Part I of this series examined how we have two different levels of beliefs—conscious and unconscious—around what is sexually permissible. Porn addiction is an attempt at resolving the contradiction between them. This post explores the origin of this inconsistency in our psyches.

Michael Picucci, PhD, co-founded the Institute for Staged Recovery. While working with recovering addicts he identified what he terms the ‘sexual-spiritual split’. Writing in The Journey toward Complete Recovery, Picucci describes this as “a deep psychic schism within almost everyone in our culture which prohibits enduring, loving relationships to form, which at the same time can remain sexually alive and growing.”

The sexual-spiritual split is a psychic wound resulting from the incompatibility of our animal sexuality with our civilised humanity

Picucci gives the origin of this split as “early religious and cultural training, which teaches that God, love, and family are good while sex is dirty, bad and perverse.” In short, the sexual-spiritual split is a psychic wound resulting from the incompatibility of our animal sexuality with our civilised humanity. It’s important to realise that even those of us that aren’t brought up in overtly sex-negative environments (religious or otherwise) automatically acquire this default programming.

Descartes

Picucci specifically connects the separation of the body, mind and spirit inherent in the sexual-spiritual split to the changed worldview that arose after the 17th century French philosopher René Descartes asserted, “I think therefore I am”. I’m not so sure about this. The behaviour associated with this schism clearly predates Descartes. (Geographer James DeMeo traced its source, which came several millennia before Descartes. You can read about it here.)

While its origins may be disputed, the existence of the sexual-spiritual split deep within our psyches cannot. It is manifestly evident in our society’s on-going deep aversion to nudity and sexuality. Healing the sexual-spiritual split within our selves is a significant milestone on the road to recovery from porn addiction. Picucci stresses both the importance and the magnitude of the task: “The healing of the internalised schism between our sexual and spiritual energies is the most provocative topic, and the most intimidating task we can address.” But why?

Fear of rejection

We live in a polarised world where everything we experience is, consciously or unconsciously, divided into good and bad. During adolescence we pick up signals from our environment—families, schools, news, religious groups, communities—as to which is which. Good behaviour perpetuates our belonging within those circles while bad behaviour invites rejection. As Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá note in Sex at Dawn, “the worst punishment in any society’s arsenal has always been exile.”

Socially approved (‘good’) sexual behaviour is largely confined to monogamous marriage. Even in the world’s most liberal societies, violations of this behavioural code remain deeply taboo. In some societies, adultery still carries the death penalty; the pressure to conform is immense. The silent expectation is that we should all find our ‘other halves’, get married and from then on express our sexuality behind closed doors, regardless of how that plays out.

Role models

Who were the sexual role models in your upbringing? What did they model? Were they comfortable with sexual expression? Did they regard it as a natural part of life, a source of love and wellbeing? Or were there fire-and-brimstone fulminations? Were there catastrophic, shameful divorces in your family line that echoed down the years? Or, more likely, was the entire subject swept under the carpet?

Such was the case in my family. Painful separations in the 1930s, on both sides of my family, created an undercurrent of sexual negativity that I only understood later in life. Sex was noticeable only by its absence. I had no sense of my parents as sexual beings. Even with hindsight I cannot recall a single word, glance or gesture that could be interpreted as even remotely sexual.

My unconscious interpreted this to mean that sex was a threat to my acceptance by my community—and hence to my ability to survive. I unconsciously rejected the budding sexuality within my own psyche, ostracising it from my core personality—the ‘good’ me that behaved in socially approved ways, which also included ‘higher’ attributes such as intelligence, compassion, religious/spiritual values and romantic love.

The Chain

This rejection creates the sexual-spiritual split. I experienced it as a deep, painful wound that constantly ached within me for over thirty years. Its dull throb was like the hypnotic riff that begins Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’—the beckoning, threatening sound of impending doom. In truth its whispered message was entirely wholesome: “accept me; love me; heal me.”

Porn addiction is an unconscious process whose aim is wholeness and integration of the fractured psychosexual elements of our psyche. But until we consciously understand this and work with it, all we experience is the destructiveness of the addiction cycle.

Part III examines the porn addiction cycle and pinpoints its ultimate origin.