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FALSE INTIMACYUNDERSTANDING THE STRUGGLE OF SEXUAL ADDICTION
By HARRY W. SCHAUMBURG
NAVPRESSCopyright © 1997 Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat is Sexual Addiction?
Tony, a young college student, had been adopted at age seven. He had never felt fully accepted by his adoptive family because he didn't resemble his new parents and because later on they had a natural child.
In high school, Tony started masturbating and looking at pornography to give him a good feeling and ease the loneliness.
But the loneliness continued to haunt Tony as he entered college. The more he struggled academically, the more he used pornographic magazines and masturbation to alleviate tension.
After a while he needed a greater "high," so he began calling 900 "Dial-a-Porn" numbers. "This really met a need in my life," he later told me. "Those conversations helped me feel less lonely."
* * *
One afternoon a woman in her early thirties called me and described for ten minutes how she would compulsively pick up men. "I've been with at least three hundred men, most of them total strangers," she recounted. "I spend a large portion of every day meeting men who are willing to have sex with me. It doesn't matter whether they are young or old, clean or dirty. I just want to have sex with them." Then she told me that she had often been beaten up, raped, or robbed by the men she picked up.
"Do you think it's possible," she asked tearfully, "that someone who will have sex with me will also love me? I'm not sure I can get help. I feel out of control, but it's the only way I can be loved-even though I know those men don't really love me. But I can't give up being 'loved.'"
The fourth and final time she asked if she'd ever be loved, she hung up. I never heard from her again.
* * *
Stephen started to masturbate in high school. In seminary he progressed to pornography and frequently rented X-rated movies in hotel rooms when he traveled on church business. He married a fine woman, began raising three children, and enjoyed his pastoral duties.
As time passed, however, stresses increased. In his mid-thirties, Stephen began using Monday, his day off, to cruise the city and pick up prostitutes.
"I use prostitutes as a way of relaxing from the rigors of ministry," he said. "I deserve it after working very hard the rest of the week."
* * *
What do these people have in common? They are sexually addicted. This addiction occurs throughout all classes of American society. People from all walks of life-Christians and nonChristians, rich and poor-tenaciously pursue sexual behaviors in order to help alleviate their relational pain and make themselves feel good, satisfied, and in control.
Fueling this behavior is a growing market for sexually oriented goods and services that supply the demand. Motel rooms often provide X-rated movies as a "service." Escort services abound. Nearly every hero or heroine featured in television soap operas is sexually involved with someone. Neighborhood stores rent and sell pornographic magazines and videos. Child sexual abuse is all too common, as are stories of religious leaders who "fall."
Not surprisingly, people have struggled with sexual issues and problems from earliest times. The Bible, for instance, records numerous examples of people who committed sexual sins, although we have no way of knowing whether they were sexually addicted. Shechem, the son of a heathen ruler, raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob (Genesis 34:1-2). Temple prostitutes regularly solicited business as part of the religious rites of the nations surrounding Israel (Deuteronomy 23:17). Amnon forced his sister Tamar to have sexual relations with him (2 Samuel 13:1-21). Samson spent the night with a prostitute (Judges 16:1). King David chose to watch a naked woman bathe and, consumed with lust, had an extramarital affair with her and then had her husband killed (2 Samuel 11:1-17).
Opinions vary widely on what causes sexual addiction and how to treat it. In the Bible, God sets forth clear boundaries for sexual activity and emphasizes people's need for repentance and salvation from sin. Critics of this teaching argue that the Bible's view of sin ignores the influence of family dysfunction and other factors in the development of sexually addictive behavior. Mental-health professionals debate whether sexual addiction is a disease over which sex addicts have no control or the result of choices influenced by sin. So first we must confront the fundamental question, What is sexual addiction, and how does it manifest itself?
What Is Sexual Addiction?
As we look at a description of sexual addiction, let's begin with the range of normal sexual responses within a marriage relationship. Think of sexual behavior as being on a continuum:
In the normal experience of sexual relations, both spouses experience times when they are interested or uninterested. Typically, one spouse is interested while the other is temporarily uninterested.
A number of factors influence a spouse's level of sexual interest, such as physical appearance, emotional mood, fatigue, or resentment. For example, picture a married couple who hasn't made love in several days sitting on the couch watching television. The husband looks at his wife and is sexually attracted. He moves closer to hold her hand and place his arm around her. As he begins to kiss her, she feels distracted from the television show and expresses only mild interest compared to his. So he remains where he is but doesn't kiss her anymore. Later, they may come closer together on the continuum of interest and make love.
Farther out along the continuum, a person can move beyond relatively fulfilling sexual relations in a marriage toward some level of sexual tension. This divergence can be illustrated on the following continuum:
The person who is sexually repelled has moved beyond the natural cycle of increasing and decreasing sexual interest and developed a "take it or leave it" attitude-or has even lost all interest in sex to the point of personal revulsion. Barring medical reasons, this person is dealing with other relational issues that are impacting his or her sex life. These could include: loss of emotional satisfaction in the marital relationship, previous negative sexual experiences, anger and resentment, or stressful circumstances.
The person who is engrossed in sexual relations, on the other hand, desires frequent sexual relations. In a dating situation or marriage relationship, the sexually engrossed person-typically a man-will pressure his partner to have sex. Such pressure may be uncomfortable, even to the spouse who willingly makes love. The discomfort will increase if she feels that he is having sex more for his own pleasure than to enjoy genuine intimacy with her. As she becomes emotionally ambivalent, she will often move toward becoming sexually repelled.
Table 1.1 describes five people who are facing varying sexual issues. Clearly, persons A and C are sexually addicted, according to how we'll define sexual addiction later. The others face sexual issues and are grappling with what I will call false intimacy.
Let's define some terms we'll be using throughout this book.
Perfect intimacy: This refers to the pre-fallen relationship Adam and Eve shared. Naked and unashamed, they joined sexually and relationally with the fullest of pleasure, without hesitation or a hint of self-doubt.
Real intimacy: This is the sexual and relational intimacy two spouses share within their committed, loving marriage. Self-doubts exist, but the couple communicates together and enjoys each other relationally and sexually. Given the reality of a world of imperfect relationships, both partners face disappointments. Within the enjoyment of real intimacy, both partners experience fear of being exposed, fear of abandonment, fear of loss of control, and fear of their respective sexual desires. In their sexual expression, both are dependent on and open to what the other spouse will do.
False intimacy: This is essentially a self-created illusion to help a person avoid the pain inherent in real intimacy. False intimacy can be as slight as a husband who looks at his wife and imagines her having lovely, long brown hair. Something much deeper is reflected in his imagination. Expressed simply, he desires more than he has and demonstrates that he senses something is missing. False intimacy is always present in sexual addiction.
Here is a complete continuum of intimacy and dysfunction:
A person who is sexually revolted has a lifestyle of sexual repulsion. Sex for this person is consuming, for it must be avoided at all costs. A person who is sexually obsessed, on the other hand, lives for sexual pleasure. Sex is again consuming, for it must be obtained at all costs.
Let's look at several illustrations.
* * *
Sharon, a successful middle manager, dresses in business suits. Competent and organized, she is ready to handle any situation presented to her. Currently divorced, she has rarely enjoyed sex. During her marriage, she faked orgasms to please her husband. During sex, her mind either wandered or she felt repulsed by the thought of being touched sexually. When she finally shared her feelings honestly with her husband, he left her and remarried.
Now that she is single, Sharon often thinks about sex and finds it disgusting and repulsive. As she did in her marriage, she often finds herself avoiding contact that might lead to sexual relations. Men find her physically attractive, but when they approach her Sharon's response is limited to flirting.
Sharon is afraid of intimacy, of being close, of being sexual, and of losing control in a way that might result in further relational pain. On the surface, she seems to be sexually revolted, but sex doesn't actually consume her. For the most part, she is hiding in the security of false intimacy-as she relates to herself, to others, and to God.
* * *
John, thirty-four and single, masturbates as often as three or four times a day. He is moving toward sexual obsession. When he isn't masturbating, he is sexualizing the women in the office, planning to masturbate, or thinking about an X-rated video he saw the evening before. Often he turns in work late, misses meetings, or is late for work because of his masturbation. His problems at work are growing. He has received his last warning for late arrival.
* * *
Gail, twenty-six and single, is a secretary who began masturbating as a "source of comfort." Three years ago, she started having affairs with married men at the office. They want to be with her, which she likes, but they don't want emotional involvement, which suits her fine because that's what she fears most. She is moving toward sexual obsession but is relationally uninterested.
* * *
What do these people have in common? They are all involved in false intimacy. For them, their location on the continuum defines varying levels of sexual interest, sexual activity, and deviation from real intimacy. But regardless of where they fall along the progression, their goals are the same. Each wants to avoid the pain of real intimacy and obtain a sense of relational satisfaction-even if it's counterfeit-through false intimacy. Their motives are strong and rarely analyzed, which can lead to extreme behavior, many risks, and destructive consequences.
How irrational and out of control can a person become in the pursuit of satisfaction and the avoidance of relational pain? A behavioral phenomenon called "autoerotic asphyxia," originally thought to be a form of suicide among teenagers, gives us some idea. In this condition, a person shuts off his or her oxygen supply while masturbating or having sexual relations. The purpose? Intensified orgasm. The consequences of misjudgment? Death.
Sexual addiction is the term commonly used to describe sexual obsession. A sex addict is willing to be destructive to self and others, even breaking the law if necessary, to achieve sexual pleasure. However, we must not assume that sexual addiction is an attempt to find real intimacy. In actuality, it's an avoidance of the pain often caused by real intimacy. In effect, a sex addict creates a pseudo relationship with something or someone who can be controlled, such as a picture, an actor on the video screen, or a prostitute.
Once we understand that the primary goal of sexually addictive behavior is to avoid relational pain-essentially, to control life-we can begin to uncover the core problem. Sexual addiction occurs when individuals reach a level of sexual activity that they feel they can no longer control. As addicts become obsessed with sex, they are in danger of deeply misusing it, and at some point they lose control over their sexual behavior while trying to gain control over relational pain.
Core Issues In Sexual Addiction: Not Just an Addict's Problem
It's misleading to look at the continuum, particularly the obsessive end, and rather pharisaically think or say, "I may at times be engrossed with sex, but never to the point of becoming a sex addict." Instead of simply examining our behaviors to see if they are destructive or out of control, each of us needs to identify which factors move us anywhere along the line of deviation.
For example, when my wife lacks interest in making love with me, how do I respond? If I casually dismiss my own resentment, however slight, that buried emotion might push me into some form of emotional and/or physical withdrawal.
What about when we decide to use sex as an attempt to relieve the tensions of a demanding day rather than as an expression of love? Plowing through difficult tasks that remind us of our inadequacies may motivate us to approach our spouse with the subtle and perhaps unconscious motivation that says, "Come on, make me feel better about myself-respond!"
As we look at the core issues of sexual addiction, the similarity between the sex addict and the person who uses sex to relieve stress or who withdraws when his spouse isn't interested in having sexual relations is striking. Placed in that situation, some of us may pout; others may masturbate, move away from relationships, read pornography during out-of-town trips, or rent X-rated movies in hotel rooms. Regardless of whether these behaviors in and of themselves can be excused as harmless, they are still the result of a desire to use false intimacy to meet certain internal goals-often the same goals as those of the sex addict!
Internally, each of us is committed to avoiding relational pain. In the right context, this desire to avoid pain is actually a healthy response.
Excerpted from FALSE INTIMACY by HARRY W. SCHAUMBURG Copyright © 1997 by Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg. Excerpted by permission.
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