The Body Image survey questions that Donna (Meredith-Dixon) and I answer today share a common theme: intimacy. Donna addresses a question on sexual anorexia: a topic that has affected (and dissected) many of us. I'll end this post by answering a question on sexual reintegration therapy.
"If my husband is not having sex with me I assume it is because he is not attracted to me. So how can I feel good about the way I look when he is unresponsive?”
Donna: While intimacy (connection) with my husband continues to increase, it’s not difficult to remember what his lack of responsiveness felt like prior to discovery. Since I was too embarrassed to mention his lack of sexual interest, even to close friends, I not only felt unattractive, I felt isolated. I was confused, because nothing worked, even trying to treat it medically (assuming it was caused by a physical condition).
The underlying problem didn’t stem from a medical condition or lack of attraction to me, just as is most likely in your marriage. Since I don’t know the nature or extent of your husband’s sex addiction and his acting out, or if he is in active recovery, it’s impossible to identify the reasons for your husband’s lack of sexual response with any certainty.
However, that being said, his lack of responsiveness could be sexual anorexia. Sexual anorexia is a term describing one of the core problems sex addicts experience, which is related to their inability to develop or maintain an emotionally or spiritually intimate relationship with their spouses/partners. The inability to bond/attach to their spouses/partners has created a growing physical problem for men, including very young ones, who routinely use porn and/or masturbate frequently. Starting in the mid-to-late 1990s, as internet pornography gained popularity, one specialist noted that a number of men came to him with the same concern; experiencing difficulty being turned on by their sexual partners/spouses, though they still considered them attractive.
Dr. Harry Fisch, Clinical Professor of Urology and Reproductive Medicine, Cornell University stated, “I can tell how much porn a man watches as soon as he starts talking candidly about any sexual dysfunction he has. A man who masturbates frequently can soon develop erection problems when he’s with his partner. Add porn to the mix, and he can become unable to have sex.”
Sexual Addiction as an Intimacy Disorder
On the PoSARC website, founder Lili Bee writes: “The conceptual framework that makes it easier to understand sexual anorexia is that it’s more of an intimacy disorder than a sexual one. If we bear this in mind, we are closer to understanding this mysterious condition.”
Regardless of whether your husband enters into active recovery or not, you can rest assured that his lack of responsiveness is not based on your attractiveness. It stems from whatever is broken within him. As he moves forward in recovery, works with someone who is skilled/understands sexual anorexia (and its painful impact on spouses) he can learn how to grow in relational/spiritual intimacy.
If he does not choose to move forward, you can still do so. His choices, and commitments (or lack of them) are not a reflection of your value and worth, or attractiveness. They reflect what’s in him. Hanging our value and worth on how others – even our spouses – see or treat us is shaky ground. Recognizing and remembering that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ reminds me that God established my (and your) value and worth before we were born. I protect that truth, and pray it helps you gain a sense of your worth in the days ahead.
Sexual Anorexia: Beyond Sexual, Emotional & Spiritual Withholding and Married and Alone: Healing for Spouses of Sexual Anorexics, both by Doug Weiss, Ph.D
What about Sexual Reintegration Therapy and body image? We are in a sexual fast right now and don't know how my lack of positive body image will impact our SRT. What is the best way to do SRT?
Dawn: Like the question above, this one is a biggie. T and I went through a process of Sexual Reintegration Therapy (using a different book than the Bercaw one you mention) around four years into our healing journey. We also did a fast for three months at the beginning of our journey. I give the fundamentals of SRT and its benefits in Beyond Betrayal (my book coming out next year), but I’ll touch on some highlights here.
Sexual Fasting and Intimacy
Let’s start with the fast: over 70% of the respondents to the 2014/2015 Survey of Wives of Sex Addicts indicated that they requested a time of abstinence after discovery. For the majority that fast went on for about a year.
That length of time without sex is not going to work for every couple. However, I mention it to show that abstinence is absolutely crucial to the woman’s healing – and yes, can be for his too. This runs contrary to many women’s fears that he needs lots of sex, and if he doesn’t get it from me he’ll act out. However, research shows that sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder (echoing Donna). More “sex” without intimacy actually hinders his recovery. More intimacy will aid it. If the couple are not ready for emotional intimacy, they are not ready for sexual intimacy.
The fast time is a perfect opportunity to begin rebuilding non-sexual intimacy, however. Once there is a degree of trust again and a degree of emotional connection, it may be time to move into the early stages of SRT where some physical (but not sexual) intimacy is engaged in.
Sexual Reintegration Therapy
I found that “yes,” my body image issues did surface as a factor in early SRT exercises. The solution: go slowly. Let him interact with those areas of your body you feel more confident about. There’s nothing wrong with these early exercises going on for months. As he gives you positive verbal feedback about the bonding that’s taking place with your body, you should find it easier to be braver about those areas of your body you feel less sure about.
One of the key tenants of SRT is don’t rush into having intercourse. To do so thwarts the benefits (such as the reprogramming of his brain and bonding with you) of the process and gets couples back into old habits that run counter to intimacy.
Over and above everything go with your heart. You don’t need an expert to guide you beyond giving you the basic exercises. Your heart (guided by the Spirit) will tell you when you are ready to proceed – or when you have to go back a few steps. Just remember that our healing, as betrayed women, is never linear. Likewise the couple’s healing is also “one step forward, three steps back,” so don’t be surprised or disheartened to find that ground gained one week is lost the next. This is to be expected.
Intimacy for All
Even more healing than SRT is growing our emotional and spiritual lives through our relationship with God. Intimacy with God benefits the couple enormously… because it benefits the individuals enormously. It allows us to operate out of a place of peace and joy where we give and receive love more freely. And, if things don’t work out for us as a couple – we are better positioned, as women, to have a fulfilling life despite that loss. Instead, we will be fulfilled by the connection we have with our Song of Solomon lover who never leaves nor betrays us.
The Bridegroom: Rivers and Robots