Thursday, April 30, 2009

Do all men cheat

"I met a guy online and we have "played" many times during his lunch break. He is partnered and I am single "in the closet". I have asked him whether he feels bad that he is cheating on his BF. He has mentioned that we do sex acts that his lover does not. I have barebacked him a few times and he doesn't seem to worry that I might give him HIV or an STD. Are all gay relationships like this?"

In short, this guy is playing you. He’s using you and his partner and is putting all of you at risk for HIV/STDs (but frankly, so are you). The lack of honesty in his relationship is a major concern for me.

The fact is, not all gay relationships are like the example you mention. Gay relationships cover the entire spectrum from monogamous partnered relationships to no-strings casual sex relationships. In between are negotiated rules, modified relationships and just about everything else.

What works for me as a healthy relationship includes at least these four values:

This is the experience when any sexual behavior makes you feel alive and energized as part of the experience. Your personal identity (and your partner’s) is affirmed, created and even expanded. You can walk away from the experience with your head held high. Sexual behavior is sometimes referred to as “adult play” suggesting a sense of fun and playfulness.

Open and Honest
Healthy sexuality is above board, open, and honest. While you may not talk about the incident with everyone because of discretion, you could disclose the activity. The sexual behavior is consistent with your values.

Full consent and awareness are present. Consent implies that all partners are actively giving permission to engage in the behavior. Consent also implies respect for the partner’s boundaries and limits. If consent is removed (i.e., stop, no, I do not want to), the behavior must stop. Any person can remove consent at any time for any reason.

This value requires you to ultimately assert fully your sexual needs, likes and dislikes. It is up to you to affirm and do the necessary reflection for the protection and communication of your values.

I don’t think the situation you describe is open and honest as well as consensual for all involved. I challenge you to think about whether or not having sex with this guy is consistent with YOUR values. I named 4 values above, but you may have additional values that may guide your decision.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Anger as a feeling trigger

Anger is a difficult topic to address because of the relationship to so many topics. It is a robust topic with multiple meanings and ways it is expressed. I will summarize a number of issues regarding anger as may relate to the acting out cycle. If these are relevant, please work with your network to obtain support and additional resources.

Anger as a primary feeling
What makes anger so difficult to understand and treat is the confusion around the phrase“ I’m angry.” Feelings of anger, mad, rage, frustrated and disappointment reflect different intensities of anger. What may trigger anger varies.

Anger as a secondary feeling
It is worth repeating: What makes anger so difficult to understand and treat is the confusion around the phrase “I’m angry.” Sometimes anger is a response to other feelings. The concept of “flight or fight” highlights this difficulty. When someone experiences fear, they typically want to run away or attack the source of the fear. In these cases, anger is actually a response to the fear. Treatment should focus on the source of fear. Another example as highlighted in the Payoffs for Sex is that anger may be in response to hurt. I’ve worked with clients whose acting out behavior is a form of revenge to hurt the partner or other person. These two examples highlight the importance of understanding why you are angry. If your feelings of anger are in response to a response to another feeling, it is important to identify and address the primary feeling instead.

Anger as part of a process
In the topic on Feelings of Grief, the stages of grief highlight how anger is a normal part of the grieving process. In circumstances where you experience loss, understanding how anger is expected as part of that process is helpful. Treatment for coping with anger in this example will address the process of coping with loss and grief.

Strategies for coping with anger
I mentioned in the section on Anxiety how I like the “_____ for dummies” series of books. They also have a book Anger Management for Dummies book that may be helpful In addition to reading additional material in coping with anger, the following strategies may be helpful.

Mindfulness: In the topic on the Power of Thought, I raised the topic of becoming aware of your body, thoughts and feelings. This skill is also helpful in coping with and expressing anger.

Time outs: Giving yourself a brief break from the situation can reduce unhealthy expressions of anger. I have my clients say “I need 15 minutes to settle down and think about what I need to say.”

Assertive communication: Review the upcoming topic on assertiveness. Learning how to assertively communicate when you feel anger is important.
Relaxation: Reducing overall stress and identifying ways to relax creates opportunities to focus on what is important and how you want to respond.

Meditation/Journaling: The ability to reflect on an encounter where you felt anger can improver your ability to understand the source of your reaction. Assessing your behavior can improve future responses.

Reaching out: Reaching out to your support network for support, coaching, feedback and advice when you feel anger is also helpful. A different perspective is sometimes what it takes.

Anger as an issue for follow-up
In the topic on Cross Addiction/Compulsivity, I highlighted different forms of acting out such as chemical use or spending behaviors. Anger can be a form of acting out as well. Every once in a while, I have a client who has significant problems regarding expressing, managing, and coping with anger. In some circumstances, client will be abusive toward others. Most often this shows up as verbal abuse, but in some situations, the client will engage in physical abuse. It is NEVER acceptable to express anger in this way. If you find that you struggle with coping with the anger, or that you continue to escalate after using the strategies above, I recommend further follow-up for additional support. This may include anger management classes/training or ongoing therapy.

• Describe the circumstances when you felt anger.
• When you find yourself angry, what other feelings may be the associated with the anger.
• What are your plans to improve your ability to express anger in healthy ways?
• Review your sex history. Examine how anger is related to the acting out behaviors. Might how you express anger be a form of acting out? Highlight any relevant examples.

Examples of Values for Creating your future

In reviewing the assignments in the workbook, I was asked to update and provide examples of certain values that could be used to shape your future behaviors. The original assignment was posted on Tuesday, August 5, 2008. The following examples are descriptive values.

Justice is often thought of as holding people accountable, sort of like a punishment. This is a start, but justice is also about restoring a sense of harmony and connectedness. Justice is more that just fairness, but also about the common good for all.

Peace is the absence of conflict, but it also includes the ideas of harmony, connectedness and common purpose. Peace also refers to a sense of internal purpose, groundedness, and a sense of internal acceptance. Within the concept of peace is a connection to justice.

Generosity is often seen as giving toward others on a monetary level. Beyond money, generosity can include giving of talent and time. Generosity also includes the concept of focusing on others and the common good. Generosity is giving someone the benefit of the doubt by interpreting comments and statements from a view toward growth versus failures.

Love often focuses on a strong emotional attachment. The English understanding of Love is based on the term “charity” which can include a sense of unconditional acceptance of another person. Much of current Christianity uses the concept of Love without fully understanding the history.

Wisdom is more than intelligence, but the application of experience with knowledge. Within the concept is a sense of integrity and groundedness. Applying wisdom creates justice. Justice can also include leading by experience.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spirituality and the Sex Offender

This is the second topic I presented at at the MNATSA Annual Conference. While the file is too large to post online, if you are interested in this topic, please contact me. I'm willing to share the material.

Working with the Gay Sex Offender

On 4/16 I presented two workshops at the MNATSA Annual Conference. While the file is too large to post online, if you are interested in this topic, please contact me. I'm willing to share the material.

Why so little posts -- a progress update

Why the long absence? Just a heads up that the new version of the workbook is in the final stages of editing and republication. I've posted the new material, but most of the work has focused on editing, brief paragraphs, or clarifying the assignments. I will post more when the workbook is published.

Culture and Stereotypes.

Improving your sexual health requires that you increase your awareness of your cultural values. We each belong to multiple cultures and everything we know is taught to us through these cultures. it is important for you to understand all of the cultures you belong to and how they impact your thoughts, beliefs, and expectations. Consider the following types of cultures.

Racial Culture is often referred to as skin color. Many researches in the field of cultural studies understand how limiting this term can be, but for a general discussion on sexual health, it is important to see how your thoughts are shaped by racial assumptions.

Ethnic Culture also has multiple meanings, but for the sake of simplicity, I use it to highlight national origin. Are you from Poland, Indonesia, or Senegal? It should be noted that some ethnic cultures cross over national boundaries. And, many countries have multiple ethnic groups.

Religious Culture refers to the shared beliefs regarding god and spirituality. In the United States this is typically Christian, but even within the Christian Tradition there are multiple cultures that shape your sexual values.
Age is another culture to assess. Older persons grew up in a time that taught different values versus younger people. This results in different values that shape your sexuality.

Sexual Identity is discussed in the next topic. For now, it includes gender (male/female), and sexual orientation (gay/straight/bi). Each of these topics shapes our understanding of sexuality. Men and women, for example, have different perceptions of touch. The “gay culture” is different from straight culture.

Socio-economic status highlights how your standard of living shapes your view of sexuality. Sharing a bed with a parent takes on a new meaning if you have a one-room house.

The various cultures we belong to help us understand and make sense of the world. Shorthand ways of understanding the world are labeled as stereotypes. This topic is also designed to help you identify some of the stereotypes you believe. These beliefs shape your sexual behaviors, values and identity. A typical Latino stereotype of a male is machismo that is loosely understood as hyper masculinity. It is “wrong” from this point of view to show any weakness or feminine characteristics. The struggle in coping with this topic is that sometimes the various cultures we belong to may be in conflict. What happens when I belong to the Latino and Catholic cultures where I identify as male and acknowledge that I am attracted to the same gender (gay). The key to increasing your personal sexual health is to resolve these conflicts on a personal level. Some people do this by rejecting parts of the heritage; others work toward changing the culture from which they came from. They key is for you to integrate your overall identity.

Identify the various cultures you belong to below. Identify two sexual beliefs you learned from each culture

Now, identify two stereotypes about any culture different from the one you belong. Thus, if you identify as white, what is one stereotype you believe (or heard) about the black community. Do this for each type of culture.

What did you learn about yourself or others based on this assignment. How have these beliefs shaped your sexual behavior? Share with your support team.