Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sexual Morality-- You're Doing It Wrong.

Yeah...I employed another cheap blogging trick to lure you in. I made a blanket statement that whatever you are doing is "wrong" so that you would click on the link and angrily try to find an argument about how what you are doing is actually right. This, like pretty much anything else I write about, is one person's (mine...if you couldn't guess) experience and how adopting a new perspective on sexual morality has helped me and hopefully helped several of my clients. There are few things that I would tell anyone they are doing flat out "wrong" unless, of course, what you are doing is creating a list of the top 5 best superheros of all time and you include Batman on your list (you guys, lets stop this charade...Batman is NOT a superhero...he's pretty much just a rich ninja). 

As a therapist on the Wasatch Front of the great state of Utah, you can bet that I have seen my share of clients who have dealt with/are dealing with some type of issue related to sexuality in one form or another. Throw in the fact that I am a gay male, married to a woman, and a member of the LDS Church and what you basically have is all the makings of what might be seen as a sexual time-bomb, ready to cheat on his wife, disgrace the church, and usurp his life's work at any moment. I know there are several people out there sure that I am either in complete psychological denial, or that I am "white-knuckling" every minute fighting off sexual urges and temptations and that some day soon everything's going to fall apart. The truth is, I don't blame anyone that for believing this way, because there was certainly a time in my life when I would have thought the same thing. 

To steal a line from free-minded hippies of the 70s or from a creep trying to use a really awful pick-up line: "Humans are sexual beings." While I do not fit in either of those two categories of people...I agree with the sentiment. Sex is part of the plan people. And yes, I'm saying that vaguely so it can be applied to anyone's "plan." If you are a strict atheist, big-bang theory kinda gal--sex to you is perhaps an natural instinct to ensure the survival of the species...part of the plan. If you are a God-fearing strict creationism kinda guy, sex is a God given drive to create families and connections...its part of your plan too. 

I believe it is vitally important to distinguish the difference between teaching appropriate sexual morality and flat out being scared of sex (to include sexual feelings, thoughts, urges, temptations, etc.). 

As a member of the LDS church (and I would venture to guess that other religions have done this as well), when I think of Sunday school lessons on the topic of sexual purity, I can recall the use of the story of Joseph of Egypt and Potipher's wife. If you are not a religious person and don't know what I'm talking about (hey, we don't discriminate here!) let me recount it for you: 

Basically, Joseph does a lot of really awesome things to go from being sold by his brothers as a slave, to being 2nd in command in Potipher's household (which if I learned anything from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, this house was all kinds of sequence-y!). Potipher's wife, who we assume was not at all bad too look at, started to grow something of a crush on Joseph. Being the powerful bureaucrat's wife she was, she was used to getting what she wanted and she apparently went for it, telling him to "Lie with me" (classy line, Potiphar's wife, classy line). Later, she got a bit more aggressive with her advances and "caught him by his garment" (take a hint sweetie, when you have to grab clothes or do any amount of dragging...probably not a good sign for you). 

I remember as an impressionable youth that the key point of the use of this story was that when she tempted Joseph with an offer of lustful passion he "left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out." I committed that to memory: "sexy lady tries to tempt you, run like hell" (you may be recalling at this moment the aforementioned "gay" quality I possess and you have correctly assumed that this did not seem extremely complicated to me). However, this lesson might be more simply put: "Feeling something sexual? Run like crazy! Leave your clothes behind if you have to!!" 

As well intentioned as this lesson is...I have seen over and over again how this pattern of thinking creates addicts. 

One of the lines that I find myself saying over and over again in therapy is "anytime you attach anxiety to a thought or feeling, you have the potential of making it compulsive." And I speak out loud what is often a familiar thought pattern for a religious young and/or sexually anxious person:

"Whoa, that lady has a nice butt...oh crap, I'm not supposed to be thinking about that, she's a daughter of God not a sexual object!...avert your eyes....Ok, here I am...not thinking about that nice butt...CRAP! I'm thinking about it again...Ok, sing a hymn...'There is sunshine in my soul today'....sunshine, like on a beach...where I would love to see that butt in a bikini...AAHH! I'm going to hell!  That hymn just made me think of a hot girl in a bikini!...think about something else!...something not sexual...uuhhh...ducks...bunnies...Playboy bunnies...AHHH!"

How long do you think it will be before this kid can't take the pressure anymore and eventually just looks up some porn and masturbates? He will likely then be wrought with guilt, causing him to have even more anxiety the next time he sees a nice butt, and thus you see the start of a problematic pattern. (and lest you think that the answer to the problem is that the girl needs to not wear such obviously form fitting pants...that's NOT the answer. I didn't even say what she was wearing, maybe it was some baggy culottes, it doesn't matter, she isn't responsible for this...but that's a topic for a different blog post).

One part of the Joseph story that I never really heard about or perhaps didn't pay attention to is the fact that Potiphar's wife told him to "lie with her" (again, very subtle move on her part), over and over again over the space of at least "day after day." 

What?! Why didn't he freak out and run as soon as she tempted him in the first place?! I mean, he is really righteous right? Shouldn't he have totally just fled the scene? I think that perhaps there is something to be learned from Joseph's example here, and its not that he must have been gay. Perhaps Joseph knew something that I believe we really need to teach our children and solidly learn ourselves: 

I can feel sexual feelings and that isn't sinning. In fact, I'm created to feel those feelings. Also, I can feel sexual feelings and choose not to act on them, cause guess what? I'm not a dog. 

It's so important not to be scared of your own sexuality. Mostly because it would be like being scared of getting thirsty...its gonna happen. How messed up would we be if every time we got thirsty we deemed ourselves a failure of some kind or had a lot of anxiety thinking "I should have been over this whole 'needing water' thing by now!"  It just doesn't make sense and our bodies were created for it. 

This is the point at which, many people that I talk to look at me with dazed faces and say something to the effect of  "So I'm just supposed to have no guilt about my sexual thoughts or feelings? You don't want that to happen!" and I totally understand this feeling. When you are someone who has grown up taking very seriously the example of Joseph fleeing so fast that only his clothes remain just like a cartoon, you start to believe that your anxiety is the ONLY thing keeping you from being a total sexual glutton. When I make these suggestions you might start to think "If I totally got rid of guilt and anxiety about sexual feelings...I would just be sex-ing-it-up all over the place!" But that, my sexually frustrated friend, is totally false. 

While I don't work exclusively with gay LDS men, it does make up a large part of my practice outside of the hospital setting. And, what might surprise you is that therapy with this population is not all about repressing your sexuality so that you can marry a woman. In fact, most of the therapy we do is learning to become comfortable with your sexuality so you can make anxiety-free decisions about what you want to do with your life. Another one of those things that I say so frequently that I should probably just go ahead and cross-stitch it onto a pillow is "You need to become comfortable with yourself no matter what direction you want your life to take, because it is the same kind of thinking that makes for really unhappy/uptight mormons or super slutty gay guys." (Now I really want a pillow that says that...who can cross-stitch?). 

This idea of detaching anxiety from your sexuality is important whether or not you are a religiously driven person. People with anxiety attached to their sexuality generally act out on it in ways they later regret and live a life trying to find fleeting ways to be fulfilled in ways that only self-acceptance and understanding can do. 

So then what do I do with all this sexuality?! It's just gushing all over the place?! 

First...take a shower, a cold one. 

Second, I believe it is helpful to take a more mindful approach to sexual thoughts and feelings. 

Mindfulness is a therapeutic approach that has a lot of different applications and concepts, but one of the major ones is the idea that feelings serve a purpose and they are neither good or bad, they just are. Being in a state of mindfulness involves having a non-judgmental observance of your feelings. 

When I have a sexual feeling or's there. It's not going to help anyone, especially myself, to try to live my life pretending like it isn't there. And it certainly won't help to be scared of it because, like I have mentioned previously, it happens and is supposed to (remember how we don't flip out about feeling thirsty).  I am going to make my life a whole lot easier if I can learn to calmly acknowledge that the feelings or thoughts exist, accept them for what they are, and then make an informed choice about what I want to do with them (that special ability we have that makes us different than dogs). 

So if our anxiety-ridden kid in our example adopted this concept his thoughts might go a little bit like this: 

"Whoa, that lady has a nice butt. I've noticed before that butts are a turn-on for me. Interesting. Anyway, what was I doing?" 

I get that if you are someone with a history of anxiety about these kinds of things it is going to take awhile to get to that point of cool, calm observation...but that is the goal. No judgements about what an awful person I am for thinking that. No freaking out about trying to get rid of it as fast as I can. No compulsively and frantically trying to rid myself of evil. Just a calm acceptance of my feelings for what they are. I believe that in this way, we are actually following the admonition given by Mosiah in the Book of Mormon to "watch your thoughts," by actually watching them. I'm pretty sure he didn't say that you must "freak out and have a panic attack about your thoughts" but maybe I misread.

Think of thoughts or feelings like a bird flying in your ear into your brain. Too often when that thought is a sexual one, we attach an anvil of anxiety to its feet and all that does it make it freak out. It frantically flaps around making a mess and the only thing you can do to stop it is to let it freak out until it dies of fatigue or hold it down and suffocate it (neither one of those are a pretty picture). Instead, how about a calm observance of its presence ("oh, interesting, that bird is back") watch it sniff around and decide to leave cause its bored. You didn't feed it and invite it to stay, but you also didn't attach a thousand pounds of anxiety to it and give it no other choice. 

In short, cool your jets. True sexual morality comes when you can mindfully make a choice about what to do with your feelings, not when you scare yourself out of feeling anything in the first place.


  1. Very well written! How does one get a hold of you for a session?

  2. I appreciate all your thoughts Blaine. Keep them coming:)

  3. I agree with detaching anxiety. It helps me see how the pleasure/guilt cycle works with addictions.