If you suspect sex addiction is an issue in your relationship, it might be hard to even ask someone about it, if you don’t feel you can you openly discuss S-E-X.
Sex continues to be the news in some surprising and shocking ways. And now it’s being characterized as being potentially addictive. From the reported misdeeds in the sports world, to the political arena, to celebrity disclosures, stories about this seemingly new addiction are popping up regularly. You may have begun to wonder if you or your partner might have a problem. One of the first steps in the investigation is to talk to your partner. But how do you begin the conversation?
Our society gives us mixed messages about sex that are both prudish and wildly open. Sex sells. Sexuality is used to get our attention. In advertising for milk, cars, and sports, we are bombarded by images of women’s breasts, legs, and hair. But advertisers don’t present sex as an expression of intimate loving connectedness. We are inundated with sexualized images and messages, while often after years of marriage a husband and wife can’t speak openly about their sex life, even with each other. We don’t learn about how sex is connected to love, or even about the natural intimate connection that comes through the pleasure of sex. In order to investigate the potential addictive qualities of sex, first we need to be able to have a conversation about the beauty of sex.
My husband, George, and I work with couples from all over the world who are dealing with the sexual addiction of one of the partners. Now George doesn’t have any difficulty talking about sexuality anywhere—with friends, strangers, or family, at a party, or in the grocery store line. It wasn’t so easy for me. When I first met him and we began to have conversations about his struggles and triumphs in the world of sexuality, I had to learn how to converse about a subject that until then was off-limits, and certainly forbidden territory for conversation in “mixed company.” If I could find my way out of that bunker of silence, so can you.
When I was first introduced to George and he told me that he ran a center that counsels sex addicts I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and shout la-la-la-la-la. I determined in that moment that this was someone with whom I would certainly attempt to avoid future conversation—particularly if it involved discussing s-e-x. But life does seem to have a wily sense of humor. Not only did I marry this man with the oh-so-embarrassing career, I joined him in his practice so that now I too, when asked what I do for a living, have to speak that “sex” word coupled with the term addiction. And when the person who has asked the question blankly responds, “oh… really?” and changes the subject, I imagine they may be having their own fingers-in-the-ears kind of moment.
I grew up in a conservative household in Oklahoma after all. I learned that sex was a subject that was not talked about. My understanding and conclusions that came from how sex was discussed (or more accurately not discussed) were that sex was absolutely private, that speaking about it was unseemly, and yet somehow inside the container of a marriage there was some kind of “good sex” that was allowed and blessed by God.
At the same time I was a part of this culture where, as a girl, beauty (and sexual appeal) was rewarded with attention, favors, and success. Barbie was the ideal woman. She had Ken and that Barbie dream house after all. My Barbie needed the finest in order to adorn her perfect female form. I longed for designer clothes for my Barbie dolls and made those I couldn’t afford. Each year I watched the Miss America pageant knowing I would never measure up to that ideal. With my friends, I poured through magazines seeking advice on how to present ourselves in the most appealing ways. Without any kind of awareness of it at that time, I can now see that I was a victim as well as a willing participant in our culture of sexualization and objectification.
The transcendence of any of our deeply acculturated belief systems requires us to challenge the unexamined conclusions from our past. This can be hard to do because they feel like the load-bearing walls inside the structure of our “me-ness.” Our love, connection, and interest in another can work like a carrot to a horse leading us to look at assumptions that were put in place so long ago that they are now almost imperceptibly running the show. For me to be able to stay present and participate in the deepening of my connection with George and his world of sex and addiction, I had to challenge some unseen rules.
The avoidant discomfort that came up around the very mention of his avocation was like a bell, ringing “investigation required here.” I have learned that staying with the uncomfortable feeling is a link to my connection with humanity. After all, any discomfort or fear I may have is certainly being felt by many others. In this way, discomfort does not need to be avoided, but can be embraced in a compassionate way for myself—and for all of us. The discomfort I may experience about discussing sexuality can be met in a way that opens the doorway to a deeper exploration.
If your sex life is unsatisfying or uncomfortable, it’s time to speak about it. If you suspect that your partner may have an issue with sex addiction, you can voice your concerns. To talk about sex, first many of us have to get over the hump of the prohibition we have about the subject. To do that it can help to acknowledge and put aside prejudices, fears, and preconceived notions.
When the investigation is about sex and sexuality, many of us can feel the inhibitions of embarrassment, shame, and just plain shyness. Like everything else, if we can begin see the internal machinery that is telling us what is right, good, proper, allowable (or not allowable), we then have a chance to confront the assumptions running the show and even in the discomfort of the assumption, make a choice to challenge the old story. Despite our busied lives, careers, children, and even sexual difficulties, it really is possible to open a conversation and create a closer relationship with your spouse.