Why are men vulnerable to losing control of their sexual behavior?

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The recent release of the independent movie “Shame” shows the emotional downfall of a man who has lost control over his sexuality. The movie shows that some men can become so out of control sexually that it impacts their relationships, work and health. An audience is left to guess at the cause of this out of control sexual behavior. At the Sexuality, Attachment and Trauma Project we understand these causes and how to treat such problems.

The majority of individuals who experience out of control sexual behavior are men. Why?

The answer can be found by looking at how boys are socialized. As early as the 1980s, researchers have been looking at the differences between male and female infants and how they express their emotions. Studies have shown that male infants actually express more emotions than their female counterparts. It has also been shown that there is a complete reversal of this by the age of two. This reversal is a result of a socialization process that is supported by mothers, fathers and the society at large. Infant boys, who are initially more emotional than infant girls, are seen to be less emotional when they reach toddlerhood. Also, these toddler boys start to turn to the object world, like toys and games, as a way to cope with their anxiety, whereas their female peers tend to turn to people to help reduce their distress. This process progresses as boys turn to men and it leaves these men with the sad tendency to cope alone rather than turn to others. This defensive independence is believed to be a result of the early and emphatic separation from their mothers, leaving these men with a continued yearning for closeness that simultaneously threatens their autonomy. This yearning seems to create conflict for men in which conforming to the male role means disconnecting from their feelings and needs. For men, embracing feelings and needs means deviating from a male role, which results in alienation and scorn. They are essentially in a no-win situation. The disconnection from feelings and needs often wins out. These gender-role ideas have an interesting connection to out of control sexual behavior.

One of the factors related to out of control sexual behavior is a concept called alexithymia. This concept relates to the difficulties that certain individuals have in recognizing, naming and verbalizing their feeling states. Basically, an individual with alexithymia experiences their feelings as bodily discomfort rather than as feeling states (i.e. sadness, fear, anger). These individuals then lose the benefit of identifiable feelings that could be used to direct their thinking and actions. Human beings were given the benefit of feelings in order to help direct our behaviors. Without knowledge of our feeling states we are directionless and lost. This directionless existence in men with alexithymia often results in impairments in self-care, relationships, sensitivity and mood regulation. Men that are out of control with their sexual behavior are usually alexithymic. This male-patterned alexithymia results in an impaired ability to put feelings to words and an inclination instead to act out feelings. One way that men act out their feelings is through out of control sexual behavior. Men with out of control sexual behavior often do not know what they are feeling and instead experience feeling states in their bodies and are prone to use bodily action to address these feelings. If men have the tendency to use action rather than words in order to address their feelings, then non-relational sex may be one of their strategies. However, a strategy like this can often become the problem. If men are using this strategy they are not getting the benefit of their feeling states. Without knowing what you feel, you do not know what you need. These men are using a sexual strategy to address anger, sadness, fear and probably a mix of other emotions. The true issues are not being addressed. Also, the reinforcing nature of sex keeps these men using this strategy even though they are not truly addressing their needs. This sexual solution becomes another problem without the original problem ever getting resolved.

At the Sexuality, Attachment, and Trauma (SAT) Project we address these difficulties for men. Our approach helps these men to learn how to express themselves directly resulting in a reduction of sexual acting out. We help men learn to develop their emotional vocabulary and to build their emotional intelligence. The SAT Project is an outpatient clinic and research think-tank, based in New York City, that provides therapeutic intervention using effective and evidence-based treatment techniques to help individuals with sexual and relationship difficulties and conducts cutting-edge research on the etiology and treatment of out of control relational and sexual difficulties.

-Michael Crocker