I recall a time when an undergrad came to my office. He told me he fought it as hard as he could but he could not resist the urges. Being a Christian, he never stopped praying against it but it came back nevertheless. It has now become worse, he said. You see, my client was caught for stealing ladies’ undies. He would keep them in his secret place so that he could whiff them to satisfy his addiction. He is what one author would call a panty bandit. He faced a few charges of theft and he seemed more eager to get rid of the urges than to fight the charges. He was one lost soul in a world of sexual temptation that he could not fight back.
This brings me to why I write this letter. I always find the world of sexual perversion strange and even bizarre. Why would seemingly smart, proper, respected, religious, admired, decent, happy, normal, and controlled men and women become putty in the wily hands of lust when the latter takes hold? What is it about lust and sexual perversion that make animals out of us and cause us to throw caution to the wind to trade one night of orgasmic delight for a lifetime of regrets and pain?
Is the American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner hinting to something when he wrote, “Lust is the ape that gibbers in our loins. Tame him as we will by day, he rages all the wilder in our dreams by night. Just when we think we’re safe from him, he raises up his ugly head and smirks, and there’s no river in the world flows cold and strong enough to strike him down. Almighty God, why dost thou deck men out with such a loathsome toy?” I know sex within marriage is to be celebrated. It is the reason for our existence. But why can’t we keep it within the marriage? Why can’t it be strictly limited to marital acts of procreation and nothing else? Why must we succumb to the wildest of urges and turn the same into a feverish addiction that makes us lose both our head and heart?
I have another client who came into my office with bloodshot eyes last year. He told me that he could not sleep for days after the police caught him. He was another undergrad. He came from a well-to-do family. Intelligent and even good looking, he told me that he was caught with dozens of up-skirt videos in his possession. He knew it was wrong and regretted it deeply. He feared for his future and he could not face his family for what he had done.
While I could empathize with his guilt, and how he was tormented by it, I could not really understand what made him do what he did. He had everything going for him, that is, a degree, good looks and family support, and yet he threw it all away for moving pictures of what in my view is a blurry vertigo of undergarment motion? I guess my client could not understand it too. Indeed, lust is a sort of mental fog for most of us.
This led me to nosedive into the world of sexual perversions. And this is the part of my writings that will turn a little graphic. So, please pardon me as I try my best to keep it all at arm’s length. But before I start, I humbly plead for us as Christians to suspend the urge to judge these people just because they are different from the majority of the population. Most of them have their own stories to tell and their struggles are usually not reducible to just praying against it and expecting the addiction to go away for good.
For some of them, the condition is far more serious than that. They do need more than a few scriptures hurled in their direction to keep the urges at bay. Some of them need immediate medical attention and treatment like my clients. And others need to be rehabilitated for months or years to keep themselves free from the mental addiction and affliction. I myself am not an expert in this area but I am curious enough and prepared to take a gander at this culturally despised beast of sexual lusts that has so deftly enslaved many lives in a mental cage of inexplicable torture and anguish with no relief in sight.
I believe sexual perversions come in many forms. In the context of a church, we usually deal with cases that are more predictable and manageable. I have heard of some serial adulterers who claimed that they could not help themselves. They love their wives and family deeply but they have urges during the week that they could not contain.
Then, there are the compulsive masturbators. These are usually young adolescents who are exploring their own sexuality and the mind-blinding pleasures that come with it. For some of them, it is a form of escape from the stresses of studies and the neglect of their parents. For others, it is an addiction that they cannot resist. Many will tell you that they get helplessly aroused by the many visual cues that grab their attention on a daily basis.
I always believe that the most effective and exclusive pornographic exposure does not come so much from the internet, the triple X-rated DVDs, or the sexually suggestive console games. They of course play a part. But when it comes to sexual addiction, nothing beats our mind. Our mind itself is a potent pornographic factory and when seemingly innocent visual cues in the form of an alluring female part come into our mental focus like the breast, the cleavage, the swaying of the buttocks, the hem of the mini-skirt, and the exposed thighs (and the list is non-exhaustive), the image gets lodged in our mind to be feasted on by us via what I'd call repetitive recalling and fantasizing.
These images become our constant companion and they pop in or out whenever it is convenient for our exclusive and private viewing and twisting. Every internal fantasizing increase the secretion of neurotransmitter in our brain and this process is self-feeding and self-reinforcing. This is where the addiction gradually takes hold and makes us into pliable and unwitting automaton. Of course, the pastoral advice here would be to stay away from the visual cues or exposure as best as possible.
For those who have a problem with lust and self-control, the church would start a strict regimen of abstinence, fasting and praying to fight the addiction. There would be regular counseling, support and scriptural encouragement to help the churchgoer with the struggle. We are actually quite fortunate that we do not live during the time of Dr John Harvey Kellogg (1852 to 1943). The good doctor actually considered masturbation as a scourge of society and recommended the following emergency medical intervention for the out-of-control masturbator:-
“Circumcision should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice of masturbation, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed.”
But what if the problem is far deeper than that? What if it is a condition that requires more than what the church as a body can offer to help or even understand? I have heard of some members who had left the church in disillusionment because the church's sincerest efforts to help only dealt with the symptoms of the addiction and not the underlying cause(s). The church usually diagnoses the problem as a spiritual one and this can’t be faulted if you believe that what we as Christians wrestle against in this world is more than what the eyes can see. But what if it is truly more than meets the eye and this hiddenness (or opacity) of causes have more to do with a broken brain than a broken or unredeemed spirit?
In the strange world of sexual addiction, the clinical psychiatrists’ bible of mental illness known as DSM-5 has listed at least 8 specific forms of what is called paraphilias. They include exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism (rubbing one’s genitals against another in crowded places), pedophilia, masochism, sadism, voyeurism and transvestic fetishism. There is even a catchall category just to cover strange and bizarre cases under the heading of PNOS or “paraphilia not otherwise specified.” Over the years, these medical illnesses are known by the following names: hypersexuality, erotomania, urethromania, oversexuality, compulsive promiscuity, pathologic multipartnerism, satyriasis, and nymphomania.
In the book Perv: the sexual deviant in all of us, the former Professor of the University of Arkansas Jesse Bering documented an extreme case of nymphomania in a little girl who can’t stop masturbating. Here is a look at what such a condition looks like as described by the author: “In 1894, an overwrought mother brought her nine-year-old daughter to the New Orleans physician A.J. Block after discovering the little girl masturbating. Block propped up the child on his examining room table and began inspecting her genitals with his fingers. There was no reaction upon touching her labia. But “as soon as I reached the clitoris,” the doctor later recounted without any emotion, “the legs were thrown widely open, the face became pale, the breathing short and rapid, the body twitched from excitement, slight groans came from the patient.”
There are also other cases of sexual deviation that would make most of us cringe and squirm in our seat. Have you heard of amputee fetish? Yes, there are people who get a sexual high when making love to an amputee, preferably one with a wooden leg. They are called acrotomophiles. Then, there is the apotemnophile who sexually fantasizes about having their own limbs being cut off. Somehow such twisted and cruel amputation done on themselves gives them an eroticism of indescribable pleasure. Here is another really strange case called melissaphile. No, this has nothing to do with having a crush on a girl named Melissa. It is actually a sexual attraction to bees (I wonder how they get pass the deadly sting). There are also those who are sexually aroused by nooks, crannies and crevices literally and they are called chasmophilacs.
Stranger still, there is a rare group of people who are sexually excited by what is known to them as the divine stream, which is a euphemistic term for getting aroused by the image of an upright, urinating woman. Other sexual deviations include teratophiles, which describes those who are attracted to the congenitally deformed, autoplushphiles, which is reserved for those who enjoy masturbating to their own image as cartoon-like stuffed animals, and pteronophilia, which is for the kinky types who derive intense gratification from being trickled with feathers. And while most of us are familiar with necrophilia, referring to the act of making love to cadavers or corpses, do we know about partialism?
Recently I had my first encounter with a partialist when I read in the papers about a man in his thirties who approached a 17 year old student near Raffles Place MRT station. He asked her if he could pay her S$200 so that he could smell her bottom. When the teen rebuked him, he persisted and told her that he was prepared to increase the offer to S$300 in return for licking her rear. He was subsequently sentenced to one month imprisonment.
A partialist is sexually obsessed with a part of the body. It could be the toes, the belly buttons or the mouth. And most of the time, love really has nothing to do with it. It is a form of carnal craving that requires immediate satisfying. They are basically not looking for a long term relationship. They just need to find an outlet to release their uncontrollable urges even when such acts amount to an indictable offence.
Lastly, we have the special and exclusive one percent of our population who are the genuine zoophiles. That’s quite a huge number considering that our current population is about 6.9 billion. These people have a peculiar sexual orientation towards animals (I guess the prefix “zoo” was a dead giveaway). I recently read about an admission by a bona fide zoophile, who happens to be a physician, that he could only consummate his marriage with his wife only when he closes his eyes and imagine he is making love to a horse. Unfortunately the marriage did not last long. In 1642, a man by the name of Thomas Granger was in fact indicted for this same perversion and the list of his sexual partners ran like an animal farmhouse, which included “a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey.” (A turkey? So much for thanksgiving). Another case in the same year had a man by the name of George Spencer executed for having sex with his master’s pig. I guess people like that should be strictly banned from Singapore Zoo.
I wonder in such situations, how does the church approach them? Does the church send them away with a prayer, a biblical word of empowerment, and a handbook on how to overcome temptation in five simple steps? Does the church diagnose its member as struggling with sins of a spiritual nature and then remind them to invoke the name of Jesus every time the temptation creepily emerges from their tormented soul?
Of course, there are numerous testimonies of men and even women who have collectively overcame these temptations and have stayed clean for years. The community of faith and support has done a great service in bringing these troubled souls onto the right path. But there are still others who struggle with the condition despite the consistent care and attention given by the church. Most of them experienced temporary relief. But after some time, the temptation came back with a vengeance. What can we do for them? How do we offer our help? Or are such cases really beyond the church and it would be better to refer them to professionals?
Personally, I suspect there are some cases of sexual deviation that involve more than just a spiritual condition. Of course, as a Christian, we look to the fall of man as the primary cause of all our social, physical and mental maladies. But sometimes, telling someone who is struggling with a peculiar sexual addiction that it is by its nature spiritual would invite a blank stare. Somehow, such diagnosis has this one-size-fit-all feel and it does not specifically deal with the cause at hand. I think at times we need to understand more about the condition before we perform what I would call a Procrustes’ diagnosis.
Procrustes is actually a cruel estate owner of Corydalus in Attica. He had this twisted sense of hospitality of abducting travelers, inviting them to a sumptuous dinner, and then enticing them to spend the night in his special bed. According to the Greek mythology, Procrustes wanted more than anything for the travellers to fit into his precious bed. So, he would perform the macabre by either chopping off the legs of the travellers if they were too long or stretching their limbs to ensure a perfect fit. Applying this weird logic to our discussion here, I am concern that the church may be guilty of chopping and stretching the cause of its members’ sexual addiction, discarding or dismissing those other causes that may be relevant, so that they could fit it all into the Procrustes’ bed of spiritual cause and spiritual cause alone.
In the end, I think we should take the person who is struggling with such addiction for who he is and try to understand the underlying cause(s) of his condition. And telling him that it is a spiritual problem may no doubt be true from a Christian perspective but it risks sounding less than sincere, helpful and precise about his condition.
Here I do not discount the fact that a large number of these sexual deviation acts arose largely from personal choices. In other word, they are not as involuntary as they claim to be. We should therefore call a spade a spade or an apple an apple when we see it as nothing more. But at those rare times, what we initially see as a spade or apple may, upon closer scrutiny, reveal to us a whole work-shed or fruit basket of causes more complicated than first expected.
Some cases have causes that act as a trigger to kick-start the descent into this often dark sexual episode of their life. One of these causes is an abusive childhood or a violent past. Take Grace Quek aka Annabel Chong for example. She came from good parentage and schools. She was in fact sent to King's College London on a scholarship to study law when she was 21. But having dropped out of law school, she became infamous in 1995 in the pornographic industry for allowing herself to be filmed while engaging in sexual intercourse with 70 men (with a record of 251 penetrations). The whole event took about 10 hours. At that time, even the adult industry performers disapproved of such a mind-boggling undertaking. One recent article described that 1995 gangbang film (as it was then known) as having "all the sex appeal of a National Geographic film of frogs spawning in a mud puddle." (LA Weekly, Feb 2011).
Behind this shockingly heartbreaking act is a story; an even more heartbreaking one. When Grace was 22, she was gang raped while travelling in the London tube. It is suspected that her life's trajectory could have changed forever after that. Of course this is not to excuse her for what she had done. But it definitely gives us a better understanding of why she did what she did. In an interview on a film about her life, Grace explained why she did it with a hint of past grievance unresolved: “We’re not wilting violets, we’re not victims for Christ’s sake. Female sexuality is as aggressive as male sexuality. I wanted to take on the role of the stud. The more (partners), the better.” Thankfully, she retired from the adult industry completely in 2003 and openly declared that "Annabel is dead".
Another possible cause is the onset of a brain injury that could change the neurochemistry of the victim to be more hypersexual than before. In 1939, a group of epilepsy researchers surgically removed chunks of the brain of the rhesus monkey, in particular, the medial temporal lobe. What they discovered to their surprise was that the monkey became more sexually agitated and performed what seemed to be sexually suggestive acts like gyrating on the operating table. Further, there is now a discernible trend that if one suffers from a frontal lobe damage, he may become more sexually promiscuous due to a deficiency in self-control.
Here is another cause for your consideration. In India, a 28-year-old housewife suddenly discovered that she was helplessly aroused for no apparent reason and she was having multiple orgasms for two days. Concerned, she went to a gynecologist for immediate examination. However the physician could not detect the cause until an epidemiologist solved the mystery. A few months ago she was playing with a puppy and it bit her. What was not known then was that the puppy had rabies. And the bite had infected her. The life-threatening infection ravaged her brain and caused her to have orgasms that she could not control. Sadly, she passed away on the fourth day of her hospitalization.
Finally, although not exhaustive, most of these so-called sexual deviants were diagnosed with having extreme libidos. And this is normally associated with patients with Tourette's syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease, and a cocktail mix of infections of herpes encephalitis and oxygen deprivation. The medical name for the latter is Kluver-Bucy syndrome. I guess these multivariate causes are food for thought for the church?
At this juncture, I am reminded of a secular definition of hyper-sexuality as an excessive expression of culturally tolerated heterosexual (or homosexual behavior). The Bible also has a similar warning about excessive behavior, albeit in a different context, in Ecclesiastes 7:16: "Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?" I guess everything under God's heaven is beneficial if taken with moderation or with a circumspect perspective. But the truth is, it is harder to imagine a world without sex than to imagine a world with sex and its diverse perverse manifestations. I trust that what is generally good and beneficent would inevitably suffer the distorted fate of extremism (or excessiveness in this case).
Sex can be corrupted just like a form of righteousness and human knowledge. And this correspondence that Screwtape wrote to his protégé demon about God illustrates this point well, "(God) is a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are "pleasures for evermore"...He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least - sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it's any use to us."
And the key word here is "twisted". Twisting sleep to the extreme would result in indolence or laziness and engaging in "eating and drinking" with no end in sight would result in a life of self-indulgence and even debauchery. As for making love, the extreme of it is what I have written here so far.
Let me end by asking this question: How many of us are closet sexual deviants? In a survey done in the late 1940s by Alfred Kinsey, which involved carefully collecting data and questionnaires of thousands of randomly sampled participants, the results showed that 75% of adult Americans satisfied the mental health criteria of being a sexual deviant. The criteria is based on what was then termed as TSO, that is, Total Sexual Outlet. TSO is defined as “a man’s cumulative total number of orgasms achieved per week by any single sex act or by some combination of sex acts.”
According to the standard average then, you were considered a sexual deviant if you clock up a TSO (eg. seminal fluid expulsion) of more than three times a week for a studied period of time. There are cases where some men, about 8 percent of those sampled, had a TSO scores of 7 or more for 5 consecutive years. Translated on a weekly basis, it is about one release every day (and this includes sex within marriage).
So, taking that TSO scores into account, and bearing in mind that this was the benchmark during the more conservative era of our time before the internet and the sexplosive period of the sixties and seventies, how many of us would be deemed as a sexual deviant by that standard today? And if sexual perversion is mainly a cultural thingy, what can we say about the Aka couples? They are a foraging tribe in central Africa. Accordingly to anthropological records, the Aka couples actually have sex four to five times in a single night! Imagine that. Over a period of time, these tribal people’s sexual hyperactivity would make them not just sexual deviants but sexual monsters by the TSO's criteria.
Here is another tribe of Papua New Guinea known as Sambia which would knock most of us off our cultural pedestal for their most peculiar semen-ingesting ritual. At the tender age of 11, they are already expert and aggressive fellators, that is, oral sex partakers. And they perform the acts of fellatio on adult males of their tribe. They believe that semen has a magical component that makes the youth militantly strong and powerful. This is of course considered seriously warped for people like us on the other so-called normal side of the divide. But the people of Sambia in fact turned out well despite this inexplicable sexual taboo. They grow up to be well-adjusted and they continue this time-tested ritual with the youth in their tribe. So, are they sexual deviants of the most convoluted sort?
Indeed, this is a strange world of sexual perversions. We have people who are plagued by sexual lusts beyond their control. We have people who are prosecuted for criminal sexual acts. We have people who do strange and unspeakable things to satisfy their unquenchable lust. We even have seemingly normal people being aroused by animals, stuffed toys, and bees. And then, we have what appears to be a large group of people who satisfy the criteria of being a sexual deviant. I guess the American writer Edward Abbey was on to something when he wrote, “Modern men and women are obsessed with the sexual; it is the only realm of primordial adventure still left to most of us. Like apes in a zoo, we spend our energies on the one field of play remaining; human lives otherwise are pretty well caged in by the walls, bars, chains and locked gates of our industrial culture.”
Alas, the church indeed has her hands full; if not overflowing. Cheerz.
* Image from "ibibleverses.christianpost.com."