Why Anthony Weiner Did It: Finding Dignity in Unexpected Places
When I heard the news of another prominent figure involved in a sex scandal, did my eyebrows raise? Did they wryly raise further when I connected his last name with the subject matter of his sexting? I don’t mean to be too cynical, but the answer to both counts was nope. I wasn’t exactly surprised. Were you?
This isn’t an article about the scandal Weiner has brought to his post as a government official. It isn’t about the hurt he’s brought to his wife and family. It isn’t a “how could he do this to us?” cry for mending morality. It isn’t even a straight-out plea for the privacy of all humans, regardless of their office.
This is an article exploring some reasons (albeit totally made up and fictional on my part) about why he may have done it. And not the convenient reason so many may have come to – because he must have been a weak-willed, sneaky, narcissistic, cheating excuse for a public servant. While that may or may not be true, the reasons I’m fascinated with lie in an often-unexamined place: the shadowy psyche of the erotic mind.
Would I find texted pix of your willy erotic? Not so much. Bear with me.
And I also ask you to bear with me as I make a bunch of likely inaccurate assumptions about the inner sexual workings of a man I’ve never met, likely never will meet, and whose life I feel shouldn’t be a subject of public scrutiny or mockery in the first place.
We look for cracks in our leaders, the same way we are simultaneously horrified and fascinated by a crime scene. We want them to be inscrutable gods and goddesses, examples of how it should be, flawless examples of human beings in whom we can trust. I mean, would you really want a leader who is fallible and vulnerable having her hand on the nuclear “deploy” button? Would you want him guarding your house and family at night? Making decisions that will impact your bodily and economic well-being? Like it or not, that’s what we’ve got.
Ever had a fantasy that involved experiencing or doing something that in “real” life you’d never want to experience? Ever had a fantasy you’d share with a stranger but you’d be ashamed to share with someone you were intimately connected with? Ever wonder why sexual fantasies are so often kept secret and in the dark? What’s at work here? Why the connection between sex and shame? Are we all twisted beyond any hope of help?
Ten years ago, before my transition into the field of relationships, I had a private practice in New York City in which I’d work with clients to their heal bodies and emotional eating issues entirely through self-awareness, lifestyle adjustments and holistic nutrition. Enter Christina, who came to me with uncontrollable cravings for ice cream. She’d polish off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream each night. Every night. That’s a whole lotta ice cream.
Even the word cravings can conjure up associations with being sinful, bad, lacking in will-power and undisciplined. But I’d learned to respect cravings as the body’s best attempt at a signal for something direly needed. Christina and I started by deconstructing the facets of her ice cream cravings, in order to deconstruct – and dignify – what he body was really asking for.
Ice cream is cold, milky, creamy, sweet and fatty. Additionally, for Christina, it provided an emotional sense of comfort and of treating herself. So I suggested a couple of radical things. First of all, I didn’t tell her to eliminate ice cream. The focus wasn’t to take anything away, just to add in more of what her body might actually asking for, but was settling for through the ice cream.
I prescribed more fresh salads and fresh vegetables to cover the “cold” element. She was to add healthful fats like olive oil and avocados on her salads to cover to the “fatty” element. And she was to add in some sweet root vegetables like squashes or sweet potatoes so her general diet would have more natural sources of the “sweet” element. Often, a craving for milky substances is an attempt to “mother” ourselves. Since there’s no more nursing for most of us adults, we often substitute other comforting – and milky – things. We looked at the places in Christina’s life where she was hurting and needing “comfort,” in essence needing the mothering kindness she was trying to get from the surrogate teat of ice cream.
In the span of the one-month experiment, she lost about 10 pounds, had eaten ice cream less than a handful of times, and was considering for the first time going off of her anti-anxiety medication. Christina’s body responded extraordinarily well to some healthful substitutions that satisfied the spirit of her cravings, if not the letter of them.
In the vein of deconstructing food cravings, let’s take a look at what it is that Weiner (allegedly) did. He texted and/or tweeted his private junk to potentials other than his wife. He did it in secret, ideally with the aim to not be found out. Where for Christina it was ice cream, Weiner’s erotic cravings showed up as exhibitionism and the titillating thrill of (hopefully) getting away with something. What might his erotic cravings be asking for on a deeper level? And might these cravings have some innate dignity to them?
If you have the chance, run out and get yourself of a copy of The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment by Jack Morin. After reading his astonishing book several years ago I began to ask if there might just be some fantastic, potentially liberating intelligence to our sexual cravings. Perhaps our erotic shadows have a code language, akin to other types of cravings, that needs some deconstructing and understanding, rather than more shaming or repression. Perhaps there is even a powerful force at work behind sexual scandals that is actually strongly life-affirming and deserved of respect?
Morin suggests that sexual obstacles in one’s youth create lifelong scripts for arousal. Drawing on 351 respondents, straight and gay, who discussed their erotic lives with him, Morin developed an “erotic equation”: attraction plus obstacles leads to excitement. This formula is neither tidy nor predictable. Feelings ranging from exuberance, joy, anxiety, humiliation, naughtiness and anger can intensify arousal and turn out to be aphrodisiacs. Which begins to explain why the best sex – or most potent sexual fantasy – is dynamic and risky rather than static and safe.
Which sexual obstacles showed up in your youth? In what ways did your plans to overcome them get entangled in your sexuality? If you were the geek or nerd who could never get the girls, perhaps (as you’d take your frustrations our on yourself) you’d plan for ways to “get back” at them later by never allowing them to “get” you. If you were of the Catholic school meme, perhaps guilt and the naughty thrill of doing something you were not supposed to do showed up precisely alongside your first sexual awakenings. If you felt unseen, unwanted and invisible when your sexuality started to bud, perhaps you dreamed of a time when you could exposed any part of yourself, inspiring only delight and arousal from others.
Which obstacles – and plans to overcome them – might have been Weiner’s ?
Morin claims that understanding our peak sexual experiences and fantasies – and the obstacles that came with them – offer the greatest opportunity for self-discovery and, thus, revitalized sexual experiences. In essence, he says that deconstructing erotic and sexual elements can bring them out of the shadows. Rather than exposing himself to text recipients other than the woman he vowed to be faithful to, the question becomes how could Weiner honestly and openly incorporate the element of exhibitionism into his erotic world? Rather than deceiving his wife and his constituents, how could he bring the elements of “almost getting caught” or “being naughty” into his sex life?
Additionally, how could he explore the line between secrecy (doing something you wouldn’t want anyone to find out about) and privacy (having an inner world that is yours and yours alone, hurting no one) and hence open up some much-needed lines of communication with his spouse? In personal relationships, while secrecy can be a killer, privacy can often actually help preserve the relationship.
Should Weiner have been afforded a blanket of privacy? Should any public figure or leader? While I wouldn’t count myself as qualified to make that call, we should consider for ourselves what the line is between privacy and secrecy. It’s a line our very own government is in the process of blurring the boundaries of as I write.
I am in no way dignifying the fact that Anthony Weiner was doing stuff he didn’t want anyone to know about. There’s no dignity in deceit. I do believe that if you’re holding a public office or commanding the public eye, part of your preparation and job description should include getting a handle on your kinks so they don’t run away with you and your career. But that’s another article.
The threats of shame, disapproval or massive loss are seemingly not enough to prevent sexual scandal. Our deeper sexual cravings almost always trump our ideals for morality. That’s some powerful ju-ju that’s driving us, despite our loftier intentions. Perhaps a sincere and vulnerable look into the secret heart of our arousal could create some balance and healing. Maybe confronting the unresolved feelings that produce “troublesome turn-ons” in our fantasy world might allow us to act more congruently in the “real” world. Perhaps deconstructing our erotic cravings, and acknowledging the desire to give and receive love that is at the core of them all, might just restore some much-needed dignity to our sexual selves.
“Most of your sexual desires, no matter how weird or kinky they may seem, are rooted in your need to give and receive love or your need to experience a specific part in the spectrum of [sexual] energy. These needs are natural, although if denied or hidden they can grow into ‘pathological’ forms that require healing. If you don’t embrace these desires in yourself with compassion, you can create an inner division that results in an energetic kink.”