When we talk about the "sexual arousal template,” we are referring to what Patrick Carnes, an expert on sexuality calls, “the total constellation of thoughts, images, behaviors, sounds, smells, sights, fantasies, and objects that arouse us sexually.”
The constellation Dr. Carnes is referring to includes vast categories of stimuli from our upbringing. These can include experiences with early sexual exploration, media, family relationships, religious groups, teachers, friends, coaches, etc. In everyday terms the arousal template means whatever it is that turns you on during sex.
It is obvious that from a healthy sexuality standpoint that we are hopefully aroused by healthy stimuli such as: mutually agreed on erotic play and adventure, closeness, intimacy, commitment, safety, and communication.
The problems developing with the sexual arousal template and the internet have to do with a wide range of erotic stimuli that was never before available, and never so easily accessed. For instance, with internet porn individuals are increasingly being aroused by extremely graphic, objectified eroticism, and in some cases even criminal sexual content. As people watch these images their arousal template becomes wired to be stimulated by unhealthy, compulsive, and even abusive sexual stimulation. When that person returns to a real relationship, the ability to be sexually excited by authentic intimacy can be non-existent or at least greatly reduced.
In an old episode of the HBO series Sex and The City, the character Miranda is having sex with a man who insists that porn be on during intercourse. When she demands that he turn it off he answers, “You don’t understand Miranda, I just met you, but I’ve had a relationship with these women for years.”
In a New Yorker cartoon, a man suffering from erectile dysfunction during sex decries to his wife, “Honey, it just doesn’t work if it’s not on the internet.”
As humorous as these satires are, the underlying truth is all too obvious. In the field of sexual recovery a new term, MESA, has recently been added to understand the cultural explosion of sexual dysfunction and compulsivity. MESA stands for Machine Enhanced Sexual Arousal. Our sexual arousal templates are being rewired by the unbridled content of the internet, increasingly graphic television, and overall disregard for restraint when it comes to sexual imagery that is so easily accessed at the touch of a button.
In a study that included 100 universities, it was found that forty percent of men surveyed were watching porn by the age of ten. At this young age boys are starting to wire their arousal template for anonymous, objectified, addictive sexuality.
In another study, it was found that most pornography was downloaded between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. That is, it is mostly being watched by workers during office hours. This in itself is an indication of sexual addiction in that many businesses will lay off or fire a worker for this kind of activity. When a person’s sexual arousal template is addictively wired, that person can be in an uncontrollable state and loose contact with reality – violating values, risking safety, relationships or health— and even breaking the law. The addicted person is often living in contradictions: “I love my spouse” – but I’m cheating on them and destroying their sense of safety and love. “I’m in financial trouble and will do anything to support my family” – but I don’t have enough money because I’m spending so much on sex. “I prosecute sex addicts in court or in a legislative body” - but I act out sexually in bathrooms.
So what can we do? While this blog is far too abbreviated to cover the scope of healthy sexuality, there are some basics we can consider to keep sex in a healthy framework.
Children should be talked to about sex and instructed on boundaries around computers as soon as a parent feels it is appropriate. Teenagers can be instructed on healthy dating rituals and appropriate times for phases of sexual experimentation. Porn filters can be installed on computers and mobile phones / notepads, to keep children away from stimulation that could damage their arousal templates and destroy their ability for healthy sex lives as adults.
These filters can also be used by adults who feel they may already have a problem (with other adults holding the passwords to the filters). Two of the best known are Net Nanny (www.netnanny.com) and K9 web protection (www.k9webprotection.com). It is unlikely these days that someone with an internet addiction to pornography will be able to stop “acting out” without some kind of filter. An internet porn addict with an unfiltered computer can be akin to a crack addict having crack on his desk at all times.
If you feel you may already have a problem with your arousal template and your sex life, there is a huge array of recovery tools available. You can go to a psychotherapist who has expertise in addiction recovery. In therapy you can explore the roots of your problem, set up behavioral changes, and learn to use “dating plans” to plan out what healthy dating / sexual boundaries look like. You can also work on repairing whatever “attachment issues” you may have suffered in your family that contributed to using sex as a dysfunctional way to attach to others or medicate deep unresolved trauma.
You can also check out a 12-step support group such as:
Sex Addicts Anonymous https://saa-recovery.org/
Sex Compulsives Anonymous http://www.sca-recovery.org/
Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous https://slaafws.org/
For those with an urgent need for in-patient help check out:
Pine Grove http://www.pinegrovetreatment.com/
The Meadows https://www.themeadows.com/
Three of the best books on the subject of sexual arousal templates and sexual compulsivity are:
Out of the Shadows, Don’t Call It Love, and In The Shadows of the Net, all by Patrick Carnes (available on Amazon).
For a more in-depth look at the Sexual Arousal Template and sexual compulsivity, check out the link below (read in browser) Patrick Carnes speaks here with Joe Polish on the Genius Network