Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Sex addiction?

Following on from yesterday's post, I decided to look a little further in search of evidence for the claim that vibrators can change the brain.  As I suspected, there does not appear to be any that specifically links the two. Research into obesity has, however, linked over-eating with a change in the activity of dopamine receptors.  In this article in Psychology Today, a similar change is suggested may occur with the over-use of sexual stimuli.  The evidence produced for this, however, appears to be purely anecdotal.  I have no problem with the idea that such a link may be correct but would hesitate to assert it as fact until it is demonstrated to be so.

Be that as it may, the article focuses on over-eating and the link is made with excessive use of sexual stimuli, whether that be porn or vibrators.  The effects of over-eating are plain for all to see, for the individual concerned will clearly be overweight.  Experimental subjects are therefore easy to identify.  Over-indulgence in sexual stimuli, however, gives no such external evidence and thus it would be hard to devise any trial.  Researchers would have to rely on their subjects to self-identify.  In the area of personal sexual habits, "excessive" is very often a matter of subjective judgement.  For a devout Christian one visit to a porn site in a month could be excessive, whereas for another person an hour or so a day would be considered unproblematic.  Furthermore, people lie.  No control group can be guaranteed to contain only occasional users or total abstainers.  These problems may be possible to overcome but, as far as I can see, no such study has been undertaken.

I do not deny that many people experience distress around their sexual behaviours. A gay friend of mine, in the years before Gay Lib, experienced such severe distress about his sexuality that he volunteered for the most brutal "treatments" from aversion therapy to hormone treatment.  None worked, of course, and his distress continued throughout the time I knew him.  He was, he assumed, sick both spiritually and mentally and the psychiatric establishment of his time fully accepted his self-diagnosis. He was, however, not sick.  He was simply gay.

For the father of sexology, Krafft-Ebbing, homosexuality was a perversion.  So were all other deviations from the missionary position.  Rape, however, was not.  Rape was merely an aberration since it did not preclude procreation.  On typing this, I am reminded of the Catholic moral theologian cited by Uta Ranke-Heineman in "Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven" who decreed that it was morally preferable to rape one's mother than to masturbate.  Which is, of course, the prime purpose of both porn and vibrators.

When I was young, I would and could masturbate to climax several times a day.  Age has taken away both the desire and ability to do this.  I need time to recover.  That is a simple and inescapable fact. In some ways  I regret the demise of that horny youth.  But there are far more ways that I do not. I do not now think that the habits of my youth were excessive.  I did, however, then.  For masturbation was surrounded by taboo and guilt.  It was a cause of both pleasure and pain.  It was not a subject really fit to mention.  Even today, when things are more open, it is a handy term of abuse to call another a "wanker".  (Of course, he almost certainly is so the insult always fits its target!).  In those days, when sex was always on my mind (far more even than today), I would not consider myself addicted, however.  I was within the range of normal - although my guilt and shame may have been greater than some.

I recently came across a comment on another blog that referred to me - not by name, but it was clear who  was meant- as a self-confessed sex addict.  I cannot remember using that term, for I do not believe that such a condition exists.  I like the company of women, both sexually and socially, and am even more fascinated by them than I ever was, so I fully accept that I could be seen as a womaniser - another word the commenter used.  I have also behaved in the past less than honourably and that is a matter for regret. But this is not, and has not been, a regular feature of my life.  I have a relatively high libido and this in itself is not a problem either for me or anyone else.  I am glad of it.  It is part of who I am.  There were, granted, long periods of celibacy, while I was a single parent, which I did not enjoy so much.  For those years masturbation was the only option that seemed available, so that is what I did.  I am not, however, an addict.  I never have been.  At least, not to sex.  Alcohol and tobacco, certainly.  Other drugs, perhaps.

The whole extension of the addiction model into areas that do not involve the ingestion of substances seriously disturbs me.  For the word addiction implies that a chemical dependency is built up so that withdrawal from the substance involved causes acute and often dangerous physical symptoms.  That cannot be said of gambling, sex or any of the other behaviours which have now been given the label of addictions.  Compulsions they may well be but they are not addictions.

I am highly suspicious of the current trend to pathologise sexual behaviour as addiction.  While accepting that there are many people whose sexual habits cause them distress and for which they need help, it seems to me that many of the advocates are more concerned with maintaining the Judeo-Christian moral codes than they are with the needs of the individual.  When I  was in AA I remember people identifying themselves as alcoholic because they would have a couple of drinks when they got home from work.  They did not report the physical symptoms or the all-consuming cravings that come with addiction.  They were not addicts.  They merely used alcohol to relax.  But it troubled them that they did so.  It went against their moral code.

This is, what I believe,  what is happening to many of those who seek help from sex addiction counsellors.  Their desires and sometimes their subsequent behaviours conflict with what they believe is the divinely ordained model.  Rather than questioning the model they then pathologise their own sexuality.  It is somehow preferable that a desire, that for others may be normal, becomes for them an illness rather than accept that what they perceive as  their god may have got it wrong.  Further, without being overly cynical, I have to note that there are many people within the Conservative Christian Community earning a living offering treatment for this imaginary condition.

For me, as I travelled along the path of the Goddess, it became necessary to accept and love myself as a sexual being, with all that that entails- pleasant and unpleasant.  The journey has not been easy, with manympainful lessons to be learnt.  I am nowhere near the end, but I am closer than I was at the beginning.  On a larger scale, I think that the Goddess Movement as a whole must move towards a morality that is realistic, and non-judgemental with consent at its centre.  No behaviour between adults with consent should be any concern to those not involved, but equally, any behaviour without consent must be recognised as the concern of the larger community.  For we are all Her children and we all will make mistakes and none of us are damned.

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