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.