Intensity or Intimacy?
Bill finds himself fantasizing more and more about other women – while having sex with his wife.
Sharon has had between twenty and thirty affairs with other men (she claims she’s lost count!). Her husband apparently knows nothing about it.
Larry has lately been downloading pornography on his office computer, some-times up to two hours a day – on office time!
All of these examples illustrate the choice of intensity over intimacy. They are examples of sex addiction, where sex is a form of drug or substance to be abused. In each case, intimacy is being replaced by intensity, a true connection of love replaced by an artificial high, an addictive seeking for powerful feelings at the expense of another. Sex has become a commodity. In fact, in the process of sex addiction, people have become a commodity too.
Sex addiction is running rampant, becoming an epidemic of huge proportions (in part, thanks to the internet), not only in this country but all over the world. The purpose of this article is not to give a psychiatric treatise on this subject, but more to raise our consciousness on this highly charged issue, to see more clearly the often subtle ways we choose intensity over intimacy. So many people are daily making the choice for intensity without ever being aware of it. Many others feel driven to choose intensity, acting out addictive sexual behaviors, which continue to escalate (as it does with any drug, requiring more and more to get the high), often placing the addict in situations of greater and greater risk of being caught. After each time of acting out, there is the inevitable sinking into depressions of guilt and shame. Just like with any addictive substance, the end result can by disastrous, with loss of marriage, family, career, money, and self-respect.
In The Heart’s Wisdom, we present the analogy of fast food versus a carefully prepared and healthful meal. Our culture has become addicted to fast food (as well as fast everything), quick, easy, thoughtless meals almost devoid of nutrition and gobbled down as fast as we can. If good nutrition is our priority, however, we find ways to take the time to prepare healthful meals. We also take the time to eat these meals slowly, savoring each mouthful, chewing slowly and carefully, allowing the goodness of the food to be digested fully.
So it is with sex. There is sex as a “fix,” to quickly discharge the pent-up tension, and there is sex that is a gourmet meal between two people. There is sex without consciousness or intimacy, and there is loving sex. There is sex that keeps people alone, and sex that draws people closer together. There is abusive sex and healing sex. Of course it’s not black and white. There are many gradations in between.
Most important, the root cause of sex addiction is the fear and avoidance of intimacy. One of my favorite sayings is the definition of intimacy as “into me see.” Intimacy is saying to someone, “Look deeply inside of me.” Intimacy is allowing yourself to be visible. It’s showing someone else the deeper and vulnerable parts of yourself: your fears, sadness, grief, or pain; as well as your dreams, visions, joy or childlikeness. Instead, because we are afraid of being rejected or abandoned, we put on a mask and pretend to be what we think the world wants us to be. We act confident, self-assured, strong, ever happy or peaceful, thinking this will win us the love we are wanting. But it doesn’t. It only serves to push people further away from us because they can’t relate with our mask, our false persona.
Sex addiction is the misguided attempt to get the love we need through sex. I remember the first time I masturbated. I was perhaps thirteen years old. The experience was overwhelming in its sheer power and ecstatic feelings. I was totally unprepared. I remember thinking I had discovered the most amazing thing in the world. But I told no one. Even without being aware of it, my unconscious sexual shame (or perhaps the collective unconscious sexual shame) told me to keep this secret from everyone. In the following days, weeks and months, I kept trying to re-experience the same ecstasy, but increasing masturbation produced less and less joy. Now I know that first sexual experience gave me a taste of divine connection, a taste of what could be experienced by connecting with the divine, both in myself and in a loving partner. But as a young teen, I naturally thought it was the masturbation itself that gave me that high experience. In all these years, I am learning that it is who I am, rather than what I do, that gives me the real pleasure.
If we could only know how deserving we are of the highest love and connection with a mate, that behind the masks we wear, it is our naked selves that are exquisitely beautiful. No image we project could ever compare with our natural loveliness. No mistake we have ever made can erase our goodness. Love is our birthright. This is the deepest cure for sex addiction.