A former Buddhist nun weighs in on insights on sexuality & sensuality from a Nevada prostitute
It might seem strange that an ex-Buddhist nun and a prostitute would share similar views about sexuality. But that is precisely what happened as I read a recent Huffington post article, Sexuality vs. Sensuality: The Steady Decline of Affection in America, written from the unique vantage point of Bethany St. James, a self-proclaimed legal prostitute. As I read her post, I felt myself agreeing as she pointed to the "unrealistic and unromanticized version of physical pleasure" portrayed in much of today's porn and how we seem to be losing touch with the true pleasure available in connecting intimately though our sexuality. Our overly sexualized, advertised version of reality seems to have taken over connected, intimate sensuality.
It has been said that the nature of our sexual expression, how we relate sexually has never changed so much in such a short time. The ease of access of porn on the Internet, its graphic and impersonal nature, has created an exponential increase in the number of individuals who are reporting a loss of control, a loss of pleasure, and a preoccupation or obsession with their sexual passions. So much so, that there seems to be an explosion of acting out sexually, sexual compulsion, porn addiction, sex addiction. What surprised me is that even in Ms. St. James' world this change is evident. Her article said that her clients are now with more frequency looking for companionship, for the "Girl Friend Experience," for affection and tenderness.
Ms. St. James' post caught the attention of Anderson Cooper's talk show, Anderson. My husband, George, was invited to be a part of a conversation about the article on the show with Ms. St. James. Since my husband works with sex addicts and I counsel the wives and partners, we have a front row seat for the devastation that women experience when their partner is sexual with someone outside the relationship. One of my clients (whose husband had become entangled in a very destructive relationship with a prostitute) was also invited to add her viewpoint to the mix of the conversation on Anderson by representing the wife's role, reactions, and feelings in situations where husbands seek sex outside of the marriage.
When a disconnect happens inside a relationship (often due to the stresses and distractions of our ordinary lives) many times the ease of sexual escape both virtual and real can seem to be the path of least resistance. As a rule, the couples my husband and I see are actually longing to learn how to connect intimately, but have not had the kind of modeling needed to create a vulnerable, connected, emotionally and physically intimate bond. The way sex is portrayed in the media and certainly in Internet porn only seems to be adding to and escalating the confusion.
Often there are two basic misunderstandings that go into falling into a choice to seek sexual expression outside of the relationship. 1) There is an overlooking and/or denial about the suffering it will create for the partner, and 2) the choice does nothing to resolve the underlying root causes that are creating the urges to seek sex, comfort, and/or connection elsewhere. It's a kind of like attempting to climb a tree by digging a hole in the ground. You're just going in the entirely wrong direction.
Ms. St. James' advice to wives and partners that "the more you listen, the less the public will need my services," demonstrates an overlooking of these two fundamental elements. Although it may not have been her intention, while stating her insights into today's sexuality she also seems to place blame on wives and girlfriends for their lack of partnering skills. As long as she continues to put herself into the role of "the other woman," she firmly remains a part of the problem. As in the tree climbing analogy above, her intention may be to instruct on tree climbing, but she is there with a shovel helping to dig the hole in the ground.
Those who seek a "Girl Friend Experience," or any sort of intimate connection with someone who is being paid to perform, will continue to stumble on the fact that this experience is not a real relationship. As much as Ms. St. James may want to teach the art of sensual intimacy, she can only point toward it. Truly connected intimate partnership includes not only intimate sexuality but so much more. It requires both inner strength and the capacity to surrender to your partner. This develops over time through the willingness to make the needs and wants of the other, and of the relationship, just as important as your individual needs and wants. The capacity of surrendering self to other brings with it the benefit of intimacy.
Ms. St. James' message of how we are missing the intimate, connected, uplifting potential in our sexuality is lost because as a messenger she only holds a piece of the truth. But let's not throw out that part of truth that she expresses so clearly. With that in mind, let's read through the words from her post:
“Our view of what is 'sexy' has become so askew that many women and men don’t even know what their own desires are anymore. With most contemporary portrayals of sexuality being outright promiscuity and tactless drunken debauchery, it’s not surprising that women and men have lost sight of the joys and need for sensuality. Between this severely misguided view of human sexuality and the pressures of our everyday lives, the sex lives of most Americans have been stunted. Those involved in relationships, and even those who are battling through the 'dating scene,' are faced with the pressures to conform to what society is telling us sex should be.”
Truth can come to us in many ways, through many voices, in many forms. During the Anderson show, Ms. St. James said that she is going back to school to become a therapist. I, for one, hope she realizes that goal, that she finds a way to truly express the wisdom of her insights, that she is able to remove herself from being a part of the suffering that comes with the betrayal of a committed relationship.
So this former nun does agree in essence with the prostitute's insight. As Ms. St. James so clearly expressed, what is called for is an increased awareness of what so many seem to have lost sight of — the true nature of the joys and desires for sensuality in a committed relationship. By working through obstacles — sexual, emotional, spiritual — a couple can reap the heart-opening rewards of intimacy available in the beauty and hard work of a committed partnership.
Paldrom Collins is a former Tibetan Buddhist nun and co-author of "A Couple’s Guide to Sexual Addiction: A Step-by-Step Plan to Rebuild Trust & Restore Intimacy." Working with her husband and sex addiction expert George Collins at Compulsion Solutions counseling center, Paldrom counsels individuals and couples across the country.