The Pacific Heart

Psychiatry, Spirituality and Culture

Casual Sex: A Psychiatrist Responds

Response to Siegel's "Why I Advocate for Casual Sex"

December 25, 2011
In response to "Why I Advocate for Casual Sex" by Stanley Siegel, LCSW

"Sex positive" sounds good and gets hits, but...

any therapist worth his or her salt would be supportive of the person, but neutral, exploratory and non-judgmental about how the person engages in casual sex. Sex can be very healing - touch is powerful - but it can also be very destructive if one gets stuck on sex as the sole vehicle of intimacy and self-expression. Clearly, if the pattern of casual sex is sexual addiction, problems arise.  Casual sex can be empty - not just healing, as Siegel seems to suggest.

People explore and express many things through sexuality. We don't celebrate or sanction all those manifestations, because it is a truism that sex can be harmful, dangerous or abusive. That some forms of sex can be all of these is a given. So it's best to understand what's going on here, rather than give blanket permission.

For example, you wouldn't sanction sex between client and therapist, would you? Some, in the past, have advocated such abuse as "therapeutic" and "healing". That is simply not true, as has been proved by numerous studies.  (See Glen Gabbard's Sexual Exploitation in Professional Relationships.)

Siegel's book will likely sell a lot, but if this is an example of the elaboration of his ideas, I'm not impressed.

UPDATE 12/26/11, in response to comments. Of course, I didn't simply write this in reaction to the title of Mr. Siegel's article. I wasn't interested in writing a refutation or analysis of his blog article, but rather, I wanted to continue the conversation he started. Siegel raises many points worthy of consideration. If I could pull bullet points out of that article (oversimplified, of course) it would be that Siegel is advocating a "casual sex" that is replete with positive and transforming emotions, that should be "practiced intelligently", changes with experience, embraces sexuality, is not reckless or abusive, is possibly "better" than sex in committed relationships, is not sexist, and can be practiced safely. This would of course eliminate the two examples of extreme behavior which I noted above (sexual addiction and sexuality in professional relationships). But I also think Seigel's definition of casual sex is hardly casual. It's complicated, ripe with meaning and requires both parties to learn and grow from the encounter. Perhaps Seigel could pick a better term?  Perhaps "contemplative sex"?

I absolutely agree that we should understand sexuality as it fits uniquely into each person's life, and not simply advocate a widespread change of culture that may be good for some and harmful to others. Sex positive is fine, but one shouldn't then put blinders on and just take on the assumption that Siegel-brand casual sex is always happening.

One commenter said I was biased. Yes, my biases are for health and wholeness, love, intimacy and relatedness across the lifespan. What sounds good at age 25 may not hold at 45.

The example of sexual addiction is an extreme example of sexuality that points to important questions about how sexuality is held within the culture and human psyche. An endless seeking after sexual highs, followed by depression, isolation, shame and regret; a craving for superficial intimacy while depths are lost within oneself and others; often, a life history of abuse or neglect that goes unaddressed, causing pervasive harm to the addict.

If casual sex gets you to relatedness, then more power to you. But as a therapist, I would repeat how I opened my part of the conversation: "Sex can be very healing - touch is powerful - but it can also be very destructive if one gets stuck on sex as the sole vehicle of intimacy and self-expression."

I hope that's good enough to satisfy my professorial and irritated commenter (s)!  At the least, I hope it's related!

Update #2:  I think most of this original blog post was in reaction to the spectacle of a therapist advocating for casual sex, and with more opinion than evidence.  What I wrote actually sounds more restrictive than I meant it to be.  I believe we have to start with acceptance, even radical acceptance, of where the person is in their sex lives and how they choose to express themselves sexually.  But most people would be cautious about the messages about sex which they choose to impart to children, for example.  And we have to be open to a deeper exploration of how we approach relationships in general.  Again, my bias is for "health and wholeness, love, intimacy and relatedness across the lifespan."  That includes a healthy view of one's body, and sex as well.  

Thanks to Mr. Siegel for opening this discussion.

 

(I will be writing blog posts on the movies A DANGEROUS METHOD, SHAME and PARIAH in the next week, as well as an article about Pornography and Addiction within the next month or so. Subscribe via RSS so you don't miss these.)

 ©  2011 Ravi Chandra, M.D. All rights reserved.  Subscribe by RSS above.  Sign up for a quarterly e-newsletter to be the first to find out about my upcoming book on the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens, Facebuddha:  Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, at www.RaviChandraMD.com.  Facebook page: SanghaFrancisco-The Pacific Heart. Twitter @going2peace. Thanks for your shares on Facebook, etc.!  

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Ravi Chandra, M.D., F.A.P.A. is a Board Certified Psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco, California.

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