Mormons Need to Take a New Look at the So-Called “Good Girl Syndrome”

Some of you may be familiar with Laura M. Brotherson’s book, And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage Through Sexual Fulfillment. Laura is a marriage therapist and the book is written for a Mormon audience. She also has a website at strengtheningmarriage.com with a blog that she posts to with some frequency. Like the subtitle of the book says, her big selling point is helping LDS couples strengthen their marriages through sexual fulfillment.

She hits pretty much all the nitty-gritty details of marital intimacy and even has a recent blog post entitled “Porn-Sex Addiction Recovery Resources.” I was pleased to see that she lists quality sites like the LDS wives of sex addicts recovery forum at www.hopeandhealinglds.com. She also recommends LifeSTAR for therapy for Mormons. Her suggested reading list includes a couple books by Patrick Carnes, the patriarch of modern sexual addiction recovery. I was, however, just a bit disappointed that RowboatAndMarbles.org and Sitting in a Rowboat Throwing Marbles at a Battleship (the book) didn’t show up on the radar. Oh well. Maybe when she refreshes her resources…

In the book and in her blog, Laura talks about what she calls “The Good Girl Syndrome” (GGS). Here’s the definition from her blog:

The Good Girl Syndrome is the negative or unproductive thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and feelings about sex that inhibit one’s responsiveness and enjoyment of the sexual relationship in marriage.

The Good Girl Syndrome is often manifest as feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, or discomfort about sex. Misinformation, distorted information, negative information and a lack of positive education about sex and the body result not only in the previously mentioned emotions, but also in an inhibited sexual response.

This negative conditioning, and the lack of sexual knowledge or promotion of marital sexuality may be the great, underlying and oft-ignored source of sexual dissatisfaction in many marriages.

Now from what I understand, Laura has helped bring understanding and greater closeness and intimacy into a lot of Mormon marriages. I think that’s great. And I think bringing The Good Girl Syndrome to light and discussing it also has merit.

Still, I have a concern…Surprise, surprise. As usual, my concern comes from the addict/co-addict perspective. It seems to me that the kinds of improvements in sexual intimacy that Laura Brotherson is counseling in her practice require, above all else, two more or less mentally healthy members of the marriage. Both the book and the blog assume that the Mormon Wife is emotionally well-grounded or not too far off and is married to a Mormon Husband who could easily stand in as the poster boy for the National Association of All-Around Awesome Mormon Men. They just need a little educating and encouragement in the sexual intimacy department for the fireworks to ignite like the Provo skyline during Stadium of Fire.

Theoretically, one great thing about mentally healthy couples is that you can explain things to them, they can assimilate them into their healthy minds and then they apply their new found knowledge. Someone can explain GGS to them and it all becomes immediately crystal clear. Problem solved as the couple embraces the age-old adage of practice, practice, practice.

Sex addicts and co-addicts, however, are not mentally healthy. And one of the hallmarks of their marriages is a desperate need to figure out what a normal, healthy sexual relationship looks like so they can hurry up and start having “normal” sexual intimacy like everyone else seems to be having. I think Laura’s website and others like it might be magnets for addicts and co-addicts because they think they can just read up and start acting “normal.”

Something else I fear is that a lot of the wives of Mormon sex and porn addicts are going to look at Laura’s definition of The Good Girl Syndrome and recognize that they (the wives) do in fact have “negative…thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and feelings about sex that inhibit one’s responsiveness and enjoyment of the sexual relationship in marriage.” These wives of addicts might look at the feelings and experiences they have when they are sexual with their husbands and realize that it’s a negative experience. Something does seem to be inhibiting the wives’ enjoyment of sex. And the wives might assume that the problem is with them: they apparently suffer from The Good Girl Syndrome.

Again, if a mentally healthy LDS wife is married to a Mormon Conan who has both an actual and a spiritual six-pack and whose adoration of her can only be surpassed by what awaits them in celestial glory, and she’s having negative feelings about sex, then, yes, maybe she does suffer from The Good Girl Syndrome. But if that LDS woman is knowingly or unknowingly married to a sex and porn addict, those negative feelings about sex are something different altogether. Men (and women) who compulsively consume porn are lust addicts. When they are in the throes of their obsession with sex, they take lust in any form they can. This includes bringing their lust for more lust into the bedroom and using their spouses as objects to satiate (temporarily) that lust.

Porn has taught men and women that the “best” sex is the sex that almost has a violent and animalistic feeling to it. Pornographers have fooled us all into thinking that violent and animal-like behavior is passion. It’s not, but everyone now believes it is.

For an LDS woman who was raised not with unhealthy attitudes about sex, but with entirely healthy and appropriate ones, who comes into marriage believing that sex is not just for procreation but also for the bonding together of both body and spirit of the husband and wife, it must surely be a shock to her expectations when she can’t help feeling like a big, raw slab of meat every time her sex addict husband has sex with her. She feels like an object–but rarely recognizes that she’s being objectified. She just feels that something is not quite right.

And then along comes the definition of The Good Girl Syndrome. Can you see how easily the wife of a sex addict could look at the “passion” and intensity that her husband demonstrates when it comes to sex and assume that that “slab of meat” feeling she has means there’s something wrong with her? Can you see how easily the sex addict husband might glom onto the GGS definition to convince his wife that she needs to loosen up and get wild with him and quit being such a good girl?

Again, I think Laura Brotherson’s goals are laudable. I think what she advocates is wonderful for mentally healthy LDS couples. I have to wonder, however, how many mentally healthy LDS couples there actually are out there when seventy percent of the men in the Church regularly look at porn and a smaller but rapidly increasing percentage of Mormon women also consume porn. What if more than half the marriages in the Church are porn impaired? Should those couples be working on overcoming The Good Girl Syndrome, or should they be more concerned about the “Lust and Porn Are Killing Our Marriage Syndrome”?

Two uncomfortable truths: You cannot cure sex and porn addiction by having lots and lots of “wild” sex with your spouse. And mere self-awareness (being aware of your addiction) is not sufficient to overcome addiction either. This is true even if you and your spouse are the strongest, smartest, most spiritual Latter-day Saints on the planet.

About Andrew+

Latter-day Saint, sex and pornography addict in recovery, dealing with depression, returned missionary, father of a bunch of kids, graduate degree, self-employed, Book of Mormon reader, writer and thinker. Working on understanding and overcoming resentment, the number one killer of addicts.

Comments

Mormons Need to Take a New Look at the So-Called “Good Girl Syndrome” — 19 Comments

  1. Wow Andrew! I so appreciate your thoughtful essay here. You are right on the money in so many ways. You are correct that some husbands (and wives) may use the Good Girl Syndrome to incorrectly assume they are the problem when the addiction is the problem. Unfortunately it’s difficult to address every context of sexual difficulties in one book, but hopefully And They Were Not Ashamed will continue to provide at least a guide to what healthy sexuality might look like! 🙂

    • I love And They Were Not Ashamed. Own it. Read it. Love it. I think that because we (people in or dealing with sex adidiction) are clamboring for any type of help related to sex at all because our sex lives are hurting. Yours is one of very few appropriately specific books about sex within marriage. So I’m glad to have it, but I always wonder “is that true for my marriage even though my husband is a sex addict?”

      For example the 6 (or is it 7?) week program to ease into intimacy sounds like SUCH a great idea to re-learn what it should be like. But what if my husband spent the whole day acting out in his addiction and I feel objectified and unsafe? Do I be brave and do it anyway? Or take a day (or week) off? To me that’s the gap. And I hope somebody (if it’s you, even better!) will address it in the same direct and appropriate way you have done in your book.

      • That is exactly what I was wondering! I told my husband a few days ago that if we start the 6 weeks that my conditions include his sobriety. He can’t have slipped for __ days, I want intimacy to be clean! And safe! I don’t want to ever wonder where he is in his head. And if that means we start the 6 weeks over when he slips, or just start the current week over, or we simply see where I’m at after the slip. Maybe nothing, … Sadly? If it is sad. After praying I was told that we (I) am not ready for even the 6 weeks program. But when the time comes we will see what feels best To Me.

  2. Thank you Andrew!!! LDS women can’t hear this enough. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from spouses of sex addicts that for years they had thoughts and feelings that things were not quite right in their intimacy. Oftentimes, this goes on so long that the spouse really does start believing they are the problem, that they just need to enjoy sex more, be less prude, try harder to sexually please their spouse and just get over their aversions. It saddens me to hear how many wives have done things they are not comfortable with in effort to please their spouse, thinking that is what is wrong. And addicts, who are very good at manipulating and blaming jump right on the bank wagon in order to fulfill their selfish lusts. I also hear over and over how wives (or the husbands) have been counseled by bishops, parents, counselors, and friends that when the spouse is struggling with lustful thoughts, wanting to act out, and so forth, that he should go home and connect with his wife!!!!!! Well, I’ll tell you one thing, if he does that, he may avoid acting out outside of marriage (so technically he is not really doing anything wrong right, because sex in marriage is ok? – see Andrews other article) but the addiction just shifts more and more to using the spouse as an object. This is not satisfying, not right, and hurts the relationship, In today’s world,with lust addiction so widely portrayed and accepted as the norm, I would think it quite rare for the problem in intimacy to be because the wife has the “Good Girl Syndrome.”

    All I can say as the spouse of a recovering sex addict is that I have better learned to trust those feelings. I hope other wives will do so as well.

  3. Great post. I sold Laura M. Brotherson’s book for the years I owned an independent bookstore. It is a good read that I regularly gave away at bridal showers. I highly reccommend it as a way to comfortably normalize the conversation around sexuality and the positive truth of intimacy. Thank you. Kandee

  4. This is exactly what I worry about – my vision of approparite sex with my sex addict husband is skewed. I don’t trust my feelings about it because I’m not mentally healthy. And neither is my sex-addict husband. The draw (for me) to Brotherson is that she’ll say SOMEthing. SOMEthing other than “pray about it and do what you feel comfortable with” because if I stay where I’m comfortable, it’s over with us. I want to work and grow and make it better. So here’s what I can’t seem to find. A book called “how to have a healthy sex life with your husband who is a sex addict” Why doesn’t that exist? (I just googled it just in case…it doesn’t exist. :D)

    • My thoughts exactly! If not Laura’s book or website, then where?! How can we (as addicts & co-dependants) learn about healthy sexuality?!

      • I need to clarify: Laura is tackling the subject of healthy sexuality for Mormons and she’s a voice we need. What I’m saying, however, is that learning about healthy sexuality and then trying to practice healthy sexuality will NOT cure sex addiction–even though addicts and co-addicts desperately wish it would. An addict cannot get well just by being well!

        It’s like getting lung cancer and then announcing that you’ve decided to quit smoking cigarettes. No more cigarettes means the promise of a healthy life in the future–but if you don’t do something about the cancer, you won’t be around to enjoy the healthy life.

        Sex addiction is like cancer. You have to treat it with a sex addiction recovery program–like chemo treats cancer. You have to treat the lust addiction and get the lust out of your life–a really tough thing for a lust addict. Once you do that, the healthy sexuality in marriage that Laura advocates becomes possible.

        Again, knowledge of healthy sexuality does not cure lust addiction. Never has. Never will.

        • You know, I’ve never been glad to hear my husband say “having more sex will solve MY problem” because I’d rather bang my head against a brick wall than try to have that conversation with him AGAIN. But all of a sudden I wish it would. 🙂 Sounds easy enough right?

          Agreed that Laura Brotherson’s stuff has a crucial place, I just wish someone (who knows more than I do) would fill the gaping hole for us like she did for the healthy folks out there. 😀 Andrew you up to the task? 😉

          • Hah! I was going to nominate Laura Brotherson to write the book! I’ve got a couple essays in the works about the topic. Even if they do nothing else, they’ll encourage some thought and maybe even some debate about healthy sexuality for recovering LDS addicts.

  5. Andrew, thanks so much for this post. This is something I have wondered about a lot as I have done research for the forum. I haven’t been able to find any good advice for what healthy sexuality can look like, and yet it’s a question that so many are asking (as is apparent in the comments as well). Is it possible that it’s just because it’s so individual, or because it’s just a gap that still needs to be filled?

    At any rate, I’m glad the conversation is happening.

    Thanks for the hat-tip link, too.

    Laura, so great that you would chime into the conversation, too. (And thank you for the link as well.) I am going to second Andrew’s idea: I think you and an addiction specialist or two should get together and write some materials on this topic. 🙂

  6. I agree with your post, Andrew. And I also agree with what Laura presents; I think there’s also the idea that needs to be re-inforced, and that is that Laura’s audience (healthy woman AND healthy man) is significantly SMALLER than yours. Or that’s how it would be, if all men AND women were honest with themselves. We are all creatures of flesh – and flesh and lust walk a pretty happy life together. And its only getting worse. Try to find an objective sample group of 5th graders to high-schoolers who have not either experienced the lust or wanted to be lusted after. In my opinion, we have the GGS and the Helaman’s army facade because we are not honest about sex and its consequences as youth or adults, single or married. Girls are supposedly always virtuous, boys are supposedly always worthy priesthood bearers. Another discussion perhaps, but the facade is too common in church.

  7. Wow again. Me finding this post was so timely! I had been reading that book, and totally did what you described. But in praying about whether or not to try her 6weeks assignment (no sex, just touching) I felt strongly that my answer was still no (when praying) I got this book years ago, and justified a lot with the quote “as long as both parties are comfortable with it” and worked hard on being comfortable with it. And in looking back on those years I went way to far, way too often, and am so thankful that I love myself enough now to not go back. I’ll move out before I go back. God has told me I don’t have to be in that pain anymore. I am ok to be done. And it was pain. A lot of which was from my own thoughts of hating myself for being broken sexually. Thankyou.

  8. I found this really, really interesting. My husband and I just had a conversation the other night where I was grieving a bit that I didn’t really know, and we would never know, what “normal” sex would be like. He came into our marriage a porn addict, and I had no idea until about a year or so into our marriage. Since then, it’s been really difficult to divorce that addiction, even though he’s recovering and doing quite well, from our intimate life. I just found your blog, so I’m looking forward to exploring it and finding out more. Thanks.

  9. My porn and sex addicted husband has purchased every sex related LDS book he can find to beat me over the head with. He also writes himself, using scriptural references about commandments to cleave unto your spouse, keeping temple covenants necessarily means having sex with your spouse, etc. I have come to abhor and resent Church books on the subject as well as Church leaders my husband quotes, the amount of time he spends writing, Church members he consults with about his writing, and so forth. I feel like everything he is doing is to “get” me and straighten me out. Therefore, I cannot endorse Brotherson’s book. I agree with Andrew’s comments of Jan. 20. We must be careful that these books are stipulated for healthy marriages.

    • Sue: Thanks for the great and insightful comment. While I enjoy reading the teachings of the living LDS prophets on pretty much all issues of our day, my favorite living prophet remains (understandably) Jesus Christ. Two thousand years ago, he made it clear what His standard will always be: “But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart” 3 Ne 12:28. Interestingly, He did not say, “…whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart–unless his lust is focused on his own wife and then he can do anything he wants and she has to put up with it.” Many LDS men who consume porn need to think about the Savior’s straightforward words. Sounds like your husband is one of them.

      Regardless, no LDS man can consume porn without having the objectification and lust-driven toxicity spill over into his sexual relationship with his own wife. Jesus Christ’s standard is no lust. Period. His standard excludes all porn and all lust-driven sex. Period. His standard is now my standard as well. No debate for me.

      Hopefully your husband will someday wake up from his drunken stupor of lust intoxication long enough to see what he’s done to you, your faith and your self-esteem. For the record, I think you’re 100% correct and he’s 100% clueless. Lust drains the intelligence right out men–it’s weird and scary.