Is It Love or Is It Sex; Why Relationships Don't Work
By Carla Wills-Brandon
Sex and food. Both are necessary for the continuation of our species. Both are very powerful and have the capacity to change the way we feel about our lives and the world around us. If used in an addictive manner, food and sex can distort our reality just as effectively as alcohol and other drugs, and the consequences of addiction to food and sex can be just as devastating as alcoholism or drug dependency.
Many people in our society escape the realities of life by hanging out in front of the refrigerator when facing the problems of being an adult in our world. As I described in my earlier bOOk, Fat Like A Lady: Guide For Overcoming Bulimia eating disorders are survival skills that have enabled many of us to function and they come from our dysfunctional families. As a bulimic I could insulate myself from pain, shame and other feelings with food. Food allowed me to escape the feelings I had as a child and as an adult, it provided me with a false sense of security. But as with all addictions, my eating disorder backfired by protecting me from reality. While in addiction, I never learned how to live life in the real world. I never really grew up.
Many individuals escape the world of reality through fantasy relationships. The fantasy of what a relationship should be is an illusion based on sexual acting out. Sex replaces intimacy, giving the relationship a false sense of well being. When sex diminishes or is not an intense part of a relationship, the perception is that the relationship is bad. If we have good sex, we have a good relationship. Sex will make it better. These ideas belong to the cycle of sexual addiction. The sexual acting out becomes the fix, just as alcohol is the illusionary fix for the alcoholic.
More and more information has begun to surface on sexual addiction, starting with Patrick Cames' book, Out of the Shadows. He describes three levels of sexual addiction and discusses how each affects the addict's ability to perceive the world as it really is. Each level has a set of specific characteristics and behaviors which interfere with the ability to establish healthy, intimate relationships with the self or others.
Our Shaming Myths
As a society, we have a lot of shame around issues of sexuality and we believe a number of myths associated with appropriate versus inappropriate sexual behavior.
I was watching a talk show on television recently when the discussion was about what the legal consequences should be for an adult woman who had sex with a teenaged boy. Half of the participating television audience thought the sex act between the adult woman and minor boy was all right. They stated further that the boy had consented to the sexual act by not saying no to the adult woman. They argued that he must have wanted to have sex with the woman because he didn't say no and that he probably learned a lot about sex. The other half of the audience (the side I applauded) stated that this was a form of sexual abuse, that the teenager did not have the maturity to stand up to the adult and say no. They further argued that as an authority figure (as an adult), the woman was in a position of power over the young boy, making it impossible for him to say no.
I cheered those who saw this incident as one of sexual abuse but was saddened at the same time. I was amazed at the amount of conflict in the audience over this issue. I was also surprised at the lack of information among the majority of these people regarding basic child development and sexuality. It impressed upon me the extent of sexual abuse in our society that is based on ignorance. At the core of sexual addiction, as with all other addictions, is the dysfunctional family system.
I believe that society as a whole plays a large part in perpetuating family system dysfunction and many of the addictions we see today. It is still important to look good, be positive and not talk about unpleasant things, even at the expense of our emotional well being. For many who have eating disorders, losing weight at any cast to fit society's dictum that thin is beautiful or thin is sexy can be life threatening. Anorexics will starve themselves to dangerously low body weights to be perfect. Exercise bulimics will jog, pump iron and exercise past their bodies' endurance, injuring joints and bones, to Fit in and be beautiful. Our society reflects this point of view in newspaper ads, magazines and television. As a result, children as young as nine and ten are obsessed with their bodies and with fear of being fat.
I know of a nine-year-old whose mother told her she was too fat and put her on a diet. This child, in my opinion, was weight appropriate. Her mother had her counting calories and keeping a list of what she ate. This weight appropriate child believed she was fat.
In our society, we also expect our children to grow up too quickly. This too is reflected in the media, where sex is the name of the game in rock music videos and in advertisements where having a pimple is a sin. Young people are experimenting with sex at earlier ages, but contraception and sex education are still in the closet in many parts of the country. As a result, pregnancies are common among all races, religions and social positions. With AIDS on the rise, we are finally being forced to make some decisions about confronting sexuality among our youth. We are finally doing this from an educational standpoint rather than the way we did in the past when sexual messages were based in shame.
We, as a society, spend many- dollars on products to make us smell sexy, taste sexy, look sexy, feel sexy and act sexy. We have grapefruit diets, liquid diets, pills, shots, wired jaw and surgical procedures for weight reduction to guarantee a beautiful, sexy body. As a culture, we are beginning to develop an obsession for exercise. Exercise gyms are filling up as they never have before. Even gyms use sex as a way of selling memberships. Before you primp, you've got to pump some iron. Beautiful, well proportioned, scantily dressed women make such comments while lifting weights, reinforcing that in order to be acceptable, one has to buy the fantasy.
How does all this affect our concept of what a relationship should be? Do we really know what intimacy is or are we looking for the perfect illusion? How many of us open our monthly department store bills to find advertisements for women's nightgowns and undergarments? Who are these ads directed at, or should I say, who in the average American family usually opens these bills? In newspaper and magazine advertisements, we find that sex sells everything from chewing gum for "that sexy smile," to cars for those looking for "a sleek, sexy look." Not only are females used as sex objects to entice the male buyer but since the women's liberation movement, well built, perfectly proportioned, sexy males sell per fume "to drive him mad" and blue jeans "that will drive her mad" to our female population.
The truth about all the advertising that uses sex as a hook into the buyer is that it is not the gum, perfume, blue jeans or car that is being sold. What is being sold is a fantasy — the products just happen to be part of the fantasy, the illusion of per feet kin, and we, as a society, have bought it.
Men learn to look for that perfect woman and women learn to look for that perfect man. So, many of us look for the fantasy relationship because we believe that is the way things are supposed to be. How many of us are really content with our bodies, our mates, our lives? How many of us strive for the fantasy of perfection in hopes that we will someday be happy with who we are? How many of as, as one perfume advertisement put it, really do want to "share the fantasy" with someone we think will make us feel complete?
Many of us walk around feeling inadequate, lonely and empty. We use food, sex, drugs, alcohol, work, religion, relationships and more to cover up our feelings of insecurity and inner shame. We have a horrible fear of people finding out just how imperfect we are so we are constantly looking for that one drink, drug or relationship that will fill us up and make us feel whole. We know almost nothing about what true, honest, intimate communication with others or even self is all about because nobody ever taught us that it was okay to talk about our hurt, shame and anger. Most of us are totally unaware that we need to learn how to fill ourselves up from within before we can experience a healthy relationship with another human being.
As a society we are obsessed with looking good on the outside, moving forward financially and keeping up with the neighbors. It is as if we believe that when we accomplish these goals, somehow our feelings about who we are will get fixed. But I believe many of us are suffering on the inside and feeling very inadequate and wondering why. Many of us are divorcing, having life crises, living in loveless relationships and feeling unsatisfied. Or we are settling for second best by not doing what we really want to do because of fear and lack of confidence in who we are. Maybe we are in a relationship that just isn't working and we feel as though we are missing some great secret about life and love. And on top of it all, we cannot get this thing called life right.