In recent weeks, I’ve had a few reasons to reflect back on my youth. I was definitely a “bad” teen. Not in the sense of cool or having a well polished image of badness. I was bad in the sense of dropping out of high school, getting into actual trouble, and generally having my life driven headlong into the dirt with horrible choices. It all stemmed from a very intentional shift in my heart and mind at around 13. I decided “F… them all”. I decided God was a joke, and thus every single institution in the world that attempted to stand in the way of me and whatever I felt like doing was completely devoid of any authority in my decision-making. I was considering last week how much I was instantly imprisoned to the horrors that are inside me during that time (rather than finding “freedom”). My own “flesh” and its wants had nothing to stop them, no higher order to put them into proper service of life. There was only the tyranny of my thoughts and my desires. What a nightmare.
As I also was struggling in recent weeks with some of those old addictions flaring up (particularly starting to pair them up with searching through the endless supply of images at one’s fingertips these days…), I was considering also something interesting about the continued search for an “explanation” to the beginning/development of cd obsession and arousal in me (and perhaps others). Lately, I have started to feel (as an almost-middle-aged-man does, I suppose) a bit less of the instantaneous and overpowering constancy/immediacy of the physical arousal state. I mean, I don’t spend day after day pining and thirsting like I used to like a dying vampire. Instead, with a little distance, I felt like it took a little extra trigger to get things going. If I thought about someone looking a certain way, I could get a bit more excited, and that alone made me think more about conditioning of arousal and the like.
I’ve written about the sort of operant sequencing before, but I was realizing how unique sexual conditioning is (especially in pubescent days when the arousal state is quicker and stronger). In classical conditioning, there’s a clear order of something coming before the treat that then becomes a substitute for causing the reaction that the actual treat did (think dog drooling to the sound of a bell). But in a more heightened state of sexual arousal, anything and everything that is seen, felt, tasted, touched, or thought during that state (before and after ,too, but a long protracted DURING is the new thought here) can easily become a future association. Even horrible things can get in there (evil, pain, etc.) if they are not too strong or destructive of the general state. It would explain so many things that are understood as “perversions” of healthy sexuality. It would also get rid of the hunt for a deeper “problem” or “identity” driving it all. I can definitely think about the early state of young arousal (even before real puberty) and the lure during that state of thinking about things related to what I liked, wanted, and even felt some strange, new, almost-flush feeling around. As I explored around with that and expanded it and felt it and then came across things like clothing that were highly associated with it, the growth of interest and attachment and connection and even fetish makes total sense. Sure many factors and strands and incidents influences play a role in how each person(ality) weaves that tapestry, but ultimately it’s more of a catch-all, like fly paper, than it is a magic formula or a super hero origin story…
It also makes sense that so many have no real access to anything but the clothes (for some it’s other stuff like imagery if it’s around), given that actual physical relations are unlikely for the majority until much later (at least it used to be that way, I don’t know about today). So a good percentage end up stumbling themselves into this sort of tied up, twisted attraction (which is certainly fueled always by media at all levels as well, even unintentionally as it reinforces what particular items are “bedroom” triggers) just by our wanton blind groping during that time and state. And it is sort of the same idea as my juvenile meanderings. I was just following the flesh and seeing where it led. I had no real compass, even though some things I still had some sense to avoid (I was more after pleasure, not just getting myself killed quickly). And likewise, when the state of sexual interest comes, that time frame of just sort of “looking around” makes and/or breaks us. What we choose to do then is everything for the future. It can drive things into all kinds of strange places over time, and it can also continue to reinforce the same ol’ tired obsessions as well. I pity those today with the options being presented to them and pushed as viable (I didn’t even have the internet then!). This has to be all the more dangerous whereas I always still had a deep subconscious set of “norms” (not to mention actual limits in actual life) that would only let me get so far before I snapped back in confusion and self-defeatism and guilt.
As a student of the Bible, I think about Adam and Even and the first sin. I remember preachers sharing insight about how the biggest problem was even just trying to sit and have the conversation with the serpent. It’s like choosing to just “browse around”, trusting our flesh to lead us right, when instead it just imprisons us into the lowest debasement and filth (indeed back to the earth itself) on its own. Curiosity is definitely a killer here. Mulling it over is not a virtuous endeavor. Instead, getting out of the heat, and continuing to eat from the tree of life (and all the other good trees of the garden which were literally every good fruit), that’s the way to stay strong. I’ve read some pretty compelling works arguing that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (the one they were not supposed to eat from) was actually something God would have eventually had them partake of as a sort of maturity- once they had their grown-up bearings and would follow the Lord through it’s revelation. But their partaking was wrong because it was on their own terms, in their own timing, and in disobedience instead. Truly like my teenage days. Exploring sexuality without any adult concept to guide and correct (and without the actual marriage bed within which it was only ever meant to be explored) is chatting with the snake, looking and touching and tasting what it is, and finding only forbidden fruit (and associated banishment!).
Of course, for me now (in 2020), I have found that the marriage bed is its own challenge of maturity and boundaries, rather than a playpen of the flesh. Such “eating” is still and always will be drawn into a sense of “propriety” and wholesome truth (ultimately selfless love for others that surpasses the physical stuff itself). This struggle sometimes pushes me between the volley of trying to do right, and then full adult escapism- not youthful trespass- to the evils of my youth, running back to the snake and begging for more conversation- for another taste of what landed me so far from grace before. It’s a double whammy. Now the journey is seemingly impossible- to face and overcome the challenges of adulthood while still not knowing how to stay out of the troubles of my youth. Well, I do know how- but both steps take a lot of “growing up” into the call of Christ, who crushed the head of the serpent, and resisted all fleshly urges when challenged directly by him in the desert. Anyway, sorry for so much Biblical allusion for those who haven’t read the Christian scriptures. But this all has its parallel and fulfilment in the message of the faith I hold to. And I’m seeing it play out in my life as I learn to NOT go “clicking” around while high on dopamine… something my younger self never could say no to.