Recently I attended the second annual Contemporary Relationships Conference held here in Austin. The conference focused on topics specific to LGBTQ+ relationships and families; and this year the keynote speaker was Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-Supervisor. Weiss is an expert on addictions (he is the Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health) and technology. His book, “Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men” is already in its second edition. Being a straight-friendly therapist, who works with clients around sexual functioning, I was ecstatic that Weiss agreed to sit down with me and speak about his work after his presentation.
When we sat down to talk about sex addiction and gay men, the first thing we acknowledged was how challenging it can be to talk about this topic because of stigma. Many gay men have experiences of the world trying to make them feel shame for simply loving other men. Laws, religion and families are only some of the sources of judgment. Once a man develops pride and overcomes the irrationality of internalized shame, it can be difficult to have any discussions about healthy sexuality because those conversations echo of past judgement.
As a sex-positive person, I believe that sex can be healthy, good and fun in its many forms. From monogamous to open, alone or in groups, vanilla to kink; do your own thing. As long as it is consensual (animals and minors are unable to consent), non-coercive, and connecting (you to yourself or your partners). So the first question Weiss and I explored is:
What is sexual addiction and what is a good time?
Weiss explained that he is also sex positive and that there are a number of indicators that distinguish sexual addiction from a healthy sexual appetite. One factor is a person’s functioning. Is the person able to have the life he wishes to have or is sex a hindrance to his goals? For example, if a career-driven individual is consistently unable to accomplish duties at work because he is compulsively cruising Grindr then his functioning may be a concern. Weiss went on to note that sexual addiction usually includes: shame, secrecy, hiding, self-hatred and denial. Elements that are not typically a part of a healthy sexuality. A man who struggles to keep commitments with friends because he gets caught up edging himself to porn in his free time will likely hide his behavior when talking to his friends about the reason for his absence. Where healthy sexuality is about connecting to ourselves or our partners, sexual addiction is about escaping difficult feelings through obsessing about sex and acting on that obsession. Successful treatment of sexual addiction is not about stopping sex or becoming a eunuch; according to Weiss the goal is sexual integrity. That means feeling good about the sex we have with our partners and ourself with limited impediment of our professional and personal pursuits.
In his book, “Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men” Weiss noted technology’s role in increasing the number of sex addicts. Prior to the internet there where a number of steps and risks involved in obtaining pornography. A person would have to drive to sex shops where he would risk being seen and need to have money to purchase or rent materials. Over time, pornography and dating sites (including apps) became more easily accessible (thank you smartphones) at little to no cost, while offering users anonymity. This has increased number of people struggling with sexual addiction. Weiss told me during our interview that we’d see an increase in cocaine addiction if one day every medicine cabinet in America magically had free cocaine in it. Since technology has lead to more sexual addiction, I wondered:
How technology might help those in recovery from sex addiction?
Weiss noted how technology has made it easier for people to connect with each other, as well as resources to manage sexual addiction. Folks in recovery from sexual addiction are able to maintain a consistent core support group via technology (such as Skype) no matter where their lives might take them. Recovery in rural areas is easy when a person doesn’t have to drive two hours to a larger city to attend a Sex Addicts Anonymous meeting.
As we finished up our chat I was interested in any new work that might be interesting. Weiss recommended keeping an eye out for a book from his colleague, Lauren Costine, PhD called “Urge To Merge.” He also noted that folks should check out the Global Pride Summit which is free online.
My hope is that people are able to have fulfilling sex, in any of its many wonderful forms. If you think that you might be struggling with developing a healthy sex life consider talking with a therapist. When guilt, shame and judgement are removed from exploration, you might just find the kind of sex for which you’ve been searching.