Even considering all of the clarification and freedom I have gained in this area of my life in the last year, one powerful factor that has contributed (and still does) to the perpetual struggle I face is the nature of conditioning. Psychologists speak of two types of conditioning: classical and operant. These are two ways of learning (to which one could add at least two more-modeling and instruction) that combine to have great and lasting effects in our lives and have everything to do with our motivations and the habits we form. They are responsible for forming life-long, irrational fears. They greatly influence unconscious processes. They directly produce behavioral patterns. Briefly, classical conditioning is where we learn that an item (or idea) is good or bad based on whether our experiences of it are paired with good or bad feelings; operant conditioning is where we develop a way of acting based on whether it achieves good or bad results for us. Some direct applications of this to my issue were as follows:
1. I was strongly conditioned (and strongly conditioned myself) to be instantly and powerfully sexually aroused at the thought, sight, and feel of women’s clothing (and some articles more than others). This happened as I already explained in the section on the physical aspects. Such conditioning is excruciatingly hard to undo… I remember my sexual psychology professor telling a story of a group of boys who wouldn’t masturbate due to their faith, but instead would rub themselves on their sheets to the point of orgasm. They ended up having difficulty with a woman because the feel and presence of the sheet was absent. The solution was to gradually re-condition them by having sheets touch their genitals during sex, and then eventually they made the connection to the woman. However, even this is more of a transfer than an undoing of the conditioning. An undoing would require “extinction”- namely, the dog that has learned to drool at the sound of a bell because he always gets food when bells ring must hear the bell but get no food repeatedly, so it learns that the bell is meaningless.
2. I learned in the most potent way possible the regular behavior of dressing up for pleasure. In operant studies, if the reward required some work to attain, but was always guaranteed, the behavior would be done more than in any other situation (guaranteed times without a reward, or no work required). This is what I had. An orgasm is an intensely affirming reward for any behavior. A rat that could give itself sexual stimulation by pushing one pedal vs food from another would starve itself to death for pushing the sex pedal, for instance, according to one study. And it would always come. But it did require work as there was always more I could do to dress up and better things to wear. It was also work due to the nature of addiction, which is defined by tolerance and withdrawal. For a small window of time, I was at the point of three or four orgasms a day! I was truly obsessed. Operant conditioning is actually very easy to undo. Punishment for a behavior can cut us to the quick. The destruction of my marriage is enough of a threat for me never to do the behavior again, and in fact to even have a genuine distaste for the behavior.
Even more importantly in my life, the issue of lust itself must be addressed in a marriage. I had certainly created a monster by always feeding my sexual lust with crossdressing and/or masturbation. It’s not wrong to want or seek sexual pleasure, and especially not wrong in the context of a marriage, but if it is not in the healthy context of love and acceptance with the other person (the monogamous marriage partner), it is not right. My agenda needs to be about how to please her not how to be pleased by her, though both can certainly be pursued as long as the first comes first in all things and at all times. This is truly a demanding shift, made all the more difficult by the life of Suppression I lived.