Monday, May 27, 2013

Addiction culture and sexuality

I've thought a lot about addiction and I'm starting to think that it's a term that's getting thrown around too often. I have participated in 12-step programs like Al-Anon and Codependents Anonymous over the years so I'm not without sympathy toward those with addictions and the people who love them; be it drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex.

In Utah it would appear that a major addictive force is pornography. The LDS Church even sponsors 12-step based recovery groups for people with this addiction. I've attended some of these meetings and came to a couple of realizations. 1) I am not a pornography addict; my experiences with porn don't fit the definition of what an addiction is. And 2) I don't think that some of these addicts are addicted to pornography as much as they are addicted to shame and guilt.

Many religious cultures tend to be a bit repressive when it comes to sexuality and Mormon culture is no exception. LDS theology teaches that sex and sexuality are gifts from God and are to be expressed only between a lawfully married husband and wife. But that doesn't mean that people can't talk about it, whether they're married or not. When the subject of sex comes up in certain circles, the conversation is often nipped in the bud by someone who shoots from the hip with the statement "sex is sacred" and nobody talks about it further. I don't think this is a healthy attitude. Yes, sex is sacred within a religious context but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's also a defining characteristic of humanity and nothing to be ashamed of. Every time some uptight person drops the "sacred" bomb into a conversation, it shames others into silence. This creates an impression in others that sex itself is shameful, which it isn't.

Some people within the culture are brave enough to acknowledge that their sexuality is part of their identity as human beings and as sons and daughters of God. Unfortunately, sometimes these simple expressions of sexuality are labeled as "addictive behavior" by others who don't have that same courage; or an overdeveloped sense of guilt and shame.

Among those who "struggle" with pornography addiction are married people. This always threw me for a loop. Why on earth would someone who is happily married even want to go near pornography. I can't help but wonder, for at least some of these couples, if perhaps their spouse is one of these uptight individuals with an unhealthy attitude about sex. Maybe they aren't willing to talk about it. Thus driving their spouse to find sexual fulfillment elsewhere, in secret and with shame. But this is purely speculation on my part and I don't mean to imply that this is always the case.

I think this culture needs to get over its sense of shame and guilt, especially where sexuality is concerned. Shame and guilt are not gospel principles. They don't uplift. They tear people down and to tear someone down over what's arguably an important and integral part of their identity as a human being is terrible.

I also think its important for single adults to take the time to talk with their potential spouses about sex and what they might want or expect in a physical relationship. It's healthy to have these conversations and a good way to avoid unexpected "surprises" once the couple is married. This all comes down to honesty between partners and being willing to be open about very personal and intimate thoughts in regard to their sexuality; turn ons, turn offs, quirks and even kinks. In the end, we are all thinking a lot of the same things in regard to sex, so we might as well talk about it.

1 comment:

  1. For me, the concept of being a "pornography addict," including the 12-step programs and other types of therapies generally utilized in Utah or within Mormon culture to treat individuals who view pornography, was not very helpful at all. In fact, some of counsel I received from well-meaning bishops, therapists, etc. made it feel like my situation was hopeless--that I should continue to do what I was doing and just accept that I couldn't change. When I finally got help from another therapist (who happened to be an Anglican priest in addition to being a clinical psychologist) who helped me to see my pornography use as one obsessive behavior in the context of a generally obsessive personality, I was able to move on and stop viewing.
    I think you are right about the guilt and the taboo nature of sexuality within Mormon culture. We can't just flip a switch from "don't look, don't touch, don't think about it" with young men & women, missionaries, etc. to "go multiply and replenish the Earth" with newlywed young adults. I believe that age-appropriate discussions about sexuality with parents and others, creating an open environment where children and youth feel free to ask questions about all subjects, and having adults who are mature and informed enough to give informed and respectful answers will do much more to help young people cultivate healthy sexuality and ultimately foster marital intimacy that shame-based silence could ever hope to achieve.