Exploring Sexual Intimacy

Through the workshop, the concept of developing values is presented again and again. Once you have identified your values, you will need to take the time to develop them. If you value social acceptance, for instance, yet have always been shy and unable to master the skills involved in expected social interaction...you will need to learn these skills. You will need to prioritize this value and begin setting up some goals that will help you achieve success in this area. Such skills do not come naturally, and they cannot possibly be addressed in the scope of a single workshop. You will need to work to identify the resources that are available to you to help learn these skills. One additional value that will be addressed here, is that of sexual intimacy. The reason that this value has been chosen is that it can be directly contrasted with what we have learned previously about sexual compulsion.

Intimacy is a limited value. By this, we are referring to the limited, finite scale of which the positive stimulation produced by the value exists. There are other limited values: honesty, for one; order, another. In each, there exists a maximum amount of positive energy that can be generated, and once that maximum has been achieved, there is only way for the stimulation to go...negatively. When a limited value is at its threshold (that threshold being, you are completely satisfied with the role this value is playing in your life), you have achieved the maximum emotional benefit that this value provides, and the focus then turns to maintaining it. Unlike compulsive behaviors, there is no habituation that takes place with values. Self-esteem, honesty, intimacy...such values do not require more and more to achieve the same emotional results. They simply need to be maintained. Which is a major reason why, once the compulsive behaviors have ended, and the underlying roles those behaviors were fulfilling have been replaced, the potential for relapse not only diminishes, but disappears altogether.

Unlike unlimited values (like meaning or accomplishment or self-respect-- which have no limits--as a person can continue to grow and achieve deeper stimulation on an endless plane), there exists a "threshold" for values such as intimacy. What this means is, that once complete intimacy is achieved, it must be maintained. Which is why value maintenance becomes such a critical role in preventing relapse. More on that is discussed in the Advanced Topics section of the workshop. What you need to understand now is, that once a person has experienced the emotional satisfaction that comes with experiencing true intimacy (and please note, this experience does not necessarily have to be in reality, as real emotional connections are created in fantasy, as well), then it will forever be a matter of trying to maintain that feeling in order to reap the benefits. The farther a person strays from their intimacy ideal, the more stress that will be created. Human beings have a natural need to experience intimacy...to feel loved, understood, accepted by others. This is usually experienced in infancy (parents) and continues to grow throughout childhood (family and friends), adolescence (friends) and adulthood (life partner). The groups in parenthesis are not the only groups that help to achieve that intimacy, but they are the most critical. As one goes from adolescence to adulthood, a new form of intimacy develops: sexual intimacy. Depending on the intimacy patterns previously established, this transition to sexual intimacy can either be healthy and satisfying; unhealthy and satisfying; unhealthy and unsatisfied; or nonexistent. Lets take a look at a few examples of each:

Healthy Behaviors that are Emotionally Satisfying

An infant who has bonded with both their mother and father, then moves through to childhood with those bonds intact...and begins to integrate the acceptance and friendship of their peers has developed a strong foundation to experience healthy, satisfying sexual intimacy. As they progress through their teens into adulthood, their previous experiences with establishing intimacy in non-sexual ways will allow them to rather easily integrate the sexual aspects of intimacy. Their need for intimacy will have been fulfilled from birth through adulthood, and the emotional stimulation produced through this one value will play a significant role in maintaining overall emotional balance.

In the world of sex/love addictions, obsessions and compulsive behavior, there has almost always been a breakdown in the development of intimacy in a person's life. Most often, this began in infancy and continued throughout childhood. The opportunity to develop this value may have been damaged through emotional and/or physical neglect; sexual trauma; some other major trauma (parental death/divorce); or in many other ways. Because this value is a universal one, and therefore needed by those seeking emotional balance, the absence of this value creates a stress that must be overcome in other ways. This pattern should start sounding familiar to you.

For most, especially when this value has progressed into the sexual intimacy stage, there are three remaining potential effects on a person's life when this value is not developed completely:

Unhealthy Behaviors that are Emotionally Satisfying

Rather than the development of healthy intimate values, a person over compensates for this lack of development by an extreme reliance on one or two of the elements of intimacy. Let's say, passion. Or self-sacrifice. Or love. Their desire to experience intimacy is seen in desperate attempts to experience intimacy through desperate acts. This is often related to the obsessive relationships, romantic stalking and other behaviors that produce the illusion of "instant intimacy". Though the behaviors are unhealthy, they still produce a temporary state of emotional satisfaction.

Unhealthy Behaviors that are Emotionally Unsatisfying

The final development of Intimacy as a value, is one in where both the behaviors are unhealthy (or nonexistent.), and the person is aware of the lack of intimacy in their life. This is a double whammy in that, not only are they not getting the stimulation that is needed for balance, they are also furthering the gap in that imbalance by acting in ways that they know are unhealthy and unproductive.

Nonexistent. Behaviors with Emotional Irrelevance

There are relatively few individual types who can exists comfortably without having experienced intimacy with another human being: sociopaths are one; the other are those who can somehow make an equivalent, ongoing, intimate connection with an alternative source (e.g. God, pets, etc.). In the latter, this often does not translate into the development of healthy sexual intimacy, and so the full stimulation that is capable of being experienced is never achieved...and that imbalance must be made up in other ways.

How this all ties to sexual intimacy:

Human beings have an innate desire to experience a meaningful connection with other human beings. They need to experience intimacy, and later in life: sexual intimacy. Most of the time, this intimacy begins in infancy, and continues across the span of a person's life. In many people who struggle with addictions, something has happened which caused this value to never be fully developed. Because it is a need, the stress produced when this need goes unfulfilled is enormous. A person naturally attempts to adjust to this stress by trying other ways of meeting this need [e.g. promiscuity; fantasy (via thoughts, books, TV, songs)]. When the stress begins to overwhelm the person, they have few other choices but to either find new ways to eliminate the stress (through other values--which are almost always diminished as well--and so they are unable to provide the necessary emotional balance), or turn to artificial ways to relieve the stress--compulsive sexual behaviors, fantasy, alcohol/drugs, obsessive relationships, etc. The exception to this is the person who takes the completely opposite approach and denies the need for sexual intimacy altogether--though to maintain emotional balance, other values would need to be developed fully.

The following is an example of the minimum amount of information that you should know about each and every value that you have. Remember, it is your responsibility to take what you learn here and apply it to your life. That means, the next time you are about to pick up another addiction recovery book to read, or the next time you are about to make yet another post on your online recovery support board, read a book on one of your values. Learn how to be honest. Develop the skills that it takes to have self-respect. Or, go to a discussion board that focuses on something that you are interested in, outside of recovery. Begin expanding as a person. Begin allowing yourself to make real changes in your life. Begin the transition from recovery to health...by focusing on the health.

Sexual Intimacy as a Value (the minimum):

The Wheel of Sexual Intimacy

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The Wheel of Sexual Intimacy is similar to the Wheel of Sexual Compulsion, with two major differences: first, whereas the wheel of compulsion lists independent elements that work together to produce an altered state of mind; the wheel of intimacy is composed of elements that are all nearly dependent on one another. Rarely can a single element provide positive stimulation without the presence of one or more other elements. Each element of the wheel needs to be considered when evaluating sexual intimacy. The level of intimacy experienced is to be guided by the same three filters: Time, Intensity and Habituation. Second, the Wheel of Sexual Intimacy is open to many more elements than what is displayed above. For many, intimacy is a personalized experience, and many things play a part in the development of that experience. One's past, for example. The elements listed in this wheel are only one example of how numerous elements are dependent on each other.

As we examine each of the elements, keep in mind your role in past relationships (or the role of your partner). What parts of the wheel were missing? What parts have you yet to develop properly?

Elements Involved in Sexual Intimacy

Reality: the knowledge that your perceptions of the relationship are similar to your partner's perceptions of the relationship

Choice: the feeling that you openly choose to be with the person that you are experiencing intimacy with; the feeling of "not being stuck" in the relationship

Trust: the knowledge that your partner is honest with you; that you are honest with your partner; that your partner knows that you are being honest; and that you know that your partner is being honest

Pride: the willingness and desire to tell others about your relationship

Respect: the feeling of wonder and amazement towards your partner as a human being; equality

Vulnerability: the willingness to risk emotional damage in the attempt to grow as a person/couple; the knowledge that your partner will use the information/experiences you share in positive, fulfilling ways

Self-love: the knowledge that the more you love yourself in healthy, productive ways, the more positive emotions that you will have to share with your partner; the more accepting of yourself that you are, the more accepting of your partner you will be

Sensory Stimulation: the understanding that all sensory stimulation between you and your partner is geared towards communicating to that person's soul; the use of intentional sensory manipulation to bring emotional pleasure to one or both

It would be hard to establish intimacy with any single element from the wheel. The amount of stimulation provided would simply not be enough to balance the stress of all the other elements not being present in the relationship. If you recall, the Wheel of Sexual Compulsion allowed you to piece together certain elements that would combine to form a chain of ritualistic behaviors that led to a certain amount of stimulation being produced. This wheel can be used in a similar way, except that instead of piecemealing the elements together, you need to learn to use them all to form one stable value: in this case, the value of intimacy. Combine the development of this one value with a base of others, and you will have developed the foundation that will allow you to maintain emotional balance permanently. The amount of emotional stimulation that can be generated from such a foundation of values allows you to live a life without the enormous underlying stress, which triggers the acting out, which triggers more stress. The urges go away. The temptations go away. And what you are left with is a series of opportunities to continue growing and strengthening your values. With each success adding to that level of emotional satisfaction and fulfillment.

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