Friday, July 25, 2008

Love, Sex and ...

The question caught me off guard. It was my weekly meeting with a group of men that I share something in common with...a past. And not a past that many people can say they share and not one that I brag about. We are all ex-felons who are court mandated to participate in this treatment program.

One of the men had been talking about his relationship with his wife and his problems with anger throughout his life. The therapist had asked him if he felt his anger issued had contributed to his crime.

"Maybe. It's really hard to tell. It was also probably due to my alcohol abuse."

While it was interesting to hear another man's story, I have to admit that I wasn't really that tightly tuned into the conversation. Until the question was asked.

"I've never really connected sex and love together in my life", the man said. "Do you think that may have been part of the reason I did what I did?"

Wow!! It was a question that hit close and deep to my being because I have often struggled with the relationship between those two words...and more importantly...the two actions. As I reflect back on my life, especially growing up, I don't recall a great deal of what I would call love. And sadly, I had experienced too much sex at too young of an age with people I shouldn't have been sexual with.

"How do you define love?", the therapist asked the group. "You know, like Pilate asked Jesus 'What is love?', 'what is love?"

My mind started racing, not like it did when I was 10 and I wanted to impress my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Walters. It raced because 'love' is a word that I thought I understood until I did the most 'unloving' thing a man could possibly ever do to his wife. How did I define love?

"It's when you'd give your life for someone else", one of the men offered. "I know I'd jump in front of a bullet for anyone in my family."

"I know I would," another said. "That's the only thing that I think about....it's my kids. They're my life and I know that one of these days I'll get to see them again."

"Would you give up your life for a total stranger?", the man sitting beside me asked.

"Hmmmmmm....yea, I guess I would. Does that mean that I can love someone I don't even know?"

The conversation continued for a while longer with no real answer emerging. Not even the PhD had the answer to this one. The question has continued to haunt me for the past week.

I thought that I knew what love was. Most people who know me, and knew me before I was arrested, would probably have described me as a very loving person. By all outward appearances I was. I provided for my wife and family and met their every need. I was openly affectionate in appropriate ways to those that I "loved". I was always holding my wife's hand or stealing a kiss from her. Hugs with family and friends was a way of life. I said "I love you" at least 10 times a day and left cute little notes all around the house. I'd even call out of the blue just to tell Paula that I loved her or I was thinking of her. Or that I'd just seen a full moon on my drive to work and it was so beautiful that I just wanted to share it with her!

Isn't that what love is?!! Doing all those things...using all the right words...touching in the right ways? If it is, then how could I have done what I did?

We had a very good sex life as well, at least early in our marriage. At times, we would make tender love and at other times, it was sex. And we both enjoyed both. But there was always a tension in our sex life as well...at least for me. I would rarely be the one who initiated...unless I was intoxicated. I was uncomfortable talking about sex and could feel myself flush with embarrassment when the topic was raised. There was too much guilt in my mind and I didn't want to open that door. I was afraid to share all of my sexual past because it was too "bad" and genuinely believed it would change the way Paula might feel about me. In hindsight, just that belief explains how little I truly understood what "love" was.

I have been sexual for as long as I can remember. Whether it was simply touching myself or engaging in sexual contact with other boys growing up or looking at pornography, sexual thoughts have been a part of my psychic make up. Once I had sex with a girl for the first time when I was 20, there was only one woman I dated until I got married that I didn't have sex with (and I'm not sure I would have really defined the one exception as a date). The sex was usually accompanied by great quantities of alcohol and was always consensual. And it was 'good' sex! But there were rarely ever any emotional strings attached for me with these women.

For me, sex and love weren't acts that were really connected. As I pondered that, it has bothered me a great deal. I believe that sex should be the most intimate act that can occur between two people. While biologically, it has a purpose to create new members of a species, it seems to have a much stronger emotional and spiritual purpose. And that's why I think it causes so much pain when there is a sexual betrayal in a relationship. And it may be why I have so much difficulty connecting the two.

Too many betrayals in my own life that I never wanted to admit. A pain deep inside me that I've repressed for so long I'm not sure I'll ever let it all out! It was easier to keep sex (that area where I was betrayed by those who never had that right) and love (which I'm not sure I ever experienced until I was married) separated in my mind. I could have sex with someone and not immediately form an emotional attachment. As I reflect, I think it's part of the reason it was so easy for me to continue to masturbate regularly after I got married (even after a night of great sex). Sex was just...sex, and not a sign of love.

I've done a lot of reading since I was arrested and lost everything that I valued in my life. I've learned about premature sexualization and how it impacts a person for their entire life...at least until they deal with it. My therapist says that I struggle with cognitive dissonance...the tension that comes from having two conflicting thoughts in mind at the same time. While this is a good thing (from a therapist's perspective because it indicates I know right from wrong), it feels as though I am being torn in two at times.

I know intrinsically that sex and love are interconnected. I know from a societal perspective (at least in a Christian world view) that sex should be reserved for only one person...your spouse. But I'm not sure how to do it.

"How do you reconnect the correct association between sex and love in your life when they've been disconnected my entire life", I finally asked the therapist.

He sat there and looked at me for what seemed like minutes but I'm sure was only a few seconds.

"For someone like you who experienced the kinds of things that you did as a young child...how you were influenced by early sexualization by other males makes it more complicated", he finally said. "You really need to determine who you are and where your sexual preferences are because I think you're struggling with your sexuality issues because of your past and your crime and you're not going to be able to truly reconcile your love and sex issue until you do."

I pondered his words for a few moments and then responded, "that's easier said that done." I have always hated that my sexual fantasies often focused on my early sexual experiences with boys while I believe in my heart that I'm as much heterosexual as the next guy. I don't have a desire to live a gay life...in fact, I can't even imagine it. But my mind betrays me...and ultimately that mind led to actions that betrayed everyone in my life.

I'm not sure when, or if, I'll figure this out. I know what I want...to be connected in every way...sexually, emotionally, spiritually...with a woman that I love. In order for that to happen, I still need more healing, and ultimately, a deeper understanding of who I am and how I became this person. I need a prescription for a whole life from the Great Healer above.

1 comment:

Deb said...

I'm sitting here stunned and grateful. Stunned at the insight, the honesty and the pain you've shared here. Grateful, too, for those exact things.

It's interesting that sex and love were separate for you. For me sex was the only love I knew. And that was because my earliest memories of being loved involved being touched sexually.

Even as I tried to separate the two, during my time in the cult, I couldn't.

I'm glad your therapist validated your particular challenge in finding the healing and the answer to this very challenging question. I am unutterably grateful for your willingness to walk down this rocky road and to share it. It makes me feel less alone.

Keep writing. This is really important - not only for you. I love you.