A Sex Addicts Arousal Template
by: Frank Theus, PLPC
According to Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., author of Facing the Shadow: Starting Sexual and Relationship Recovery, Second Edition,
“…an arousal template consists of “the total constellation of thoughts, images, behaviors, sounds, smells, sights, fantasies, and objects that arouse us sexually.”
These represent an array of stimuli that come from our early experiences (typically between the ages of five and eight years of age). We must keep in mind that while our conscious-self is easily aroused, much of it registers subconsciously. Such arousal templates were thought to be fixed. However, that’s simply not the case. Because the Internet provides easy access, anonymity, and opportunity to view a plethora of porn genres, trained therapists like myself see clients who have problematically expanded their arousal templates by increasingly choosing more graphic, violent, and in some cases, illegal sexual content.
This concept of escalation explains how heterosexual men might watch transsexual orgy porn, bestiality, or gay-themed porn. Similarly, women drawn to porn that is idealized love/romance, over time, pursue genres and acting-out like their male counterparts. Few of them ever imagined being attracted to extreme genres. But as their neuropathways become desensitized to standard adult male-on-female porn, they seek more and more intense stimuli. This morphs their template so as to achieve the addictive rush they crave.
Components of Your Arousal Patterns…
What makes up your template? Think about the following typical triggers:
- Feelings that have become eroticized in some way
- Body types/body parts
- Partner characteristics
- Courtship stages and beliefs
- Specific triggers (e.g. situations, scenarios, anger, traumatic experiences etc.) (Carnes)
Warning: don’t start this recovery exercise in depth apart from being in the care of an experienced therapist.
With adequate support, you will be ready to look at your particular experiences and move towards healing. What in your life needs to be jettisoned, what might be missing, and where do you wish to grow? It is important to consider the following:
- Stay focused on the pain – As Carnes so wisely said, “Working on your arousal patterns may become stimulating in itself. Keeping in mind just how hard life as an addict has been will help you avoid being distracted by your old patterns.”
- Do not do this work in isolation
- Be thorough
- Be honest with yourself (Carnes)
The mesmerizing effect of the Internet, along with the vast array of sexual material available, has become a powerful tool for getting too many of us involved in a world we never before knew existed. Many clients I see report feeling as though they are in a dream until somehow, by chance or misfortune, they are brusquely awakened to reality. Once they become aware of what they have done, they are dismayed by the fantasies, thoughts, or at-risk behaviors they engaged in: things they never imagined they would ever participate in.
Our sexuality is a precious gift. Affected by our environment and experiences, our sexuality can be negatively influenced, being hijacked by guilt and shame that keeps us stuck in an ever-expanding unhealthy arousal template. Recognizing your need for help and asking for it is the first step towards embracing the whole of yourself, your story and values, and your beliefs. Open up your reality of unashamedly enjoying your body, your sexual uniqueness, and fuller intimacy in all of your relationships.
Resources on this topic and healthy sexuality:
Facing the Shadow: Starting Sexual and Relationship Recovery, Second Edition by Patrick Carnes, PhD (Carefree: Gentle Path Press)
The Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon or Canticles, is a book of the Bible accepted as holy scripture by Jews and Christians.