In 2008, the Mayo Clinic published a case study of treating compulsive sexual behaviors with pharmaceuticals:
A male patient first presented to a psychiatrist (J.M.B.) at age 24, with the explanation, “I’m here for sexual addiction. It has consumed my entire life.” He feared losing both marriage and job if he could not contain his burgeoning preoccupation with Internet pornography. He was spending many hours each day chatting online, engaging in extended masturbation sessions, and occasionally meeting cyber-contacts in person for spontaneous, typically unprotected, sex.
The story is a familiar one. A young man seeking sexual activities outside of his marriage or relationship experiences guilt because of his compulsive behaviors. He feels he cannot stop and is at a loss for solutions. He wants to be good, by whatever measure his culture dictates, but feels he can’t.
The term “sex addiction” is the new darling of sensational media. The narrative of an addict is a compelling one, their struggle with external forces in the world leaves much room for pity. After all, this isn’t their fault but the fault of the pesky stimulus hijacking their tender neurological reward circuitry. Right?
Not really. The picture of compulsive sexual behaviors is far more complicated than (male) brain + (non-monogamous) sexual stimulation = addiction. Dopamine may indeed play a role in all compulsive behaviors but the narrative of porn as an external factor that takes over your system is a false (and overwhelmingly Christian) explanation that fails to recognize sexual histories and user conceptions of sexuality.
As a burgeoning sexuality student I had a mild obsession with the human implications of bonobo sexual behaviors. They were like this unshared secret of zoology, hidden from sight on nature channels because of apparent prurience and I wondered if we could locate some inherent sexual truth about humanity by looking at bonobos. But doing that means locating the same truths in chimpanzee behavior. Human predilection towards rape, war, and infanticide would be just as valid as promiscuity, cooperation and sex for the fun of it.
In evaluating and understanding our own, often confounding, sexual behaviors I think it’s a mistake to hold any other animal up as an ideal or try to identify immutable parts of our sexual behavior by observing them. Continue reading →
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror running my hands over the marks he’d left on me. Little nibbles and scratches, like sexual graffiti on my skin. Flashes of his flesh surged through my mind and I smiled as I fantasized about what we could do the next time.
And then it hit me.
A knot of post-sex shame tangled inside of me. I’d violated the most primary tenet of female sexuality: Continue reading →
Humans are not prairie voles. We are not guinea pigs or mice. We’re humans.
Pop science loves to trot out research on rodents to confirm or challenge behavioral assumptions. But what the writers often miss is that our behaviors are shaped by far more than food, fights, flights and fucking. Humans are highly complex social primates and, because of this, our responses to the world can be difficult to explain with simple biology or neurotransmitters.
And yet, as a recent porn hysteria post at The Good Men Project demonstrates, we still love clinging to these simplistic notions. The writers cite our dopamine reward system as evidence that porn’s excitement is ruining marriages. Continue reading →
Yesterday I did a take down of the myth of the sexually aggressive male using science. Now I want to share some stories as further proof that we’re buying into a harmful lie.
In my teen years I regarded romance as something created by men to convince women to have sex with them. My very few unsatisfying sexual experiences combined with a rabidly sex-negative culture reinforced my viewpoint that sex was solely a man’s prerogative.
The tired trope of aggressive male sexuality is a pervasive one. The story goes like this: because men are full of testosterone and sperm as well as unhindered by the consequence of pregnancy, their sexuality is naturally brutish and promiscuous. Testosterone fuels aggression, billions of sperm want hundreds of outlets and nature failed to offset these desires with physical dangers associated with reproduction.
The compliment to this heterocentric sex story is that women, with their limited eggs, lack of testosterone and pregnancy burden are naturally chaste and self protective. Any sexual adventurousness or licentiousness is only done to please men and keep them around so they will help with the child rearing.
A simple and neatly packaged explanation of human sexuality. But it’s wrong. Let’s do some debunking. Continue reading →