Sex and the Healing of Compulsive Sexual Behavior

Religion historically has an “uncomfortable relationship” with sex. This has resulted in a culture with conflicting and sometimes negative views regarding the sex act. Religion views sex as a “carnal” act that is tolerated in committed relationships, but is not necessarily an appropriate activity for highly-spiritual individuals. However, the tradition moral codes regarding sex were harshly rejected by the “sexual revolution”. This movement viewed sex as a fun and healthy activity that should not be restricted in any way by religious moral codes.

In actuality, sex is neither good nor bad. Instead, sex is a “tool” that can be used for various purposes. The important thing about sex is the intention, not the act itself. This being said, it must be noted that it is very easy to be in denial about one’s true intentions.

For the record, money is another tool that is inherently neutral. When Jesus told the rich, young man to give up his possessions, it wasn’t because Jesus was implying that money was bad. Instead, Jesus was asking the rich man to quit his selfish behavior of hoarding wealth. In other words, money is not the “root of all evil”: selfishness is the root of all evil. The antidote to selfishness is love.

 The Symbolism of Sex

Like everything else in life, the act of sex is symbolic. First, the removal of one’s clothes represents the willingness to be vulnerable with your partner. It shows an intention to let your partner fully see who you truly are.

Secondly, the physical aspect of sex unites two physical bodies together. This symbolizes Divine love, which could be defined as “the absence of separation”. To love others, you must recognize that you are a part of “other” and “other” is a part of you. Sex therefore represents the removal of boundaries between you and another, which is necessary in order to freely love another person.

The Three Aspects of Love

Sex is also an opportunity to merge three main aspects of love into a single act. In English, we use the word “love” whether we are talking about romantic love (eros), a love between friends, or an unselfish love for all of God’s creatures (agape). For those on the spiritual path, the merging of sex, eros, and agape can be a powerful spiritual experience. In a relationship, it is possible to hold any combination of these three aspects. But it is the act of sex itself that provides perhaps the greatest opportunity to combine all three at once.

In general, the sex act is a “gift” of God that was meant to give humans a “foretaste” of Divine love. Sex is a potential stepping stone from which to seek even higher and more blissful spiritual experiences. The next steps after physical sex could be considered the combination of passion or love with the sex act, and later a merging of the three. Beyond this would be a steady movement toward Christ-consciousness (also referred to as 5-D consciousness or unity-consciousness), which can be thought of as similar (if not overlapping) with the experience of enlightenment.

Unfortunately, many of us have instead gotten stuck at the “bottom steps”. This isn’t really a judgement, because too few people are even aware that there is something “better” that is out there. The result, which is perhaps more common among men than women, is that we get stuck pursuing sex in order to fulfill our longings for a higher form of love. But sex can never provide the lasting fulfillment that we crave.

Taking Responsibility for One’s Happiness

Many of us are not actually looking for a partner. Instead, we are looking for sex (which is more typical for men, while women are often looking for “love”/romance). It just so happens that we need a partner in order to have sex or romance. What we fail to realize is that sex – just like every other pursuit such as money, posessions, experiences, etc. – will never satisfy us for more than a short moment.

When we look for a partner to make us happy, it means we are using the other person. So when you look for a partner because you want sex, you are suggesting that it is the other person who is responsible for making you happy. This, of course, is simply not true. Each person is responsible for his or her own happiness. Therefore, a person will not be truly happy in a relationship if he or she is not happy outside of a relationship.

If you are craving a partner for sex, love, or any other “need”, then you are still searching for happiness outside of yourself. If you find that your search for a partner (if you are actively searching) is stressing you out, then you are not happy being alone. A person who is happy living alone is one who is not worried about whether or not he or she will find someone. He knows he will attract the person he is looking for, and therefore doesn’t have anything to worry about.

Note, however, that it’s easy to be in denial about why you are single. Many people who claim that they are happy living alone are in fact either too scared or too selfish to enter into a relationship. This is not to judge anyone, but simply to point out that being single (or in a relationship) doesn’t mean anything in and of itself.

Compulsive Desire for Sex

We don’t have to be “addicted” to sex in order to abuse it. When my wife and I first separated, I still wanted to have sex with her. And since she was obviously unwilling to cooperate, I searched for sex elsewhere. On my first date with a woman I was attracted to, I asked her if she would be interested in a casual sex relationship.

Since I was being honest about what I wanted, I rationalized that nothing “dysfunctional” was taking place. But what I failed to do at that time was question why it was that I wanted sex in the first place. It’s very easy to suggest that it is human nature to want sex. And that is because – to a certain extent – it is true. But that is not why I craved sex, at least not to that degree. As with nearly all unhealthy compulsive behavior, mine was a result of early developmental experiences.

The Origins of Compulsive Sex

In my early years, I grew up in a religious household. I would also suggest that I was somewhat fanatical about trying to be a “righteous” child. I understood that God wanted people to be good, and I wanted God to love me. So I tried my best to be good, and was guilty and ashamed when I wasn’t.

From my perspective as a small child, my parents served as a proxy for God (and for dishing out God’s love). I of course wanted to be loved, and so I tried my best to do what my parents told me were the right things to do. The results were predictable: when I was good, my parents were happy with me. And when I did something naughty, I was punished.

I therefore made it a habit of trying to please other people in order to “win” their love. Note that this isn’t the case for everybody, but I think that there is a general pattern. I.e., most of us come out of childhood with some sort of psychological wounding associated with the fact that our parents were not able to unconditionally love us.

We then repeat these patterns in our relationships with partners who are also never able to unconditionally love us. We may later choose to “switch partners” in the hope that things will be different. But the patterns will continue until we realize that the pain must be addressed and healed in order for the pattern to be broken.

In my own relationship with my ex-wife (which lasted over 14 years), I continued my childhood pattern. I did all I could to make her happy so that she would love me in return. Sometimes the things I did would make her happy, and other times she would be angry with me. It did not matter how hard I tried: I could never achieve the unconditional love that I desired.

Of course, one of the methods of pleasing my wife was to have sex with her. This was very satisfying for me, because I could see how much she enjoyed it. But what I could not see was how I was using her instead of loving her. I sincerely thought that our love-making sessions proved how much we genuinely loved each other. But my real intention in having sex was not to make love with her as much as much as it was to please her in order to feel loved.

Addicted to “Love”

Soon after my ex-wife decided to end our marriage, I started to search for sex elsewhere. I still didn’t realize that it wasn’t the sex itself I was desperately craving, but the validation I received from sex. Pleasuring a partner via sex was proof of my intrinsic goodness and worthiness. And since my wife had just broken up with me, I needed that validation more than ever.

The realization of how I was misusing sex was not a straightforward one. Long after the divorce was finalized, I still had the desire to have sex with my ex-wife, even though I wasn’t keen on getting back with her. This made me realize that something very significant was happening that I was completely overlooking.

When I started to pay close attention to my desire for sex, what I found was that my desire was preceded by a rather unpleasant sensation in my abdominal region. It was a queasy feeling which I had long ago equated with the urge to make love. And there was a reason: having sex would temporarily alleviate this unpleasant sensation.

While investigating this sensation in meditation sessions, I discovered that this strange feeling was connected to the psychological pain of believing that I was not loved. This pain, in turn, was connected to numerous memories that provided “evidence” that I was unworthy and unloved. And instead of consciously acknowledging the pain and the memories, I figuratively ran away from them. I instead used sex as my drug to cover up the pain that I denied existed.

The Path To Freedom

In general, there are many methods that exist for dealing with psychological issues linked to developmental/childhood experiences. I think different methods might work better for different people. I will note that in my case, I mainly used a type of “re-scripting” to help heal the past memories. Re-scripting involves remembering a certain event and changing the details so that they happened exactly the way you would have wanted them to happen. The actions of all parties involved should come from a position of unconditional love and respect.

Part of the strategy also involved being mindful of any painful experiences that spontaneously came up at random moments throughout the day. In general, I suspect that the reason painful memories pop up is because those memories are connected to issues that are still in need of healing. And until they are healed, they will continue to repeat in your head indefinitely. (As a side note, I find it helpful to re-script any future worries as well.)

In general, I found it very freeing to discover that the compulsion for sex was something that could be addressed and released. In times when I was single, I spent a lot of energy being frustrated by a lack of sex. And in committed relationships, I spent a lot of energy pursuing shallow sexual activity that could never permanently satisfy my sexual desires. As a result, there was so much relief when I finally realized that I could free myself from the constant desire for sex.

It is also worth noting that the sexual compulsion itself was able to lead me directly to what needed to be healed. By finding and addressing the pain of not feeling loved, I was able to release the need to win the love and approval of others.

Conclusion

When used for selfish purposes, sex becomes a trap. But the trap of sex is no different than any other trap that one seeks in the pursuit of happiness. The trick is to first realize one’s true intentions for wanting a certain thing. The more these intentions are denied, the more obvious they will potentially become later in life. But the longer one waits to deal with the issue, the more painful the issue will potentially become when a decision is finally made to heal oneself.

Each and every person on this earth is worthy of being loved. There are no exceptions. Once a person realizes his true worth, sex will no longer be a compulsive activity. The healing process, therefore, is ultimately about discovering one’s inherent worth.

Sex, when used in a healthy manner, is a tool that can help us cultivate love and intimacy with a partner. As such, sex becomes a positive tool on one’s spiritual path that ultimately leads to love and connection with God.


Photo credit: W R