"It's not about sex."
That's what they all say. But then why is it called a sex addiction? And why do I feel like there's a beast in my bed, like his addiction is the awkward third wheel?
I know all addictions stem from some underlying resentment, inadequacy, fear, etc. And I understand that true recovery requires that the addict address those issues.
But don't tell me it's not about sex. Even Pete knows it's about sex.
I love NPR, and my favorite program (via WBEZ Chicago) is This American Life. It's an hour long program with extrememely entertaining, fascinating, comical, frustrating stories about everyday Americans. It elicits strong emotional responses in me, and that's a good litmus test for my entertainment. For Valentine's Day the program started off with the story of a couple who got together in college. They were together for 13 years and then when they were both 30 they started talking marriage. But since they had been each other's only partner for the last 13 years they decided to take a month to "sleep around" and make sure they really wanted to be together. Spoiler alert: they never got married. They never even got back together.
But the part of the story that really got to me was that the guy, who felt such strong emotional connections during sex, found himself wanting to say "I love you" during/after intercourse even when he was having a one-night stand.
It felt so obvious to me. OF COURSE. Have we gotten so off-track as a society that we have no awareness that sex was meant to be a means of bonding a couple and making their relationship complete? Isn't that the very definition of consummating a relationship?
I forgot about all this soon enough. Until I listened to a podcast done by really smart people. Scabs sent it my way, and it rocked my world. It validated all my feelings about pornography and masturbation. I can't do it justice, listen to it or read it here.
But here is one [long] quote:
This is where neurochemistry comes in, too. Sexual climax involves incredibly powerful chemical events that can even be analogized to the effect of powerful drugs. Both make the brain perceive incredible pleasure. Because of neuroplasticity (the brain’s tendency to rewire itself so that a stimulus and its response are closely associated with each other), sexual stimulus will be associated with its incredible neurochemical reward. Some of the chemicals that are released during sex are the same as those released after a woman gives birth. And just as these chemicals help a mother to bond with a newborn child, they also help sexual partners to feel bonded to one another.
But when sexual stimulus comes in the form of masturbation, completely devoid of the sharing and vulnerability and complementarity of marriage, then the brain can become wired so that it is primarily masturbation that produces the reward, and an individual can become increasingly unable to sexually respond to a spouse. Masturbation and intercourse are simply different. One who masturbates frequently has a very direct knowledge of what actions bring pleasure most effectively. It can be difficult or impossible for a spouse to reproduce the pleasure that a masturbator has learned how to produce on his or her own. Thus, sexuality, if not expressed in the context of a loving and devoted relationship, turns inward and becomes a focus on self. It is spiritually dangerous to use
sexuality for self when God intends for it to be used to help us overcome our love of self.
Even if he wasn't meaning to, even if it was on a subconscious level, Pete was resenting the fact that I couldn't do exactly for him what he wanted. He felt totally entitled to all the pleasurable (in terms of neurochemistry) experiences porn and masturbation brought him. And when I failed to provide those experiences for him - which I often do because it's hard to feel emotionally connected to an addict- he got more resentful of me. It is another nasty cycle. I had my resentments too, and they were all about sex. I hated it. And more I hated it, the more I could see Pete's disappointment in me.
I get what they mean when they say it's not about sex. I really do. But pornography and masturbation addiction took sex as I knew it, or at least as I idealized it, and made it hideous. It was like someone put my favorite entree in front of me, and then heaped a spoonful of dog poo in the center of the plate.
"Just eat around it. The rest of the food is delicious, just avoid the parts that touch the fecal matter."
Thankfully I've got a stellar therapist. And if I say it's about sex, she listens.