Archive for the ‘Sexuality’ Category

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Phantom Affairs

March 14, 2014

phantomAuggie and Tami felt the emotional distance between them. They fought, made up, fought some more, made up less often, fought more vigorously, didn’t make up any more. They didn’t know what the other was angry about, but constantly replayed their own story of hurt in case anyone asked. No one did.

Tami filed for divorce first, but Auggie was willing too. They settled their legal differences amiably and spared the world the bother of having to listen to their public complaints. A year later and they legally didn’t have to contact each other for any reason.

Yet for some reason, they kept in close touch. They met for lunch and endlessly dissected the reasons why their marriage fell into the toilet. That’s when and why they came for counseling. They didn’t desire to resurrect their relationship, but they wanted me to do a post-mortem with them on the corpse that was their marriage.

After meeting three times, I discerned the basic reason for their marriage failure and I shared it with them. At first, they were both confused. Then they denied it was true. It was almost a year later Tami came back and admitted I was right. I don’t know if Auggie ever agreed with me.

Here was their problem. They both had someone else. They both had chosen another person over their partner.

Yet neither of them had a physical affair. Neither of them had met in clandestine circumstances to give their love to another person. But they had still chosen someone else. Once they began doing that, it was inevitable it would ruin their relationship.

We wrongly assume that affairs have to actually involve knowing and interacting with the other member of the tryst. Today, there are multiple warnings about emotional affairs, relationships between married people that do not result in sex. These can be devastating of course. As Laura Berman observes,

Emotional cheating (with an “office husband,” a chat room lover, or a newly appealing ex) steers clear of physical intimacy, but it does involve secrecy, deception, and therefore betrayal. People enmeshed in nonsexual affairs preserve their “deniability,” convincing themselves they don’t have to change anything. That’s where they’re wrong. If you think about it, it’s the breach of trust, more than the sex, that’s the most painful aspect of an affair and, I can tell you from my work as a psychiatrist, the most difficult to recover from.

However, neither Auggie nor Tami were enmeshed in emotional affairs. They discovered some of the alternative ways we can tie our hearts to another person without them being aware we are doing so. Let me outline the most common ways we do this:

Old Flames: A healthy person continues to process their memories long after they have experienced the original happenings. We must do this to be emotionally grounded. We need to understand what has taken place in our lives so we don’t develop the wrong ideas about our history. But when we spend an inordinate amount of time processing past romances–and especially when we do this to replace time spent thinking about our spouse–we conclude that those days were better than these. The current troubles always pale in comparison with these idealistic memories.

Romantic Novels and Movies: One wouldn’t think you could form attachments with fictional characters, but psychology has proven that this is not only possible, but certainly widespread. Yes, there are women who imagine themselves in the arena with Peeta, or men who see themselves as Danaerys’ companion. this explains the almost fanatical appeal of some fan-bases. This intrudes on a marriage when the spouse replaces their affection and admiration for their partner with the character they have obsessed upon. People can also imagine celebrities and read every article about them, taking time and mental energy away from their spouse and pouring it into a famous person.

Pornography: Most people reading this assume porn is all about taking affection away from a spouse. Actually, it is not as common as with the first two examples. Most men use porn as a mechanism to deal with relational pain, especially when they use porn to stimulate themselves.

But there are indeed some men and women who picture themselves with the people in the videos. This causes them to make constant mental comparisons between the porn stars and their partners. As I said, this is not the most common use of porn–it is most likely a pain manager–but it does exist. When a person uses porn to mentally replace their spouse, it can destroy a marriage.

Co-workers, neighbors and professional acquaintances: Throughout life, there are people who treat us well, affirm our value through their words and deeds, and give us comfort when we are emotionally distraught. When they do not receive these things from their spouse, they place even greater value on the person who is willing to give them these things. Though they do not approach them for a deeper emotional attachment, they remember how they gave us something desperately yearned for. Counselors find this happens regularly in the counseling office. Those we counsel with often form attachments based on appreciation for the help we give. Doctors, nurses, teachers, therapists etc. all have to set careful and obvious boundaries so clients do not expect to have inappropriate relationships. But just because there are boundaries, the person receiving help can fantasize about how wonderful it would be to have a deep intimate relationship with their help-giver. Perhaps neither party acts upon this and the two of them maintain a professional relationship. But the one person magnifies the other past the point of help to a much deeper bond. This can be done with people at work, neighbors we have come to know more than casually and family friends.

Horror stories are told of people who assumed someone else felt as strongly as they did in the relationship, only to find out the affection was completely one-sided. The mind has the ability to fill in both sides of the relationship, assuming the kind words and actions are proof of an intimate connection.

Auggie and Tami both had these phantom affairs and had maintained them for a long time. The upshot of this error is that every mistake their spouse made was compared to these phantom ideal people. In their minds, the phantoms would never have treated them this way.

In Auggie’s case, he obsessed about old girlfriends. Tami focused on a man who lived across the street who appeared to treat her with the respect she had always longed for from her husband. Neither of them sought out a romantic partner outside of their marriage, but the phantom partners provided the manure for all of their resentments to grow.

Strangely enough, a year after divorcing, Tami dated the man across the street. After the second date, she realized he could really be a jerk. Coming home that night, she cried over her lost marriage. She began to see how great a mistake she and Auggie had made.

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Sexuality is Not an Absolute Need

July 30, 2013

Henry the 8th’s father codified it for the first time in writing, but the concept had been around forever. Because Parliament was beginning to erode the rights of the King, he decreed that a king had the right to have sexual relations, and if his wife was not agreeable to him (beautiful, willing, etc.) he could choose to have sex with anyone he wanted; as long as he stayed married to his wife.

Of course, his son carried on this tradition, fathering children with a half dozen women, at least, and certainly carrying on sexually with over 100 different women during his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Much of his court followed suit, making formal what had been practiced informally for hundreds of years. Even Catholic priests were allowed to have concubines and sexual dalliances, the Church acknowledging the right of every man to have sex whenever he wanted to. The only exception was that this sexual congress had to be with unmarried women. A cuckolded husband could take revenge on the man who slept with his wife. A wife did not have the same legal right, though many women got their revenge anyway.

Today, though laws have changed, the basic belief is still with us. Most people, including Christians, believe sexuality is a basic need. And if sexuality is a need, then everyone should have sex. Religious groups claim that God has placed boundaries on sexuality, but no major religion denies that sexuality is a basic need and right.

But is this really true? Is sexuality as large a need as we have come to think it is? Let’s look at it from several angles and then piece together the truth.

1. Sexuality as a basic need. In his notorious “Hierarchy of Needs, Abraham Maslow proposed several needs form the bottom level of the pyramid. These are so important that a person cannot live without them. They include air, water, food, sleep, excretion…and Sex! But if you look at the list carefully, you will notice something unusual. All the other elements are necessary for life. If you don’t breathe, you die. The same is true of food, sleep and water. But you cannot say that with sex; not by a long shot. There are people who go their entire life without sex. Some would consider these people outliers, but are they really? Estimates are that 2% of the human population has no desire for sex at all. Another 15% will never have sex in their life. Another 15% have had sex, but have chosen not to continue to have sex. If sex is a basic human need, then we would expect all those numbers to be close to zero. Therefore, sexuality is not a basic human need.

2. Sexuality as an Evolutionary Function. Jared Diamond in his paper “Why is Sex Fun” says that sexuality in humans no longer has the same evolutionary function as it does in the animal kingdom. Animals primarily have sex when the female is in estrus (when she is ovulating). Now, they may have a lot of sex during estrus, but it is primarily related to those times when pregnancy is most possible. But this is not the case with humans. We have sex when pregnancy is not possible, as well as when it is. Humans continue to have sex even when the possibility of pregnancy is long since past. And we do not seem to have sex only with desirable partners. If that were the case, only about 5% of the population would be having sex. And evolutionary models cannot explain homosexuality and recreational sex at all. So sex, though it is practiced by every species, is not primarily an evolutionary function either.

3. Sexuality as an Absolute Right. This is the one now where humanity is settling as the most logical category to place sex: It is now considered a human right. Whether a person is heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or transgender, those who advocate for human rights are saying that the right to be sexual, and to choose one’s partner freely, is one of the basic rights of civilized society. But even this distinction falls short based on the boundaries that all societies place upon it. For instance, the western world does not legally allow for polygamy. Nor do we allow professionals to have sex with their clients, people over 18 to have sex with those under 18, sex with animals and sex in a public place. If sexuality was an absolute human right, then all of these expressions of sexuality should be allowed. Because they are not, then all we can conclude is that sexuality is considered a human right, until someone decides there are limitations upon those rights. That means sexuality, though a limited human right, is not an absolute human right.

So, if sexuality is not a basic human need, not an evolutionary necessity and not an absolute human right, what is it? About all we can say is sexuality is a biological function, necessary for reproduction and continuation of the human race and certainly satisfies some of our desire for intimacy and fun. To say it is anything more than that is to go beyond the facts.

So why should we be concerned as followers of God about the definition of sexuality? I see four trends in today’s North American church that bother me , and which indicate we are not walking in the Spirit when it comes to our sexuality:

1. Making sex the most important virtue or sin. If sex was as basic a need as eating, then we could put the promiscuous person on a level with those who are gluttons. But often, we treat them as worse than a glutton, vilifying them to the level of the Scarlet Letter, ostracizing them from the community. We idolize virginity, when it is just an indicator a person has not chosen to become sexual, punish those who have chosen to be sexual, and do it all with very little logical reasoning.

2. Making sex too important in marriage. A number of preachers have recently bought into a trend of encouraging married couples to have sex every day for a week, or two weeks, or a month. They all claim that the marriage will be stronger at the end of that time. Baloney! As a counselor, I can affirm that having sex at a time when there are relational issues will only make the situation worse, not better. These ideas may have more to do with preachers who want more sex at home, and want their congregations to see them as more hip and culturally relevant; while still appearing to be biblical. There is no biblical precedent for telling married couples to have all the sex they can. That makes a mockery of sex, and places it too high in the hierarchy of ways to make a marriage strong.

3. Assuming everyone should want sex and telling them they should all be married. There is a resurgence of teaching on the Cultural Mandate – the idea that we are still commanded by God to go out and “multiply and replenish the earth”. This makes no sense at all. We are closing in on 8 billion people on this planet and telling people to marry with the primary goal of bringing more children into this world is criminal. I believe Paul’s focus in 1 Corinthians 7, telling people they should abstain from marriage in order to serve the Lord more completely, has been lost in our day. It should be found again.

4. Neglecting the Value of the Eunuch. In Matthew 19, Jesus has a discussion with the Jewish religious leaders about divorce. Though he emphasizes that divorce was never God’s intention, he also sees that people will opt for this route and he warns them of how it can divide their souls. Then, his disciples got exasperated and claimed that perhaps marriage wasn’t as good an idea as everyone thought. That’s when Jesus makes a pithy statement about sexuality. He tells them there are three categories of eunuch. (The English word “eunuch” means to be castrated, but the Greek word meant “asexual”, as in not sexual).

Here are three reasons why someone would not want to have sex. First, because they were born that way. I do believe that genetics affects our sex drive, perhaps even directs the object of our desires. Many people are born with very little, if any, sex drive. Second, there are some that become asexual through physical means. This most commonly means castration and was practiced in the courts of royalty to ensure there were guards looking after harems who were not sexual and posed no threat to the women. Some people are asexual because of hormonal imbalances and the results of cancer. Third, there are those who choose to be asexual. Jesus explains they do this in order to serve God.

Have we forgotten about this option? Not only have we forgotten about it, some have sarcastic ┬ánicknames attached to people who do not have sex. We certainly don’t tell people there is any virtue in abstaining for a lifetime or for a period of time. But both Paul and Jesus make it clear that asexuality is a clear and reasonable state for the follower of God. Though they both make clear that not everyone can accept it, it would be best for us to pull away from our sex-obsessed culture and realize for a moment there are virtuous reasons to abstain.

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