymphomania a diagnosable psychological disorder. The implication by Kinsey was that normal sexuality should be considered as the personal sex-drive and style of the beholder.
The morally righteous, sex negative, inquisitional mentality that dominates the current cultural messaging around sex/porn addiction, is still focused on the control and repression of all but the narrowest range of sexual normalcy. For generations, the sex-negative messaging we have grown up with has created an internalized fear and shame that our sexual desire may be considered abnormal, sinful, sick or disgusting by the parent culture. There is a palpable fear that if revealed, our honest sexual expression may leave us outcasts from the ranks of decent citizens, and all the personal devastation that may bring with it.
These negative, judgmental, internal messages that many carry about their authentic sexual feelings, and the shame and fear of others judgment, has led to our cultural inability to be honest about our sexual desires. We have created a culture where sex is debased and pushed down below the surface. It is forbidden. It is unspeakable. We do not know how to talk with our partners about our sexual desires, to be honest about them, share, explore, or revel in them. We are supposed to aspire to be sexy on one hand of the cultural messaging and yet not look at others in a sexual way, or express our sexuality directly on the other.
The shadow of sexual dishonesty plays out just as relentlessly on our local and personal stages, as on the national. Partners cheating on their partners behind their back, secretly chasing after every perversity imaginable online or in real life, getting caught and having their lives thrown into tragedy, will be an ever increasing eventuality in the current sex-negative and dishonest cultural framework.
There is an implied sexual norm that we are judged by and expected to follow, that is setting an impossible standard in this era of emerging sexual expression. What normal is, is never defined. Normal is…you know…normal! But there is a never-ending stream of opinion and even law about what is not normal. And if there is not a law there is a harsh fundamentalist social, religious or familial pressure, if not outright violence, to conform to this vague norm. Any but the narrowest version of sexual authenticity can be and has been pathologized by institutional psychiatry/psychology and deemed a psychological disorder. This can and does lead to profound impacts in real world battles in divorces, parenting rights, employment and housing discrimination and many other areas of life. Witness the ongoing history of the gay and lesbian movements fight for their legal rights in all regards.
Contemporary sexuality is tangled up in outdated, archaic, and irrelevant moral and religious doctrines designed for a cultural mindset equivalent to the medieval Dark Ages. It is my opinion that humanity has reached a point in evolution where our sexuality is busting loose from the ultimately flimsy bonds of fear driven moralities about the flesh, and our more wild, instinctual dimensions of sexual behavior.
This fear about sex, and the fear about our partner or anyone else knowing the truth of our sexual desire, on the one hand, and the astronomical rise in sexual interest and desire clearly emerging in the culture on the other, are on a collision course. We can’t be honest about our sexual desire, and we can’t stop our sexual desire from acting out. This is a recipe for psycho-dramatic mayhem at all levels of American culture.
It is clear the cycle of people getting busted for secretively and dishonestly acting out their sexuality is turning faster and faster. This is a great tragedy that is due in good part to married and partnered couples being unable to communicate honestly about their sexual desires. The covert sexual shadow can only be overcome by an honesty of communication that begins before partnering, ideally, and carries on throughout the relationship in a negotiated way that acknowledges and honors the authentic desires and boundaries of each partner.
The key to coming to terms with our sexuality is to learn how to express and experience our desires safely, honorably and consciously, in a way that is in integrity with the agreements we make with ourselves and others, and that encompass our core values. We must also compassionately examine and resolve the unconscious but powerful sex-negative cultural messages, and real life traumas we’ve internalized about our sexuality and ourselves. This is why I believe aspiring to sexual authenticity is both an empowering and healing journey.
Moving the culture from where it is now, to a place where sexuality is a normalized part of our lives, openly talked about, learned about, embraced, and enjoyed is a monumental journey with no near term date of completion. But I am confident that it is the only path that can resolve the tremendous cost of our sexual dishonesty.
Have a question about alternative sexuality, sexual authenticity or how to consciously express your sexual desires in a new or existing relationship? Send me an email and I will address select questions in a future column. [email protected]
Image: Samarel Erotic Art
Photo: Flickr/Abulic Monkey