The Search for Sexual Sanity Continues

The Search for Sexual Sanity Continues

June 2011   Now that Representative Anthony Weiner is reported to be seeking professional help, one question seems to be on many people’s minds: Help for what? That’s not clear.  Sending suggestive photos of oneself to young women is clearly personally and professionally hazardous.  But does it reflect a disorder requiring treatment? Common sense would say that it’s certainly a symptom of something.    But of what? There’s no real consensus about how to approach the issue. For example, there’s the question of whether such behavior might represent an “addiction.” Many people, myself included, think there’s something to the sex addiction idea.  But that the term over-simplifies something that’s often more complex.   We should also keep in mind that it’s not so easy to be sexually sane these days.    As a country, we’re very conflicted about sex.   We’re sensation-seeking and puritanical at the same time.    As my West Coast colleague Marty Klein writes concerning the Weiner affair, we’re fairly hypocritical about which sexual conflicts get labeled as scandals.   And there are people like Betty Dodson who say we might do better to just chuck the whole notion of sexual pathology. I recently returned from the annual spring meeting of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR), where this year the meeting featured a debate concerning whether or not certain kinds of hypersexual behaviors should be considered addictions. There are arguments to be made on both sides, and the matter is by no means settled.   Eli Coleman, a leading figure in the field, prefers the term “Impulsive/Compulsive Sexual Behavior (ICSB).” I like ICSB —  it hews closely to...
Eros and Technology:  Jonathan Franzen in The New York Times

Eros and Technology: Jonathan Franzen in The New York Times

SmartPhone Love “A couple of weeks ago, I replaced my three-year-old BlackBerry Pearl with a much more powerful BlackBerry Bold. Needless to say, I was impressed with how far the technology had advanced in three years. Even when I didn’t have anybody to call or text or e-mail, I wanted to keep fondling my new Bold and experiencing the marvelous clarity of its screen, the silky action of its track pad, the shocking speed of its responses, the beguiling elegance of its graphics.” So begins Jonathan Franzen’s essay, “Liking is for cowards. Go for what hurts,” in this week’s New York Times. Franzen goes on to discuss how our infatuation with new devices may ultimately diminish our human capacity for certain forms of human love.   The essay raises important concerns about how consumer devices appeal to our human need for self-affirmation – thus helping to make us even more narcissistic than we already are. As a sex therapist, I couldn’t help also responding to the erotic elements in Franzen’s essay.  The author “fondling” the device.  His experiencing the “silky action” of its track pad.   And his later noting that “our technology has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful . . . a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.” I’ve lately been immersed in a new book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts,  that also takes technology as its subject – in this case,...
The Elements of Desire

The Elements of Desire

Fourth in a series of articles discussing A Billion Wicked Thoughts, a controversial new book by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam that uses the internet to study human sexuality in some new and unusual ways. Photo credit:  Pedrosimoes7 via Creative Commons   There’s an App for That Much like your average personal computer, the human brain comes outfitted with a whole lot of cool software right out of the box. There are programs for language acquisition.  An elaborate visual processing suite.  Apps for learning to crawl — and eventually to walk without falling down.  And a myriad other functionalities that are more than simply the sum of their neuronal parts.  All pre-set and ready to run, from the moment you plug the thing in. Which is a good thing.  Because otherwise we’d have to learn everything from scratch. Decades of infant research have demonstrated that babies from the moment they’re born know how to bond with their caregivers, and how to cry when their diapers need changing.  By the time a young child learns to crawl, she  already knows to fear heights — without being taught.  Later she’ll most likely automatically crave sweets and fear bugs. The fact that all this fabulous software comes pre-installed is nothing short of astonishing — especially considering that all the instructions for building and installing it are present in a single cell at conception.   Born to Learn According to the authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts, we’re all born with sexual desire software as well — designed to help us find suitable mates. Early in fetal development, according to this model, human males and...
The strange new science behind “A Billion Wicked Thoughts”

The strange new science behind “A Billion Wicked Thoughts”

     A Shocking Discovery It’s not so unusual these days for a woman to discover pornographic pictures on her husband’s computer.  But the images that one wife found recently were especially shocking.  Her first thought when she found them was, “This is the end of our marriage.” Her next thought was, “This is the end of civilization.” The pictures were of nude women, ordinary looking women, except with big erect penises where their female genitals should be. Some were clearly computer-manipulated photographs.  Others seemed to be some kind of Japanese cartoon.  She’d wasted no time in calling her therapist. Was he gay? No. On the internet, there are enough images of real men with erections, in all possible guises and permutations, to satisfy even the most novelty-crazed gay man. Was his nature in some way secretly feminine?  Absolutely not.   Women don’t go looking for pictures of erect penises. A woman may appreciate it when a living, breathing male partner has become erect out of desire for her.   But only after he’s proven his worth in other ways. So what was the husband’s problem? When I polled colleagues, their response varied from “Never heard of it, but it sounds pretty sick,” to “Steve, you don’t get out enough. This kind of stuff has been around forever.”   Some Light on the Subject Last month I received an advance copy of a new book of sexual research, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, that explores the matter of women with erections and many other sexual subjects using an interesting new method. In the space of a single year, using publicly available data, authors Ogi Ogas...
New York City Sex Therapy Diary:  The Other Side of Saturday Night

New York City Sex Therapy Diary: The Other Side of Saturday Night

Photo credit:  pedrosimoes7 via Creative Commons   Want to Test Your Knowledge of Male Sexual Psychology?   Take this quiz: QUIZ:  It’s Saturday night.  Paul, 25 years old, is on a date with a new woman whom he likes very much and finds very sexy.  Unfortunately, later that night when they undress together, he suddenly has no erection.  She is very understanding and kind, and tells him it’s OK. QUESTION:  What will Paul most likely do in this situation? A.  He’ll feel reassured, and they’ll go on to have a wonderful evening together. B.  He’ll go home very depressed and spend the rest of the night feverishly masturbating to prove to himself that he can still get hard. You all know the answer — it’s B, right?  Loss of an erection — what we call Erectile Dysfunction, or ED — in the presence of a new partner.  It’s one of the biggest psychological catastrophes that can happen to a young man. Despite over 20 years in the sexuality field, I’m not sure if I understand exactly why ED is so dramatic for men.  But it is.  Men’s partners often tell me that the worst part of living with a man with ED is dealing with his moods after an episode of erectile failure. When ED is due to psychological factors, it often occurs right before intercourse.  Which is another mystery.  The fact that a man’s erection should suddenly lose power in anticipation of intercourse is a source of confusion for women.  They worry that they’ve somehow turned the man off. Why would a man, or his penis, slam on the brakes in...