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From Compulsion to Connection

"Psychologically Speaking," a monthly column by Dr. J. Buzz von Ornsteiner

February 2004

From Compulsion to Connection
Art by John McRae.

I am a HIV-positive 45 year-old gay man and I have a problem with my sex drive -- it never lets up! I recently came to realize that much my sex drive -- which is still like a 16 year old's -- has ruled me for days, weeks, months and years. For the last 25 years I have been engaging in sexual contacts (usually safe) with different men in many different places. At work I may pick up guys during my lunch breaks by going to city parks and adult bookstores. When I exercise at my gym I make contact in the steam room. Still, part of me would really like to become seriously involved with just one person but let's face it, dating is hard to begin with -- and even harder when you're 45 and have HIV. Help!


A Response to This Composite Case Study

Your sexually compulsive behavior seems to have controlled you and your conduct for your entire adult life. I state this because from what you describe it's hard for me to believe that anything else really matters in your life, other than satiating your sexual desires over and over again. Thus, trying to redirect yourself cold turkey to a different sexual lifestyle could be problematic unless you are highly motivated to change. With most addictions, people need to have new areas of their life where they can redirect themselves to when they feel the compulsion to act out.

I would gather that over time you have limited yourself to your sexual compulsion and the other emotional foundations of your life have become almost non-existent, which is very sad. Without the other areas of your emotional life being fulfilled, life would be rather limited and lacking in deep intimate relationships. That said, I think it's great that you are requesting help and expressing an interest to become involved with just one person. So let's start there with that first constructive step.

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I personally believe it's never too late with any addictive behavior to make changes and work out the areas that may have led to compulsive thoughts and actions. Please keep in mind that it has taken a long time for your behavior to get this way, and that it will take a certain amount of time for those thoughts and behaviors to change. One must be highly motivated for change and then be able to take the small steps daily that in time will lead to larger steps. If you are committed to change then you will, in time, gain personal control over your thoughts and behaviors. Then it will be a more viable option for you to seek out and become involved with a single partner. Let's look at three core issues more closely:

Lack of Control: The sexually compulsive individual's needs can feel uncontrollable, and their compulsive thoughts and their behaviors often rule their lives. They often refuse to be contained within a rational scheme of living, in which sexual fulfillment is wisely sought and obtained. Instead, they pursue sex anywhere at anytime, no matter how inappropriate or even dangerous. However, at some point many want to "draw the line." The first essential step is to stay away from "cues" in our environment that will cause certain behaviors. For instance, if you know that you are likely to be drawn towards sex in your gym locker room, then don't use the locker room! Shower at home and focus on improving your body with the weights, finish your workout in record time, and then move on to the world outside your gym!

Continuous Need: The sexual compulsive has an unquenchable need for contact. This does not necessarily mean sex every single day. But even if the strong desire is quenched sufficiently for a while, it won't be long before the tensions re-arise and the lack of control begins again. If you know the outcome and want to get off the cycle, consider joining a "Sexual Compulsives Anonymous" or other similar group in your area. This can offer you support and guidance when the urges rise and assist you in taking control within a supportive group. You should also consider individual psychotherapy or other assistance from a mental health care provider.

Addictive Behavior: Sexual addiction is a compulsive form of sexual behavior. This means not only that thoughts and behaviors are beyond the person's control and lead to irrational and self-defeating activities, but that they also lose out on the other areas of life. They close the doors often on fun and pleasurable activities that are unrelated to sexual drive. They suffer from a limited social life and employment opportunities, and often are unable to advance their educations. Of course, I am speaking in very general terms here, and there are exceptions to every rule. However, the amount of time and energy placed in this area would naturally pull from the other areas that are important to life's emotional balance.


Taking Responsibility

To get off the treadmill of sexually compulsive behavior you need to take responsibility. I can offer several starting solutions for you to consider, but the bottom line is to gain control over your bottom half by using the head you have on your top half. You say that at 45 your sex drive is still like a 16 year old's but the research demonstrates that this is physically unlikely. Psychologically speaking, the idea that you are ruled by your sex drive may well be a way to evade taking a mature and committed responsibility to have control over your life.

Right now, you present yourself as a man who is out of control and wants to change, but who does not take responsibility for his conduct. In fact, you may be in denial about getting older and may still need to see yourself as virile and sexually potent, especially given that you are living with HIV. No one wants to get old in our ageist, youth-oriented society. Most people want to remain "forever young" at least in terms of their appearance, and one way to "stay young" is to completely deny that your sex drive is slowing down. Sadly, even if your sex drive actually were as high as a 16 or 18 year old, such youths typically lead structured lives by attending school, maintaining a strong social life with friends and within groups, and partaking in sports and other activities. In fact, even young people, for the most part, gay or straight, do not conduct themselves the way you have been. Their focus is not on a non-stop search for the next sexual pick-up, and if you were truly searching for a relationship, this is not the direction you should take.

As you move away from sexual compulsion, you should be able to stop seeing every eligible man you meet as someone to objectify, seduce, and then have sex with before moving on to your next target. By redirecting your energies away from the single-minded pursuit of sex, you open up opportunities to pursue other interests. This will give you opportunities to meet new people in settings that are not likely to lead directly to sex, enabling you to think of them as more than objects of lust. Expanding your personal horizons will also make you a more interesting person, someone that others might want to get to know beyond a quick "roll in the hay."

In conclusion, start the process of becoming aware how much your thoughts are directing your behaviors and consider the amount of time you spend in this one area of life. Attempt to redirect yourself to non-sexual activities and to interact with your friends on a more personal level directed toward a structured activity that is non-sexual. Above all, seek out support and build a realistic structure in your daily and weekly life that will support your redirection. After 25 years this will be a whole new world for you, and not an easy one at first. But with time, insight and high motivation, the pay-offs will start to appear as you gain control over your thoughts and perhaps get to meet someone special. Good Luck!

J. Buzz von OrnsteinerJ. Buzz von Ornsteiner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and behavioral consultant in New York City and writes the "Psychologically Speaking" column. He is also the host of "Ask Dr. Buzz," a Body Positive-sponsored weekly call-in radio show about HIV/AIDS issues on WWRL 1600 AM at 2:30 on Wednesdays.




  
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This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
 
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