What is sex addiction?

Sex addiction is a term that can invite scepticism – you may think of the movie star who cites it to explain his numerous infidelities. “It’s not my fault – it’s the addiction,” he protests.

While there may be some people who use the idea of sex addiction as a way of avoiding responsibility, there are many more who feel caught in a self-destructive but seemingly compulsive behaviour. It is a behaviour that can wreck relationships, drain bank accounts and even destroy careers.

For these individuals, more often men than women, an addiction to sexual acting out of some form is a sad reality. It can take the form of internet porn, the exchange of sexually explicit photos and messages on social media (sexting), paying sex workers, endless affairs or sex with strangers.

In this context “acting out” refers to sexual behaviour that has become a way of unconsciously avoiding painful feelings. In other words, the sexual behaviour has become a defence mechanism to deal with underlying pain, in the same way that an alcoholic uses alcohol or a gambling addict gambling.

What makes it sex addiction is the individual’s experience that, even though they recognise the behaviour is damaging their lives they feel unable to stop.

Sex addiction is a growing problem.

Never has it been easier to use sex to escape difficult problems or emotions. There is an almost infinite supply of free online porn of every kind, while the internet also makes it much easier to research and contact sex workers or find others to engage in sexually explicit chat or the exchange of images.

Psychosexual therapist Paula Hall, in Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction, identifies three kinds of sex addiction.

  • Trauma-induced – this includes sexual or other forms of abuse. It also includes major losses, such as the death of a close family member.
  • Attachment-induced – this happens when the child lacks a secure attachment to parents or caregivers. When attachment is problematic the child can grow up feeling insecure and find it difficult to soothe themselves when difficult feelings come up. There may be attachment problems if the parenting of the child is too harsh, too emotionally distant, abusive or neglectful. Or if the child is separated from parents for long periods.
  • Opportunity- induced – this refers to addiction that is not necessarily rooted in early trauma or attachment problems, but caused by easy access to internet porn, cyber sex, etc. The much greater accessibility of these, thanks to the internet, has led to an increase in this kind of sex addict, says Hall.

There may be an overlap between two or more of these categories.

The key issue in all this is that the individual realises that his or her use of sex is causing major problems in their life – and they can’t seem to stop. Frequently, the problems they bring to therapy may be about anxiety or depression or about how the use of sex has damaged closed relationships.

Although sex addiction has almost certainly been around for centuries it is only in recent years that it has become more recognised. “Advances in brain research and neuropsychology have helped us understand the nature of both chemical and behavioural addictions and appreciate the links with childhood experience and trauma,” says Hall.

 

 

Advertisements

The puer aeternus, or ‘Peter Pan Syndrome’

4885731902_9e2a428240_oDo you ever come across men who have an engaging charm, spontaneity and creativity but who somehow seem emotionally very young and perhaps ungrounded?

Chances are you are thinking of the puer aeternus* archetype, also known as the ‘Peter Pan syndrome’. Puer aeternus means ‘eternal boy’ in Latin and the name was coined by psychologist Carl Jung to describe an archetype, i.e. a kind of symbol of a certain type of behaviour or energy that is part of all our psyches.

These kind of men can drive women mad, as they usually have a very attractive energy and are fun to be with. Yet, deep down, they’re not really interested in a mature relationship with a woman.

Peter Pan is a great example of the puer (pronounced ‘poo-air’), as he is a boy who never grows up but who just wants to fly, to have fun. An obvious example of the puer is Michael Jackson, who was also besotted with the Peter Pan story.

The puer is a free spirit who lives for the moment. He represents youth, passion, idealism, beauty and creativity.   These are all positive qualities. The danger is when a man becomes so identified with this archetype, this energy, that he neglects other values that do not fit in with the puer. These other values include taking responsibility, sticking at things, and self-discipline.

The negative side of the puer is that he can be rather grandiose or self-centered an, shy away from the more difficult or mundane tasks of life. He often also struggles in relationships with women, enjoying the early excitement and passion but unable to stick with the demands of a committed relationship once the honeymoon period is over.

In his book Iron John, author Robert Bly describes these men as ‘flying boys’: “Peter Pan belongs among the flyers, as do most ashram habitués, devotees of ‘higher consciousness’…and some Don Juans who want such heavenly perfection in women that they are obliged to leave each one in whom they fail to find the missing pearl.”

There is an argument that the puer is the product of an overprotective and domineering mother, and an absent or passive father. Hence, while he may want to seduce or is ‘in love with being in love’, he struggles with making an authentic, deeper connection with a woman.

While the puer may appear happy and carefree, there is a depression in his soul. In fact his soaring is a compensation for the emptiness he is only dimly aware of.

Bly says that the task for the puer is to descend, in psychological terms, to experience hardship of some kind. This could mean experiencing major loss of some kind, such as a job, a bereavement, an illness, a divorce. Experiencing the descent enables the puer to become aware of the painful feelings that have always been there but not previously acknowledged. In working through the hardship, knuckling down to life’s blows where previously he would have flown away, the puer begins to grow up.

Accepting the parts of him that previously he ran away from – the shame, the sadness, the feelings of not being good enough – is another way of saying that the puer begins to discover his own ‘shadow’. This was the term Jung used to describe that part of us that we don’t like and therefore deny.

This also seems to be one of the lessons of Peter Pan, as Peter loses his shadow when he flies into the house of the Darling family. He becomes afraid of it because it is so big and seems to have a life of his own. He only gets it back when Wendy sews it back on.

Like Peter, puers need to acknowledge their shadow shelf, the part of themselves that they have rejected, in order to mature and truly be in relationship with a woman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are men unconsciously seeking in internet porn?

1912544963_1e0d97b192

 

“The soul often manifests itself in the sexual areas of life.”

Thomas Moore

Internet porn is an increasing issue among the male, heterosexual clients I see, and one that can cause a lot of shame as well as impacting on intimate relationships.

Some couples and individuals may have a comfortable relationship with porn and it may be something they enjoy making a part of their sex lives. But for many men it can become something secretive and taboo, which they turn to not simply because of the pleasure it offers but also as a way of escaping difficult feelings.

The easy and free accessibility of internet porn (and the range of sexual activity one can view) means that it can quickly become an instant hit for men who are not feeling good about themselves.

When the need for that ‘hit’, for that escape, becomes a regular way of handling difficult feelings internet porn use can become a problem both for the individual and his partner if he is in a relationship.

For me the interesting part is not just what a man may be escaping by using internet porn, but what he may, unconsciously, be seeking.

To explore this one must ask the individual what he is drawn to in the experience, how he actually feels in the midst of it. Male clients tell me they feel excitement and passion when they are lost in internet porn, that they enjoy the secretive and rule-breaking atmosphere.

Some also feel they are giving themselves a treat or reward and even that they feel somehow nurtured by or attended to by the women they watch engaging in sex.

For some men there is also a pleasure in seeing women treated in a dominating, or even humiliating, way sexually and this may be tapping into unresolved angry feelings towards women that go back to childhood.

Part of the work with these clients is about exploring with them what the porn gives them and whether that is a sign that there is something missing from the rest of their lives and relationships. If they feel excitement and passion using porn, is there a boredom or flatness in the rest of their life or relationships? If so, how can they bring some excitement into other areas of their life?

I would be interested in what might be holding the man back from bringing these energies into his life. Did he grow up with the message that it was somehow not ok for him to express excitement or passion, for example?

If the man feels somehow looked after or attended to by the women in porn videos, does this mean he feels that is lacking in his other relationships with women? Can he ask for these needs to be met in other relationships and can he begin to look after or attend to himself in healthier ways?

For the man who is aroused by women being dominated or treated in a humiliating way I would be interested in how he felt his childhood excitement, anger and sexuality were treated by women. Did he feel those parts were not acceptable and did he feel humiliated by his mother or other females when he showed those energies and emotions?

What I’m aware when I hear the stories of men who have problematic relationships with porn is how the activity, as well as an escape is also a movement towards something.  This ‘something’ is often about feeling alive, connected to one’s excitement, feeling connected to and accepted by a woman.

Even the man who is drawn to porn that demeans women is, in a distorted way, trying to establish a connection with the feminine. If those feelings of anger and powerlessness, with regard to women, can be made more conscious they can then be worked with.

As psychotherapist and author Thomas Moore says, in his book The Soul of Sex, many of the people who came to see him had sexual concerns, “which eventually were revealed as containers of the central mysteries of the person’s life.”

Men and loneliness

Something few women realise is the sense of loneliness that many men carry with them. The sad part is that even men themselves are not fully aware of their isolation, at least until they are affected by a crisis and realise there is no-one they can really talk to about it.

This is because they may have no friends they feel comfortable in opening up to about personal matters – after all, men are brought up to compete with other men. Even with their wife or girlfriend they may have avoided disclosing fears and anxieties, preferring to present an image of ‘everything’s fine – I can handle it.’

In western Europe and North America we live in a society that encourages girls to express their feelings and, as they grow up, they seek emotional support from other women. Men get the message that ‘boys don’t cry’, that they need to be independent and self-reliant.

At the risk of gender stereotyping, there may also be an inherent aloneness or feeling of separation in the male condition. This aloneness is an archetypal masculine quality, by which I mean an ancient pattern within the human psyche that has traditionally been more associated with men than women.

In earlier cultures boys and men experienced rites of passage, initiations and sustained contact with older men in the community. This helped them feel connected. We have lost most of these traditions.

While there are clearly many benefits for men in developing self-reliance and independence, there is also a price to pay. An obvious cost is that, not having the same support network that many women enjoy, men find it harder to adapt emotionally to crises such as bereavement or divorce. They are also three times more likely to kill themselves than women.

As a therapist, many of the men I see both as individuals and in couples seem very alone in their struggles. They may be carrying some very challenging emotions, such as sadness and grief, but find it hard to acknowledge these feelings or to know what to ‘do’ with them once they have recognized them.

Author James Hollis in Under Saturn’s Shadow writes about the shame that many men have been made to feel when opening up emotionally: ‘Every man will recall times when, as a boy, as a youth, or even last week, he dared to reveal himself and was shamed and isolated. He learns to stuff that shame, to mask it in male bravado.’

The first step that men need to take is to acknowledge their loneliness and isolation and to experience the pain of their deeper wounds. This may be faciliatated with a therapist or it may be with their partner or a mentor.

There is something powerful and potentially healing in acknowledging one’s feelings, whatever they are, and in this way a man can begin to come into relationship with his deeper self. By becoming less alienated from himself a man becomes less lonely, although he may still feel a sense of aloneness at an existential level.

From this exploration other questions will flow: how am I living my life? Is my work genuinely fulfilling? Am I being open and authentic with myself and others? It is in struggling with these themes that a man can feel more connected and more in tune with his deeper desires.