Psychological barriers to sexuality
January 7, 2011 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I have some friends who have had blocks in realizing their sexualities and I'm wondering what the cause of it is. I can't seem to find much information on this topic anywhere else.

A couple of friends who both have interesting dealings with their sexualities:

One of them was raised in a devout Catholic household who realized he was gay when he was in his early 20s. Before that, he didn't feel attracted to anybody. Only after realizing that, did he start to have feelings for others. He told me that before that, there was some sort of a block in him and he felt that something just wasn't right with him.

Another friend of mine who is the same age as me, didn't feel attracted to anyone. He only started feeling attractions to the same sex after being with someone of the same sex. Before that, he wasn't attracted to anyone at all. And even now he is only attracted to the same sex. And as far as I remember, he wasn't raised in a religious household.

So I'm wondering what is behind all of these psychological blocks, also if one can form later in life after certain events, and finally if a psychotherapist can actually help someone get through these blocks, or if time is just the best remedy.
posted by antgly to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Coming Out of Shame is an interesting book that deals with this topic (among others).

There is a lot of work about women coming out as lesbian or bi later in life; other than the book above, I'm not as familiar with work about gay and bi men coming out later in life.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:34 AM on January 7, 2011


It's called "coming out" and there are thousands of ways to do it. Every gay and lesbian person I know has their own unique coming out story (and as Sidhedevil says, for women at least, there are books of such stories). Can a psychologist help? Sure, if someone is stuck and in pain. But nobody said it was going to be easy. A coming out group can be enormously helpful, more so IMHO than individual psychotherapy, because in a group you see that your coming out is a normal developmental stage, not some strange pathology.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:50 AM on January 7, 2011


Guilt and shame are powerful dampeners on our ability to be the people we really are, at our cores. There really isn't much more to it than that.

As far as what would fix it: Just be around people and turn an ear to them when they ask. That's about all you can do.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:50 AM on January 7, 2011


Your biggest sex organ is your brain. When something like cultural conditioning interferes with the signals it's trying to send out, it may take quite a while for the individual to be able to either remove whatever is muffling the signal or be able to interpret what the signal is saying.

Being raised in a conservative or religious household isn't the only way for these signals to get muffled. Our society in general sends very strong message about sexuality - what's appropriate, what's "right," who's beautiful - that we begin absorbing at a very young age.
posted by rtha at 11:08 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


antgly, do you feel like all of the answers and links people have provided for you in response to your previous questions aren't helpful? if you do, it would be great if you could tell us why, so we can figure out more appropriate, helpful answers. if not, it's hard for us not to assume after all this time that asking these questions over and over and over again is a way for you to procrastinate from the hard (but essential!) work of getting in touch with people in the real world that can actually get you the help that you need and say that you want.
posted by lia at 11:11 AM on January 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


So I'm wondering what is behind all of these psychological blocks

Homosexuality and bisexuality are generally perceived as abnormal and even immoral in our society. People have very good reasons for not wanting to be anything other than "straight". They face social ostracization and assumptions about the quality of their character based on this one trait. They face the potential for violence at worst and being perceived as something of an oddity at best. It's no surprise to me that under these unfortunate circumstances, people who are not straight would unconsciously suppress their own sexuality in favor of the heterosexual hegemony.
posted by Lobster Garden at 11:29 AM on January 7, 2011


They are helpful, but I'm just thinking about this specifically, because I've realized that I might be having something along these lines due to having gone through a period of depression after coming out to my parents and events culminating to the point where I've moved out and my parents won't speak to me. Also I've been shunned from church. Sometimes I feel that those events have done something to me and have really put me down in this way. And at tblock lapses in the block I'm experiencing if that is what it is. Because before all those events, I didn't seem to have any kind of block in me, so to speak. And sometimes it seems that whenever I go to a therapist, all they do is just listen to me and not really provide real strategies or assistance. I went to college counseling in the past and also counseling at the LGBT center in Manhattan.
posted by antgly at 11:31 AM on January 7, 2011


Looking back over your past questions, it seems to me like this is an ongoing issue that you have not been able to resolve on your own. My suggestion, and I would urge you to take this advice, is to seek professional help.

I don't recommend therapy at the drop of a hat, but this has been going on, through your questions, for at least the past 6 months without any sort of resolution. We have not been able to help you thus far, so I think it is time that you seek out a trained therapist to help you, and your friends, deal with your coming out and depression.

Good luck to you.
posted by TheBones at 11:33 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do like Sidhedevil's idea of books on the topic. Anyone know any male-centric books similar to that one?
posted by antgly at 11:41 AM on January 7, 2011


Antgly, the LGBT center in Manhattan has a library full of them (and almost certainly, discussion groups for young men).
posted by Wordwoman at 11:46 AM on January 7, 2011


And sometimes it seems that whenever I go to a therapist, all they do is just listen to me and not really provide real strategies or assistance.

If this happens with a therapist, you need to tell the therapist that it bothers you that they're not giving you real strategies or assistance. Therapy is not just about what's going on with you, but about what's going on between you and the therapist. You need to (1) find a good therapist, (2) have a real conversation with that therapist about what you expect from therapy, (3) continually monitor your therapy to make sure you're getting what you need out of it, and (4) ABSOLUTELY bring it up with your therapist if you feel you should be getting something out of therapy that you're not getting.

Also, your parents won't speak to you and you've been shunned by a community (your church) that has been an important part of your life? Of course these have done something to you! These things would do something to anyone! Your parents are shits if they won't speak to you because you came out to them. You deserve unconditional love from your parents, and if they won't give it to you, then (1) they suck as parents, and (2) it is totally going to affect you, because being loved by your parents is a basic human need.

You should be feeling angry at your parents and your church. Sometimes people are uncomfortable feeling anger, so they misdirect at themselves, and this can contribute to feelings of depression. You need to feel that anger. Doesn't mean you have to act on that anger, but you really have to acknowledge it if you feel it.
posted by Tin Man at 11:47 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


antgly: just to be clear, when you say "blocks" you're using that as shorthand for "not attracted to anyone sexually at particular moments"—am i reading that right?
posted by lia at 11:48 AM on January 7, 2011


lia: Yes.
posted by antgly at 11:53 AM on January 7, 2011


Coming Out of Shame is by two gay men, though it discusses gay, lesbian, and bi people. So do think about starting there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:04 PM on January 7, 2011


By the way, sorry if my response did not directly answer your original question. I was more responding to your follow-up about yourself.

As for your original question, I don't think there's one particular reason why people have psychological blocks to their sexual attraction. The theory on how sexual orientation works is not particularly clear, and there are some indications that it's a little different for women than for men.

I will tell you that after coming out to my parents for the first time at age 19 and getting a much more negative reaction than I expected, I wound up going back in the closet for five years and being for all intents and purposes asexual, because it was much easier than dealing with my parents' disapproval. But during that whole time, I still fantasized about guys and had crushes on guys and felt "drawn" to them. I just didn't act on any of it or label myself.

Your brain helps process your sexual attraction as much as it processes all of your other experiences, so it's totally possible that if your brain is getting conflicting signals (as rtha points out above), your attraction to other people can be blocked, or masked, or muffled, or whatnot.

I will also tell you that once I realized that I had a right to my own happiness and that nobody else had a right to decide what could make me happy, all the barriers melted away and I felt SO much more comfortable with my desires.
posted by Tin Man at 12:07 PM on January 7, 2011


(Oh, and my parents are fully loving and accepting of my sexuality today. They 100% consider my partner to be part of the family.)
posted by Tin Man at 12:08 PM on January 7, 2011


Sometimes I feel that those events have done something to me and have really put me down in this way. And at tblock lapses in the block I'm experiencing if that is what it is. Because before all those events, I didn't seem to have any kind of block in me, so to speak.

okay, so now that we've got our terms straight: there are a zillion reasons why you or i or anyone else isn't experiencing sexual attraction at any given time for any length of time, and these reasons don't necessarily have anything to do with one's sexuality, be it gay or straight.

so why aren't you sexually attracted to anyone right now? it could be hormones, because while 20 sounds adult, your body is still in flux. it could be a side effect of medication, or of weight gain or loss. it could be due to lack of sleep. it could be depression and/or stress, because being a teenager sucks badly enough for those of us who are straight and have supportive family, and your experience coming out over the past year sounds like it's been extremely unpleasant. it could be that maybe there just isn't anyone around you exciting enough. some people are late bloomers for whatever reasons (psychological and/or physiological) and only start experiencing sexual desire in their late teens or twenties. or maybe you're thinking about the nature of attraction so much that you're making it too hard for yourself to experience something that tends to be, well, very physical.

these are all plausable explanations for what you're experiencing, and each one of them is PERFECTLY NORMAL AND COMMON. almost every single person i know has experienced the loss of sexual attraction for almost every single one of these reasons at any given time in their lives. note that i'm not trying to trivialize it, just that i hope that you pick up on the fact that while sexual desire is important, not having it for a while isn't something you should fixate on as being the biggest problem you have, especially given how difficult your life has been recently. please please please take Tin Man's advice:

Tell the therapist that it bothers you that they're not giving you real strategies or assistance. Therapy is not just about what's going on with you, but about what's going on between you and the therapist. You need to (1) find a good therapist, (2) have a real conversation with that therapist about what you expect from therapy, (3) continually monitor your therapy to make sure you're getting what you need out of it, and (4) ABSOLUTELY bring it up with your therapist if you feel you should be getting something out of therapy that you're not getting.
posted by lia at 12:40 PM on January 7, 2011


Nthing that you may need a new therapist - there are different types of therapy, and some of them are designed to give you a safe space to work out solutions on your own. If that is how your therapist operates, then they aren't going to give you what you need - not that this is a particularly bad form of therapy, it's just obviously not what you're looking for right now). Talk to them about what you want and need from therapy; write down what you told us, take it with you and tell them that. If they can't offer you that, then you need to find a new one.

As for lack of sexual attraction - a lot of my friends who have had mental health problems have experienced this for a time, related to either the illness or the medication. All the other reasons given by ila are true as well. Think of it this way - you have a load of things you need to survive; when the going gets tough, for whatever reason, you'll unconsciously put less priority on the less essential ones, and sex is less essential. It sounds like life is really tough for you right now; if you can get to the point where you're comfortable with who you are (which includes everything that everyone has said about the process of coming out and being happy in your own skin), with where you are in life, then you've got the resources 'spare' for things like sex.
posted by Coobeastie at 1:22 PM on January 7, 2011


I'm straight, and I've gone for fairly long stretches without wanting sex at all, and then fairly long stretches being unable to think about anything else for very long. As far as I know this is normal.

I suspect your body has decided that now would be a really bad time for you to have kids, so it has shut down the "let's get laid" hormones. Your hormones are too stupid to know that wild gay sex does not lead to pregnancy.

You could see it as your body's way of telling you to look after yourself and eat better.
posted by emilyw at 3:02 PM on January 7, 2011


I think Coobeastie and lia literally summed it up.
posted by antgly at 9:17 PM on January 8, 2011


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