Its always hard to talk about this shit. And yet, I feel it is necessary. Whether its for me or you, I’m not sure.
In February, I briefly talked to a sex therapist who had experience working with people who had sexual anorexia (side note: I don’t really believe anyone “has” sexual anorexia as if its a systemic disease, I believe it is a learned pattern of behavior. However explaining that would get cumbersome so I’m just gonna keep saying ‘had’ and you know what I mean). Turns out she was trained by the guy who wrote the book on it (literally). She had experience working with other patients in the sex industry and was open to the fact that sex work is not inherently psychologically problematic. It is not WHAT you do, it is HOW you do it.
I held off from making an appointment. In truth, I was still seeing my now-previous therapist and decided I had more to learn from her about how to better deal with my emotions; I wasn’t done. Yet. However I left the last three appointments feeling as if I already knew everything she was going to say. I also kept feeling shitty because she would unintentionally trigger my anxiety about sex simply because she didn’t know enough to answer the 90 gazillion questions I would ask. This, combined with some things in my personal life that have kept me from this blog lately, compelled me to call her. The sex therapist.
Turns out she’s not actually a sex therapist. She’s a therapist who specializes in sex addiction and sexual anorexia. There aren’t many who do the latter. And some who do the former do a shit job, by the way. This is the problem with sex therapy – using that term broadly, including any kind of therapeutic or healing work around sexuality – is that all therapists come to the session with their own biases, which they then impart on their patients. Intentionally. Because they think they’re right. They would not say they are biased because they do not believe themselves to be biased.
I should have demanded my money back from a tantra teacher I tried once several years ago, thinking someone spiritual and decidedly not religious would be more open minded to my journey. Instead I sat there at a 10/10 on the anxiety scale as she told me that God intended us to be heterosexuals and that same-sex desires were a disorder of our relationship with our own gender. How she cured a man of his cum eating fetish because he shouldn’t have to do that horrible thing (though I bet she’s tasted herself without thinking its degrading, as many women do). How she used to be a nymphomaniac and run a “massage” parlor which got to be so empty even though she loved fucking all the hunky dudes that would come in. And then she discovered this fantastical spiritual side and somehow sexually healing men for money was so much more elevated than giving rubdowns. I think she saw her past self in me, that part of herself she – raised Baptist, by the way – was ashamed of. She wanted to rescue me from myself.
I was torn. I really had some fucking balls to even go there. I read her website over and over again. I told her what I did for a living before I made the appointment; I wanted to make sure I was not going to be judged in a space where I sought to be completely open. She seemed as though she understood my perspective, that this is part of my journey, that it gives me an opportunity to explore parts of myself I would not otherwise. That the women I work with are by and large normal, albeit a tad divaesque and flakey as fuck (as a generalization). That the stereotypes do exist, but they’re not the norm.
Nope. I was in shock. And yet, some of what she said made sense. Which made the experience all the more confusing. A broken clock is right twice a day though, right? I must have the ability to appear perfectly sane while inside I am either frozen like a deer in headlights or exploding mental word vomit. Somehow I can participate in conversations without even being there. It is only now that I realize I certainly could have requested my money back (or was it a “donation”? I hate that shit, its common in that “community”) – because I certainly did NOT get what I paid for. And it would not be the last time.
This is an extreme example, of course. However my experience seeking help in this area of my life – not really even understanding what was wrong – has been mostly frustrating, with a few points standing out. By and large they judge or make assumptions while acting as though they are not, or simply lack the knowledge to address my issues – although they try (and sometimes make me feel worse).
I was nervous about my appointment. I am most worried about this: If I am wanting to open up about my deep dark secrets, a fancy collection of painful memories and unexpressed emotions, I need to know that it is safe. To be out of control, because I don’t know what the fuck is going to come out if we REALLY start digging. I am fucking terrified. So whoever’s going in with me better hold my fucking hand and not let go, even if I try to kick them away to protect them from whatever’s pent up inside.
In some ways, I can point to specific incidents in my sexual history that might lead me to feel this way. Times I have opened up deeply and experienced extremely harsh judgment, for instance. I could be shying away from getting hurt again, like we humans love to do. In other ways, this sounds very traditionally feminine – a desire to surrender into something strong enough to hold me, all of the me, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. And yet from the framework of sexual anorexia – perhaps I am trying to control my sexuality by needing someone who does not and cannot exist; as if I pine over movie stars while desperate to marry. This perfect person who I need to help me never will, because they are not real.
This is precisely what drives me insane. I have an intellectual desire to understand the mind-body-spirit experience that is sexuality. I want to understand it, to the extent it is understandable. Or perhaps the better word is know – to know through experience, to live it. In addition to understanding with my brain what I did or experienced that brought it about. And I am continually frustrated.
If I saw three different therapists, they would have three different answers. Maybe more. At least one would say something that would trigger my anxiety about sex, and I would leave confused. Do I feel bad because I am/what I did was bad? Or is my therapist an idiot in this regard? I would leave in a high state of emotion that would take several days and several crying episodes to ultimately calm. (Terry just loves it.) And in this state, I tend to believe the latter. Yet in the moment, I believe the former.
It is exhausting. And yet, I understand why it occurs. It is a function of living in a society that is fucking weird about sex. They live in this culture too; they are not immune because they decided to help people in this regard. In fact, because they consider themselves “experts” they may be a bit more open in some ways but are completely shut off to new ideas in other ways that challenge their “truth” about how sex “is” or “should be.” Because they “know,” that’s why we’re paying them, right?
By this point, I’ve largely come to accept that certain negative thoughts and feelings are triggered by certain stimuli. Wow, that was nerdy. But before I accepted it, I thought they meant something was truly WRONG RIGHT NOW in a way that needed some sort of IMMEDIATE ATTENTION, though I never knew what. Negative feelings – especially shame – would send me running around frantically trying to fix whatever is causing the alarm. Didn’t really work that well. So after banging my head against the wall for awhile, I tried just letting myself feel the feelings instead of running, but also consciously working to calm myself down instead of letting my emotions run the crazy train. Its super fucking uncomfortable and I hate it, but its like ripping off a bandaid – intense for a moment but hurts way less in the long run. I have more room to breathe, even while the icky emotions sometimes feel as though they’re just lying dormant waiting to be triggered. Other times I forget they’re there. Or maybe sometimes they’re gone. Those times are nice.
So here it is, 6am and about to go to sleep. Somehow I didn’t talk about my first appointment at all. So here’s this: despite the fact that I snapped at her in reaction to one of her questions within 10 minutes of talking, I think she might be okay. I am completely terrified. I have spent a lot of my life researching what other people desire sexually – in school and for my website. And while I’ve given attention to my sexuality over the years somehow there is a depth I have rarely been able to penetrate. But I have enough to know its there. Its not really about sex. Its simply that my extreme anxiety about sex seems to block me from a deeper connection to myself. Just as food anorexia is not ultimately about food, yet requires a re-learning of how to eat in a healthy way.
So I feel I’m finally ready to look in the mirror. Not just look, but have a freaking staring contest with myself. Okay, less creepy. Its as if I’ve been on stage facing an audience, not even realizing there was a huge mirror right behind me. I’m scared to look – I can only handle a quick glimpse at a time. I am terrified of not being in control, that I will likely feel shame and humiliation and embarrassment, that I don’t know how it will turn out or where exactly I will wind up. I’m scared that I may let go too much, too soon, that I may be too much altogether, that I “should” reign it in – its much too much after all. But not-looking is getting too exhausting. I give up.
I surrender. Cautiously. To myself. To my need to do this, dumb and silly and unimportant as it seems. I mean, I’ve hardly died from some so-called lack of spiritual connection. Yet I haven’t fully lived, either. Its really what I set out to do, unknowingly. Whether this therapist winds up helping me through this or not, I feel I have something to learn from her. At least enough to try her for a few appointments. I hope this is the right place to let go, in the way that’s right for me at this time in my life. If its not, I will probably be upset and confused again but not surprised.
Lawyers, doctors, contractors, hairdressers, therapists – I don’t just commit to the first person in the phone book. I’m paying them for a service. I want to know if the person I’m paying is able to help me with my problem. Just because someone has a degree, a certification, 1900 years of experience it only matters if they can do the job that needs to be done. It takes knowledge, experience AND a personal connection so that I feel comfortable working with them. A friend of mine was complaining about a therapy session she tried and didn’t like, and I asked why didn’t she try another therapist. It had never occurred to her; she just made an appointment with the first one her insurance suggested. Perhaps its the researcher in me that loves to dig around and discover bits of gold (wait, that sounds more like an explorer…), but though I’ve come to the conclusion that *this* (whatever it turns out to be) is what I now need in my life, I’ve not yet concluded that she will be able to help. Only time will tell. I hate that.
A part of me really doesn’t want to post this. A bigger part of me does.
Posted: August 5th, 2014 under Uncategorized - No Comments.
Tags: sex therapy, sexual anorexia, therapy