Sexual energy is volatile, so is food, so is alcohol and drugs. We can get out of control in any of these areas. In fact anything can become a compulsion even cleaning your desk or flossing your teeth. We live in a Nancy Reagan “just say no!” puritanically based country. We view anything pleasurable with suspicion. While I certainly understand any natural urge can go haywire with compulsion—the methods we utilize to have balance are crucial to the results we will get. The more self-hatred, shame, and judgment we heap onto ourselves– the more likely behavior will spiral out of control.
We don’t need drugs and alcohol, but we do need love, attention, intimacy and food. There was a time in my life when the sight and smell of a chocolate chip cookie could send me on a bender. Today I forget they are in my cupboard. This took many years of legalizing cookies, eating them slowly, exploring being mindful while I chewed—a long process. I tried to eat only when I was hungry and with a lot of awareness. But the most powerful information came from the times I ate compulsively. However, the only way I could ever receive this valuable data, was if I was able to review the clues without shaming myself.
This is why I have “an open conversation policy” with my husband around sex. I want him to be able to tell me what he needs without shame or fear and I want the same for myself. Because what we repress has power over us—that in spite of good intentions may come out in above mentioned compulsions. If my husband has developed a strong attraction to someone else– I want to know about it. Because it might give me information about what’s happening in our relationship. Sexual energy can be more volatile and multi-faceted than cookies but that’s why I want my husband to talk to me—so we can make aware and consensual choices.
I want to maintain a passionate and vibrant sex life in my marriage. If I shame my spouse about his sexuality—that’s going to ultimately hurt both of us. I call it the “Pink Monkey Syndrome”. Here’s how it works. If I tell you not to think about a pink monkey, what is the first thing that pops into your head? A pink monkey. And if I tell you that ‘If you ever touch a pink monkey our life together is over!’ What do you start doing? You start noticing pink monkeys everywhere. You start noticing their soft fur. You become both terrified and wildly titillated at the idea of losing control and actually touching a pink monkey.
But let’s say you have a spouse like me, who allows you (with clear agreements) to occasionally go touch a pink monkey. You may indeed go touch some pink monkeys. You may find while it’s nice, the reality of touching a pink monkey is not as wildly exciting as the fantasy of touching a pink monkey. You may even discover that having a choice enables you to value what you already have.
The forbidden creates allure. It can also create paranoia. I have a good friend. She fell in love with a really sweet guy—who I’ll call Bob. Bob and my friend Sheila got married and created a family together. Two years into their new marriage everything seemed to be going great. But then Sheila told me some news that surprised me. She told me their “amazing sex life” had dwindled to nothing. I asked what happened. She told me, she’d gone on a business trip and stayed at a B&B owned by a young attractive man. Bob saw a picture of the man and said some pretty stern things to Sheila. He accused her of not having a “moral compass”. He said that he was astonished that she would “disrespect” him by staying at this man’s house. Sheila felt insulted and shamed by her husband. When I talked to Bob he seemed genuinely baffled by the whole situation, he was also hurt that Sheila had pulled away. I encouraged them to do some therapy. It seemed that Bob had some pretty old world views both about sex and women—but he also seemed open to changing his thinking.
But they shelved the issue for another year and the next thing I heard they had broken up. It made me sad for so many reasons. Our culture teaches us to be sex negative, to control (especially women’s) sexuality. Given how in love Bob and Sheila were, it seemed there might have been some hope to peel back the layers and discard what wasn’t working. It would have been an investment of time—but time well spent if it saved their marriage. It’s often in personal relationships that people actually overcome their shortcomings and limitations and do the miraculous—as Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
If you shame your partner around their sexuality it will likely kill the attraction between you. It is highly unlikely and very difficult to get turned on by someone who is attacking you. Bob might have gotten different results if he had approached the situation with his wife with real sex positivity. He might’ve said “I love you so much, you are so gorgeous. I imagine that every man wants you as much as I do. Would it be possible for me to book a reservation at another hotel?” I think this would have gone over much better. Using language to support your relationship is an art form worth mastering.
Being open to new ideas, new possibilities, improving your relationship, and satisfying your spouse as an ongoing daily practice is a more appealing scenario than making rigid rules. I do understand the need for security and predictability. There is always the risk that you may totally lose your lid and fall wildly in love with the above described “pink monkey”. But in fact, I have found the opposite to be true. Taking the attention off what is forbidden, and putting the focus on what is actually happening in my relationship is a healthier situation that fosters growth and passionate connection.