David Fawcett PhD, LCSW
In my previous post to this site, we discussed the four cornerstones of eroticism, as delineated by Jack Morin in his highly regarded book, The Erotic Mind. Though each cornerstone is not in play in every sexual fantasy, at least one and sometimes more than one will be present. As stated in my previous post, the four cornerstones are:
- Longing and Anticipation
- Breaking Taboos
- Searching for Power
- Overcoming Ambivalence
Notably, all four of Morin’s cornerstones straddle the line between attraction and obstacles. Basically, we want something, but if for some reason it’s not easily had, we find ourselves wanting it all the more.
Secret sexual desires, especially those that arise based on one or more of the four cornerstones of eroticism, are incredibly powerful, often to the point where they overrun a person’s arousal template, causing other, perhaps emotionally and relationally healthier elements of the arousal template to fade into the background.
When substance abuse enters the mix, the intensity may be further heightened, or it may be easier to engage in secret desires because inhibitions and feelings of sexual shame are reduced. Often, both factors are in play. When substances and sexual behaviors are combined, they create a set of super-stimulating behaviors that quickly reset the baseline level of stimulation required for pleasure to very high levels. In practical terms, this means that the food, hobbies, and even the people we love are no longer as satisfying or pleasing as they once were. Even worse, the people with whom we have intimate relationships may be unable to match our fantasies in a way that sparks erotic interest.
Here are some examples describing the impact of substance abuse combined with each of Morin’s cornerstones.
- Longing and Anticipation – Joseph, a 33-year-old gay man, finds straight men unbearably attractive, simply because he can’t have them. About five years ago, he started using alcohol and then meth to disinhibit himself enough to approach these men. Rather quickly, he found that meth could be used as an enticement – a trade of drugs for sex. Now, his meth use and sexual behaviors are almost inextricably intertwined. These behaviors are also out of control and creating serious life consequences.
- Breaking Taboos – Thomas, a 30-year-old self-described “nice guy from Kansas,” says he gets more turned on by prostitutes than the women he dates, and that part of the turn-on is knowing that if his friends and family knew what he was doing, they’d be shocked and disappointed. Because he spends so much of his life as an upstanding citizen and family man, his secret sexual life has created serious anxiety and depression, which he’s been self-medicating for several years with alcohol. Recently, he started drinking on the job, and now he is worried he’ll get caught for that as well as his use of prostitutes.
- Searching for Power – Chantelle is a single, 27-year-old self-described “pencil pusher” at an accounting firm. She says that as the only woman of color at her workplace, she often feels singled out, watched, and judged. In her sex life, she has eroticized these feelings by engaging sexually on webcams, where she is alone and being watched by others. She says she is ashamed of her online behaviors and typically needs to smoke marijuana or swallow a few pills so she can loosen up enough to make herself available in this way. And after she acts out sexually via webcam, she takes a handful of anti-anxiety pills to diminish the shame she feels.
- Overcoming Ambivalence – Neal is a 35-year-old African American medical doctor raised by his mother after his father passed away at a young age. His mother spent so much time making ends meet that he rarely, if ever, got any positive attention from her, though when she did respond in a loving way, his feelings bordered on ecstasy. Today, Neal finds himself perpetually chasing preoccupied, emotionally unavailable women. He also says the “chase” is more of a sexual thrill for him than the actual sex. Since his teenage years, he has used cocaine before looking for sex. He says the drug helps him feel more confident, smoother, and more attractive. He also says that, unfortunately, the drug inhibits his sexual performance, and that several of the women he’s hooked up with have been disappointed.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with sexual behaviors, with or without the added element of substance abuse, help is available. For residential treatment, online lecture series and workgroups, and weekend workshops, contact Seeking Integrity. For free resources, including blogs, podcasts, webinars, discussion groups, and more, visit SexandRelationshipHealing.com.