Dr. David Fawcett

Arousal templates are “maps” in the brain of what we find sexually appealing. Each person has a unique and highly individualized arousal template created by a variety of factors. Most of our arousal template is formed by the time we are 4 to 6 years old, even though we are not yet sexual. That said, as we age, elements can be added to (uncovered within) our arousal templates. The “adding to” process is often facilitated by pornography. For many people, this can be freeing. For others, it can be disturbing.

When Arousal Templates Become Problematic

Arousal templates, as we uncover new elements, can become problematic, creating relationship issues, trouble at work or in school, depression, shame, anxiety, financial issues, legal problems, and more. They may become:

  • Fixed, rigid, and obsessive
  • Unhealthy, maladaptive
  • Inappropriate, in violation of our values
  • Inappropriate, in violation of other people’s boundaries
  • Paraphilic (kinks and fetishes to the degree that they are disturbing to us and negatively impact our life)

Can We “Fix” a Problematic Arousal Template?

Over time, we can add elements to our arousal template (or, more accurately, we can uncover latent and repressed elements), but we cannot eliminate elements. We can’t un-bake the cake, so to speak. What we can do is choose to not act on elements that create problems in our life or that we find unsettling. For example, a bisexual man who is married to a woman can choose to accept but not act on his attraction to other men.

But what happens when the arousal template becomes fixed, rigid, and obsessive? What happens when the intensity of certain fantasies overruns other elements of the arousal template to the point where we cannot be sexual without those fantasies? Is there no hope when this occurs?

Happily, there is hope. Although unwanted elements of an arousal template will always be part of the arousal template, it is possible to step away from those behaviors. This can be accomplished by limiting the attention we give to those elements of the arousal template. This means we cannot think about or masturbate to fantasies of these behaviors. (Masturbation reinforces these fantasies and keeps them at the forefront.) We also cannot look at porn depicting these behaviors, nor can we engage in them in real-life or even skirt the edges of engagement.

At the same time, we must rediscover healthier elements of arousal. Essentially, we must remember the things that turned us on before our fantasies escalated, and we must reintegrate these turn-ons into our sexual and romantic fantasy life.

The good news about refocusing on less intense sexual pathways is that they open the door to emotional intimacy and connection with our partners – something that is lost completely with an escalated arousal template. Many individuals that I have worked with over the years tell me, as they progress in their process of healing and recovery, that even though their sex life is nowhere near as intense as it once was, it is far more enjoyable because of the sense of connection they now feel. They find that the intensity of emotional intimacy with a loving partner is significantly more rewarding than any high they could ever get from the more troubling elements of their arousal template.

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If you or someone you care about is struggling with sex or porn addiction, help is available. For sex addicts, Seeking Integrity offers a low-cost online workgroup series. Click HERE for information. Seeking Integrity offers a low-cost online workgroup series for porn addicts. Click HERE for information.