I've wanted to post on this for a long time, but the fear of spammers and cyber-bullies had me intimidated. As a reminder, if you happen to know my name, please never use it in comments or they won't be posted. Let's start.
You don't get a picture on this post.
It's so funny. In 1996 the research chair at the University of Illinois asked each of us in my doctoral cohort what we thought we'd be interested in studying for dissertation. I had been treating a woman who had a "hot chat" addiction, something relatively new at the time.
I'd like to study Internet Addictions, I said.
I published an article on it actually.
He almost laughed me out of the room. Boy, how dumb. I mean, the article was a case study. How in the world would I get enough subjects for a real research project? How could anyone measure Internet addictions? Ridiculous.
That was 1996. Fast forward 11 years. We hear about Internet porn or Internet addictions once or twice a week. Compulsions are part and parcel of my work, and you guessed it, I'll hear about this kind of thing at some party or another, relatively often these days, social animal that I am. I just got an email from a woman who wanted to know what she should do about her husband's addiction to Internet porn. They're in their early twenties. Religious.
A little background here. In the early 1980's, FD and I did a co-therapy rotation to study the treatment of sexual dysfunction with Domeena Renshaw, MD, a world-renowned psychiatrist. She started the Loyola Center for Sexual Dysfunction in Maywood, Illinois.
Loyola is a Jesuit outfit. To be treated at the center at that time, you had to be married. I don't know if those same rules still apply today. But over many, many years, Dr. Renshaw's patients and students must number in the tens of thousands. Her book, Seven Weeks to Better Sex, interestingly, downplays the idea of sexual addictions.
"Sex," I can just hear Domeena say, "is like eating, breathing, and defecating. It's a normal bodily function." Pressed to opine on sexual addictions, she might add, "and if you can get too much breathing, then you can get too much sex, too. It's the natural tranquilizer, by the way."
In the early 1980's Dr. Renshaw's program did not discourage pornography. In fact, therapists and physicians-in-training were to suggest a visit to the adult book store to help patients get comfortable with what turns them on, basically permission to feel sexual. Domeena also strongly suggested that women try vibrators.
It's likely that the novelty and variety of sexual toys these days far surpasses what the stores had to offer then. You can buy such things now on-line, but if you are friends with the right people you might get invited to sex-toy parties that are on the order of Tupperware parties. These sex toys, I imagine, cannot hurt you, and patients do swear by them. But consult your local physician (or clergyperson) if you have any questions. And don't swallow any batteries.
You should know that FD and I took a royal pass on the idea of suggesting visits to adult book stores to patients. I'm glad we did. We simply skipped over that part of the program. Such a recommendation is especially tres politically incorrect these days. Pornography is and always was exploitative.
Sometimes it's hard to see that. Posing for pictures, acting in blue films is a job, after all, a living. Same goes for all kinds of jobs where being a female who is very female, or a being a male who is very male, is a major plus. I think of Hollywood, but the same could be said for positions in virtually any office or service establishment.
Many years ago I had a lovely couple in treatment. Let's just say that she had a nice job as a professional and he supervised a machine shop. Blue collar roots, although it doesn't matter, we've changed the demographic data of the case for this illustration.
She didn't like that he frequented a neighborhood restaurant where the wait staff had to show off a good deal of torso to get a job. She insisted that he stop eating in the restaurant.
"It's exploitative," she said, "making women dress scantily to keep a job."He, on the other hand, couldn't see anything wrong with it.
"These are women working," he insisted. "It's their choice."They got nowhere with the argument, and at some point I could stand it no longer. I spoke to him. She was pregnant, by the way.
"Perhaps look at it like this. Maybe you'll have a little girl. She grows up and goes to college. One day she tells you she's got a job waiting tables. The job is at one of those restaurants. (It happens to be a huge chain of restaurants. This is not inconceivable, her getting a job there. The name of the chain would be a good clue for Charades, by the way.)
"No way," he says. "It would never happen."
"And why not?" I gently ask.
"We wouldn't let her."
"How could you stop her?"
"First of all, no daughter of mine will have to work her way through college or anything. I'll make sure of that."
I say, "That's assuming that you stay well, but you never know what can happen, right? G-d forbid. We're talking eighteen years from now. What was your second of all, your other reason for thinking it could never happen?"
"She just wouldn't want to do that. She'd have too much self-respect."
I nod, consider what he says, take a breath.
"But what if you hit bottom financially somehow, and your kid is in school, and she doesn't want to take out thousands of dollars in loans, or she isn't eligible for some reason, and she takes the job, and men are grabbing at her, staring at her, leering, propositioning, all between french fries and a burger. It's not about self-respect, it's about poverty."
I finish the soliloquy, flip my pen in the air, a trademark.
You should know that this is lousy couples counseling, the process is all wrong. A therapist should be instrumental in getting a couple to talk to one another. We're omniscient, there for punctuation.
But she's been trying for a very long time to communicate the importance of this issue and either he isn't believing her or he won't give her the point (more likely). And there I am, a young therapydoc, full of words, taking over, despite my better judgment, knowing deep down that I have joined her and disempowered her at the same time.
He stopped going to the restaurant nevertheless.
They stayed together and seemed happy at the termination of treatment. Who knows where they are now. I know they had a baby girl, got a picture in the mail.
Men and women who allow themselves to become objects of sexual fantasy, either in restaurants or in titillating videos or pictures, don't usually want the job. Wouldn't you rather practice law? These individuals volunteer, it's true, but many feel they HAVE to volunteer.
Once I saw a beautiful college student who lived with her parents and seven sisters and brothers. She couldn't stand living at home anymore. They used her for child care and housework and it was hard to study. But she couldn't afford to leave. "I think I should make movies," she told me. "I've been offered a good deal. There's really good money in that." I tried to discourage her, discussed a few of the emotional consequences (we'll get to them in another post) and she dropped out of therapy.
It's a living, see?
There she is, your little girl. Earning an honest buck.
Emotion aside, here's how it translates psychologically at the restaurant. The patron is buying the memory. He's stealing her image by burning it in his brain. He takes her home with him, mentally. Or she takes her home with her. We try not to be heterosexist on this blog.
These days anyone can shoot a guy or a girl's picture with a telephone. No imagination necessary, even, no need to burn an image in the brain. Progress there, and your tie-in to pornography.
Enough for today! Any questions? Be patient for the posting of comments and answers. I don't work Friday night to Saturday sun down.
copyright 2007, therapydoc