Partner's Supplemental Workshop Lesson: Same Sex Attraction Part 1
Understanding Sexual Rituals Involving the Same Sex
Same Sex Attraction
“If my husband is looking at gay porn does that make him gay?” “If he has had sex with women and men, does that make him bisexual?”
These questions regarding the sexual orientation of a recovering partner arise out of the discovery that they have engaged in activities involving same sex attraction. You may have had to face situations like these:
- You are married to a man who you consider to be straight, yet his acting out has involved not only sex with female prostitutes but also with men.
- You discovered that your partner had a long term issue with looking at and masturbating to porn and you discover a stash of porn containing photos of men only, in a secret hiding place.
- You discover a recently viewed web page where your partner has advertised for sexual partners of the same sex.
To make the use of language easier, this lesson is written from the perspective of a 'straight' female, with a heterosexual male partner who has engaged in sexually compulsive activity involving men (e.g. anonymous encounters, male porn, same sex fantasies). However, it is important to note that many of these issues can be relevant to your situation, whatever the sexual orientations in play. For instance, homosexual partners would likely experience many similarities (fear, anxiety, doubt, etc.) should they discover their life partners having a heterosexual affair.
Straight partners having to deal with their partner's same sex attraction, same sex porn, and same sex activities, often find that they have another layer of questions and doubts - on top of the complexities of dealing with the fallout from their husband's sexual addiction. Some partners may feel that their relationships have been based on double deceit, not only has your partner acted out in secret, it seems that they have hidden another part of themselves - their sexual identity.
Sometimes other people's views and opinions can add more frustration and isolation to our experience. For example you may have heard others comment that:
“You are so lucky that your husband has only acted out with gay- men. You should be grateful because it is so much easier than if it were with women. So much less threatening!"
“It's easier for you, you don't have to compete with other women!”
“All that means is that your husband is gay - he isn't sexually addicted”
Comments like these arise from ignorance and lack of experience and they tend to present an additional challenge on top of already experiencing deeply felt questions and doubts! Whilst I understand the feelings of competing with the 'other women', I would not say that any one scenario is any better or worse than another- there are different challenges to face from situations like this.
Someone with sexual addiction, who looks at and enjoys same sex porn isn't necessarily gay, someone who engages in sex with another person of the same sex isn't necessarily gay or even bisexual....Various other explanations can shed light on this sort of behaviour, it can be about an escalation of the sex addiction:
- getting a 'greater' thrill within the addiction by pursuing curiosity /fantasy /risk
- increasing the intensity of their compulsive chains
- exploring their sexuality in an inappropriate way
- availability of same sex partners (with increased availability comes increased frequency in 'acting out')
- pushing the limits of sexual taboos
- needing to achieve a high, by trying something else once their 'tolerance' level has been reached
I imagine we would all agree that disclosure of sexual addiction causes an enormous amount of personal turmoil for the betrayed partner. When the sexual addition has involved a heterosexual partner and people of the same sex, there are additional layers of impact and challenge that this presents. Let's explore this in more depth.
The impact and challenge.
Discovering same sex attraction in your husband or partner may have an impact at an emotional, cognitive and physical level. It presents another dimension of challenge for the partner to deal with.
That additional dimension can challenge our view of sexuality in a deeply personal way. And it's worth bearing in mind that the person in recovery who engaged in same sex sexually compulsive behaviours may also be challenged and confused at a deeply personal level.
The emotional response to the news that your partner has been attracted to people of the same sex and or that he has acted on this in his addiction, will likely involve all the usual emotional responses that a discovery of sexual addiction will evoke. These are dealt with in the partners' workshop: Stage Two: The Traumatic Response and exercise 12. In addition, for partners dealing with the same sex attraction of their husbands, there are discrete and profound challenges that this kind of discovery has, to the core of who we are as sexual beings. This experience can be a source of: deeply troubling personal internal conflict, unanswered questions, a sense of unknowing, a sense of fear about the possible answers our partners will give us. These challenges and conflicts are presented below as primary and secondary issues.
Primary issuesThis is not a comprehensive list, and not everyone will experience all of these doubts and questions, they are offered as a sample of the kinds of questions and conflict that arise for partners. The primary challenges fall into three main areas:
Challenges to personal assumptions about your husband's sexuality
Questions arise regarding the nature and permanency of his sexual orientation and how that affects the past and the future: Is he Gay/ bisexual/ straight? How permanent is it? Is he in a transition stage to coming out as gay? (Some people believe that bisexuality is a transitional state.) Has he always been like this? Will he always be like this? How does he see himself? Does he use the label: gay or bisexual or heterosexual to describe himself?
Because the discovery is about your husband's behaviours it is likely that these will be the first questions that come to mind. You most probably will experience a period of shock, disbelief and bewilderment about this aspect of his sex addiction. If you have just recently discovered your partner's sex addiction, it is important for you to acknowledge your emotions and the questions that you have, but to understand that there are no easy answers or quick fixes to the additional emotional trauma this has caused. Fortunately, regaining a sense of stability does not depend on getting answers to your questions right away, in fact focusing on regaining stability through your value system will help you to deal with this issue at some point in the future.
It is important to recognise that it is most likely to be beneficial to work on yourself before you launch all these questions at your husband. It would be wise not to assume that your husband will immediately know the answers to these questions. It may be that his sexual behaviour has been so far removed from his values that he doesn't actually know what he wants. Remember that one aspect of addiction is related to identity confusion, so it's possible that his sexual orientation may be part of the identity confusion. Therefore it may not be productive to expect answers to these questions at the first opportunity, although everything within you will probably want to find answers as a matter of urgency, an inquisition is unlikely to be productive. If you are working at staying together, and he is in recovery, then initially, undergoing a period of personal processing will be useful for you; In the interest of the long term relationship it will enable you to bring more of a sense of stability, understanding and compassion to what are likely to be very sensitive and emotionally loaded conversations. These questions can best be addressed at a point where you both feel relatively safe and unthreatened about doing so. In part two of this lesson, there are some practical ideas about how to do this. This does not make your current feelings invalid; it just means that you have time to process in the short term what you need to, and to resolve some of these issues in the long term.
Challenges to personal assumptions about your own sexuality.
Doubts about your own sexual orientation and/or challenges to you own sexual boundaries and own sexual identity arise. If he is Gay/ bisexual/transvestite what does that make me? What is my own preference? Do I feel sexually attracted to other women? Have I unconsciously chosen a man who is 'gay' for some reason such as, it's safer, less threatening? Should I be tolerant of his preferences and behaviours? What are my boundaries on this; in terms of same sex physical acting out, porn, fantasy? What are my boundaries on this morally, ethically, spiritually? Am I still feminine and fully a woman? Many partners in this situation feel a sense of loss of (or doubt about) their own capacity to be a sexual being. This may lead to a questioning of personal womanhood & femininity.
Some feel a sense of rejection for being a particular gender: “I am not woman enough for him”. Sometimes partners internalise the responsibility for their husband's sexual orientation with faulty reasoning for example: “Because I was unable to sexually satisfy him he became gay”. (This may be reinforced by the ignorance of other people's comments: “He wasn't gay when he married you, so why has he become gay now?”) This is a form of seeking internally for answers, when actually seeking answers external to ourselves is required in such a situation. Partners may feel a sense of guilt, self blame, shame and inadequacy as a result of this faulty thinking. It is vital to remember that you have a separate identity from your husband: your husband's sexual orientation does not define you. All the work in the partners lessons contribute towards the re establishing or re defining of who we are and what we want from life - this is also relevant to our own sexuality; if we gain a sense of knowing and self assurance about our own sexual identity we will be helping by consolidating our foundations and bringing some balance to help us deal with this extremely distressing situation.
Challenges to personal assumptions about same sex sexual attraction/behaviours in generalWhen such a traumatic discovery occurs, it can be like someone pulling the rug from under your feet - nothing seems to be stable and solid ground anymore. You may feel a need to re-examine what your views on sexuality re in general. Partners often re-explore their personal views about homosexual/bisexual acts and homosexual/bisexual people and homosexual/bisexual orientation from: moral, religious, social and personal perspectives. An honest exploration of these questions will assist in the process of re evaluating:
- What are my beliefs about sexuality in terms of being gay / bisexual/ transsexual
- Do I experience any form of homophobia or sexual prejudice?
- Am I thinking in sexual stereotypes? Is that helpful or unhelpful?
- What do I consider to be 'sexual deviancy' and 'sexual normalcy'?
- Am I aware of what sexual acts are illegal?
- Is there terminology that I need to understand better- ie the difference between sexual orientation, gender, sexual identity etc?
For example: There may be an element, in some cases, of the partner experiencing disgust. This may be so, simply IF the partner has a belief that homosexual acts are dirty, disgusting or evil, or this may be deemed to be especially 'disgusting/deviant' IF same sex activity has been engaged in with underage boys, eg: if the sexual activity has occurred in less than clean places ie: public toilets, or if other behaviours have been engaged in which are deemed as 'deviant'. (Please read this carefully: I AM NOT saying same sex attraction is disgusting - I am saying a partner may experience disgust depending on their beliefs about sexuality). By examining your own feelings and beliefs it is likely to help you to discuss these matters with your partner later. In some instances it is possible that you may discover some personal prejudices which are important to be aware of and it is an opportunity to re-evaluate, revise or consolidate your views on the subject.
Secondary IssuesSecondary difficulties that you may encounter:
- Difficulty finding specific resources for healing and recovery-finding understanding professionals. This can lead to further isolation. It is tough enough finding appropriate resources for healing and recovery from sexual addiction but adding the dimension of same sex attraction makes it all the more difficult. Finding specialists and experts who have an understanding of this may be challenging:
“My personal experience revealed that even within the realm of psychosexual counselling and sex addiction recovery groups, this scenario can be perceived as an 'abnormal' or 'deviant' situation; and as such, I felt a further sense of isolation and 'abnormality'”. Female partner of spouse who had sexual contact with men
- Difficulty talking about the issue of your husband's sexual addiction with others. Depending on your particular circumstances you may choose to discuss this with friends or family. Remember that just as you experience confusion and emotional responses to this, they may also experience confusion and their responses may well be loaded with judgements coloured by their own social/religious/moral/cultural beliefs about homosexuality / bisexuality /same sex attraction/ sexual deviancy /normalcy. It's important when seeking support to: weigh your decision with your own internal judgement and be selective about who you talk with. You cannot guarantee how another person will respond to you. It's important to project into the long term future when considering who to share this with, once someone knows about this they cannot “un-know it” !
- Difficulty dealing with others responses. Anyone who has shared their experiences of their partner's same sex attraction will have experienced other people's pity, ridicule, blame, shame and humiliation. Partners may be labelled by others as “frigid” or “stupid” or “too ignorant to know that her own husband was 'gay'”. These attitudes and labels can hurt deeply. There will always be people who do not understand your situation - even professionals! Your best resistance to this is to work on our own self esteem and sense of self knowing.
- Difficulty talking about the issue of sexuality with partner. Issues of sexual identity rank amongst the most deeply personal issues to discuss with another person. It is especially difficult to discuss these matters if your partner is not ready to face his own sexuality. You can also run the risk of making false assumptions & false conclusions about your husband's/partner's sexuality. To deal with this effectively, each partner requires: sensitivity and honesty - the ability to suspend judgement and criticism, to develop compassion and the ability to listen carefully to the other's perspective. (Part 2 deals with this in more depth).
- Difficulty dealing with the impact on sexual intimacy. Everyone who is in a relationship with someone who has a sexual addiction will have to face the consequences that it has brought to their sexual relationship. In terms of sexual orientation, an additional layer of issues come in to play. As with most partners during sexual intimacy certain looks, smells touches, activities can act as a trigger for a traumatic reliving of events in your mind. In this case they will also trigger images, or questions of primary issues of sexual identity for you as a partner (as discussed earlier in the lesson).
All of these primary and secondary issues have potential to add significant emotional trauma on top of the emotional impact of the disclosure of sexual addiction. Working through the partners workshops will enable you to build up resources for strengthening your inner self. Lesson 2 on this subject goes on to look at ways of working through these issues with your partner.
Exercisea. Make a note of all the key words you can think of that represent the trauma of discovering that your partner has same sex attraction or has been involved sexually with others of the same sex. This will assist as an acknowledgement, validation and processing of what you are feeling - you can use it later on when working with your partner.
b. Consider whether you are at a stage in your own personal development to deal with this issue. If you are ready, start by re reading: Primary issue number 3 and then progress to Primary issue number 2 writing out notes on your answers to the questions posed in each of the 2 sections listed above.
Note: If either activity becomes too overwhelming stop and come back to it when you are more able to deal with it.