Sexual Intelligence, written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.
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Each month, Sexual Intelligence® examines the sexual implications of current events, politics, technology, popular culture, and the media.

Dr. Marty Klein is a Certified Sex Therapist and sociologist with a special interest in public policy and sexuality. He has written 6 books and 100 articles. Each year he trains thousands of professionals in North America and abroad in clinical skills, human sexuality, and policy issues.

Issue #224 – OCTOBER 2018


Another Guy Who Isn't A "Sex Addict"

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He was 50, married, and he had all the symptoms of "sex addiction." Let's call him Joe.

As he travelled the country lecturing (he was a pioneering ear surgeon), he'd hire an escort to spend the night with him. He'd lie about it to his wife, of course. He became a regular—or rather he had a few "regulars"—in cities he visited frequently, such as Chicago and St. Louis. What had started 12 years ago as an occasional treat eventually became a virtual necessity.

While he wanted to be an attentive father and husband, he worked long hours and was emotionally distant from his sons and his wife. His sexual desire for her was erratic—sometimes overwhelming her, other times leaving her disappointed and confused. Always a frequent masturbator, he became a devoted consumer of online pornography. He put up profiles on and OKCupid, although it was only to cruise, never to actually hook up.

He eventually got caught. The escorts were the big headline of course, an institutionalized, long-term infidelity that completely outraged his stunned wife. But once the matter was opened, his over-involvement with porn, the mercurial desire for his wife that seemed not quite personally connected to her, his periodic inappropriate comments to waitresses, flight attendants, and baristas, all became fair game for her angry and frightened outbursts.

"I love you, which for me is simple," she said bitterly. "What's wrong with you?" For once, he told the truth: "I love you, but for me, that's complicated," he said.

He promised he'd stop with the escorts, but didn't. He agreed to share his online passwords, but simply opened new accounts. He took down his profiles on Match and OKCupid, but found other websites on which to cruise.

And that's how it was when they came into my office. Two years after he'd been caught cheating, they were trapped in a cycle of his promising, her believing, and him lying and getting caught again.

Over and over. She was terrified of losing her marriage, and outraged at the repeated humiliation. He was tired of her monitoring him, of her "still processing her feelings, after two whole years," and of her periodic suspicions.

When they came to me they were getting "sex addiction" treatment, which their individual therapists had both encouraged. As the spouse of an "addict," she was in S-Anon, endlessly talking about her trauma and her "co-dependence." He was going to Sexaholics Anonymous meetings, but not regularly, and he was reading about the 12 Steps, but not quite enthusiastically.

She wanted me treat his "sex addiction," and he was willing to do almost anything to end their nightmare of mistrust and chronic conflict.

But in the very first session, I told them that I don't use the category of "sex addiction."

"You don't treat cases like this? You won't see us?"
"I do treat cases like this, all the time, actually. I just don't use the ideas around sex addiction to explain people's behavior, or to make treatment decisions."
"What do you do instead?"
"I do therapy. Couples counseling or individual therapy, as seems appropriate."

Although they were skeptical, they decided to see me anyway.

And that's what we did—therapy. During the course of our work, here's some of what Joe realized:

* He turns to sex when he feels lonely.
* Because he knows his wife loves him, there's a limit to how proud he feels when she tells him he's great. He gets more emotional value from strangers' appreciation than from his family's. And sex workers are the perfect strangers.
* He makes promises about calling or texting his wife when he travels for work. But then he feels so controlled when it's time to contact her that it's a struggle to keep his promises. For him, not calling is a small adolescent rebellion that feels oddly satisfying. But her experience is that for him, giving into these feelings is more important than their marriage or his commitment.

In fact, we talked about what other non-sexual feelings he has that are so strong he finds it difficult to keep his commitments. It was eye-opening for both of them.

Mostly Joe talked about these things—with his wife. She didn't like some of what she heard. I gently encouraged her. When she tried to avoid or limit conversations by saying she was "being triggered," I gently encouraged them to continue. When he tried to avoid or limit conversations by referring to her obvious discomfort, I discouraged him.

And so they talked. They fought, but they were fighting about new things, and eventually they were fighting in a new way—as partners attempting to find truths, rather than as adversaries trying to persuade each other about who was wrong.

I didn't tell Joe what he couldn't do (like use pornography), so he didn't have to defend his autonomy with me. Of course, he got defensive anyway, periodically feeling misunderstood and judged.

We talked about that as part of our relationship. She observed us. He thought about it. They talked about it. They were watching intimacy in action. They practiced it. They cautiously liked it.

He backslid, hiding a few inconsequential things for seemingly no reason. Of course. I interpreted this: yes, he was wrong, but he wasn't bad. This was big news for both of them.

He voluntarily disclosed more about what he had done in the bad old days—months after he had supposedly told her everything. She wailed about him victimizing her again. I reframed this, encouraging them to celebrate it. Backed by a number of websites, she once again insisted on "full transparency." I suggested something slightly more modest, so he could succeed and she could enjoy it.

She's still waiting, I think, for the "full transparency." Do grownups really provide that to each other about important topics? Your favorite flavor of ice cream, sure. But your sexual fantasies, your sense of guilt for not being a better spouse, your secret flirtation at the airport? It isn't easy, and if it comes, it rarely comes all at once.

Therapy continued, all three of us working our butts off. He developed a new standard of sexual behavior for himself, which he seems to be living up to. She's still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Her therapist says she has PTSD. I don't think that's helpful. It strikes me as a heavy burden to place on this woman, who is still upset, maybe a little too upset, almost three years after her husband's betrayal with professional escorts.

They're not done yet. In fact, now comes the hardest part: crafting a new relationship built on an honest presentation of who they each are and what they each want. It's not "romantic." But it just might work.

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Masturbation Madness—Can It Kill You?

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According to the new No-Fap movement, there's an "epidemic" of "urges" to "fap"—to masturbate. To stem this destructive rampage of addiction and self-harm, there are programs all over the web—and even in-person conferences—designed to help men stop masturbating.

Guys who take up the No-Fap Challenge for 30, 60, or 90 days are aiming for a life "free of" masturbation. A "hard-core" version of this challenge even excludes partner sex for as much as a year. These guys—almost invariably still in their '20s—say they're looking for freedom, self-discipline, and higher self-esteem.

Great goals. Bizarre (and rarely successful) strategy.

No-Fappers say they want to transform their sexual energy into vitality for work, sports, and love. This reveals more than they perhaps intend. Why does sexual energy need to be "transformed?" Part of what's hurting Americans is that they're putting too much of their libido, their eros, their chi into work and sports, and not enough into sexuality—truly nourishing sexuality, not the junk food of drunk sex, perfunctory quickies, and guilt-ridden porn-watching.

So why are young guys trying so desperately to stop jacking off?

1. They're finding it hard to connect with women.
2. They notice how much easier it is to masturbate with porn than to connect with women.

There are good explanations for these things: Over-dependence on smartphones is reducing people's in-person relationship skills. And young people are delaying their developmental launch—in their mid-20s many still have limited privacy, limited financial autonomy, and therefore they lack the infrastructure to couple up.

Simple solution: jack off every night with Cheeky Butts and Ophelia Rump. And in the grand American tradition of pathologizing masturbation, there's now an entire industry designed to help guys stop. They even recommend cold showers—the oldest non-digital solution ever.

My pal Paul Joannides (author of the world-famous Guide to Getting It On) has created a devastatingly funny parody of these Fapstronauts and those who exploit them, here.

He even explains what the extinct dinosaur T Rex teaches us about masturbation.

Meanwhile, here are few reminders about the No-Fap flap, including talking points so you can challenge one of these guys if you meet him in a bar.

* No one abandons a vibrant partnered sex life for masturbation.

If a woman complains that her guy won't have sex with her, don't blame masturbation. If they can't create sex that's compelling, or he's just not into her (or women or people), don't blame masturbation.

* If a person masturbates with porn too much, don't blame the porn.

He may be obsessive-compulsive, bipolar, or a little Aspergers; or insecure or sexually inexperienced; or ashamed of his preferences; or a million other things that make people find simplistic ways to soothe themselves without others.

* There's never been a credible study showing masturbation is bad for you.

Masturbation itself is completely harmless. In fact, the feel-good chemicals it releases at orgasm are good for you.

And masturbating with porn? It doesn't rewire your brain, doesn't create crazy ideas about women (only a life without women can do that), doesn't cause erection problems (anxiety about women or sex will do that), and doesn't make men go out and rape (unless they're violent, sadistic, and Machiavellian to start with).

Any time you see a claim that masturbating with porn does these awful things, look at the author's credentials. Anecdotes aren't evidence, passion isn't expertise, and belief isn't science. Even if your book or video has a great title and lot of views.

* * *

Of course, there are many good reasons to masturbate.

Sure, it's a low-cost, low-calorie source of pleasure. Beyond that, it's an excellent analgesic for temporary or chronic pain. It helps you fall asleep. It helps supplement relationship sex if there's a desire discrepancy. It keeps people simmering if they're in a long-distance relationship.

It makes you feel glad to be alive and it helps you look forward to the complex adult sex you deserve and hope to have with someone someday (or tomorrow night). That's pretty close to the definition of healing.

Thanks again, Paul, for giving us a savagely funny laugh. The rest of Paul's videos are fantastic, too. Check 'em out here.

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Fantasy vs. Desire—You Know the Difference, Right?

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There's a new book out about sexual fantasy and it's half wonderful.

Social psychologist Justin Lehmiller has recently completed the largest American study of people's sexual fantasies, interviewing over 4,000 respondents. He discusses the results in his lively new book Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You.

To summarize (drum roll, please): humans are a sexually diverse group, with an enormously wide range of sexual fantasies. And those fantasies are generally not polite, or wholesome, or respectful of boundaries. Quite the contrary. That's actually the point of sexual fantasy.

The data reveal seven major themes in respondents' thousands of fantasies. The most common is multi-partner sex, followed by power, control, and rough sex; novelty and adventure; taboo and forbidden sex; partner sharing and non-monogamy; passion; and gender bending.

This information could reassure lay people, and educate therapists. For example, knowing that many devoted spouses fantasize about being with someone else, or watching their mate with someone else, can help professionals be non-judgmental and comforting when confronted by a patient wracked with guilt. Similarly, it would improve so many lives if people didn't get so upset about their partner's fantasies—which are generally pretty harmless.

Confirming all the previous work done in this area, fantasies of being forced to have sex were extremely common in Lehmiller's large sample—enjoyed by nearly two-thirds of women and over half of men.

The data Lehmiller presents validates decades-old qualitative studies by Nancy Friday, Lonnie Barbach, Shere Hite, Jack Morin, and others. In fact, everyone who has ever studied sexual fantasy has come to similar conclusions about the prevalence and range of sexual fantasy. Power, variety, adventure, taboo-breaking—they are the core of our longing and curiosity. We experiment with them vicariously—and harmlessly—through fantasy, saving ourselves from the unwanted consequences of exploring them in real life.

For years, social scientists have documented the connection between sexual fantasies and guilt, shame, and anxiety. Therefore, accepting our fantasies is a key to mental health and relationship participation. Reducing the inhibitions driven by guilt, shame, and anxiety can actually increase couples communication, whether the subject is fantasy or not.

Another benefit of the book is how it can help calm people about the use or effects of pornography. Internet porn is a visual library of human sexual fantasy. The enormous range of fantasies, and their recurring themes among both men and women (power, taboo-breaking, novelty, etc.), shows that pornography is not alien to human consciousness, but an expression of it. Porn is what it is because human sexual fantasy is what it is.

So why do I say this book is half wonderful? Two reasons—both foreshadowed by the dreadful subtitle.

The first is how it equates fantasy with desire. In my clinical experience (along with thousands of questions and comments to my website and blogs), most people do not want to enact their sexual fantasies. Sex with several people? Sex in public? Being raped? While these are extremely common fantasies, most people aroused by them would not actually behave that way if given the chance.

When straight patients tell us they fear their same-gender fantasy means they're gay, or female patients tell us they're confused by their violent fantasies, we can simply ask "do you want to do those things?" When patients say "no," we can encourage them to trust what they know about themselves, making it easier to accept the fantasy as entertainment.

Similarly, the book speculates about the meaning of various fantasies. I think this is a mistake for both lay and professional readers. You might as well try to divine the "meaning" of someone preferring one kind of music, or one flavor of ice cream, over another. People are self-conscious enough about their eroticism: why they prefer short men over tall, why they prefer cunnilingus over intercourse. It's far more important for people to accept that their fantasies don't indicate that they're perverse or dangerous than it is to engage in the parlor game of "what kind of person gets aroused thinking of being spanked?"

Fortunately, a reader can ignore both of these weaknesses and still find the book valuable and enjoyable. The writing is clear, informal, and describes human sexuality in a recognizable fashion.

Anything (when ethical) that helps therapists be less judgmental, and helps people be more sexually self-accepting, is a good thing. Human imagination is unique among all creatures. The same neurological capacity that allows us to dream of being cruel allows us to create music where none exists. The brain that can imagine and design the Golden Gate Bridge will inevitably imagine sexual feelings and behaviors that violate every value a person holds dear.

Such an imagination is not to be feared—it's to be celebrated.

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