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Today we want to share with you one man’s journey of sexual integrity. This is from Larry Moffitt’s book, “Searching for San Viejo: Notes To My Younger Self”
Owning Your Package
The pachyderm in the middle of the room
This essay is a story of hope. This is about men, although not exclusively, and our primal hungers. I include a few work-arounds I have learned over the years for keeping my demons at bay during a period when I was on the road for months at a time, more specifically living in Argentina for a year without my family. In a perfect world, this chapter wouldn’t exist. But we’re still working on perfect. And so, for you out there in the trenches, with a bad angel sitting on one shoulder and a good angel on the other, duking it out with your conflicted inner self, you may find something useful in this.
Nearly every moment of your entire life, your body will try to boss you around through three noisily urgent channels: your need for food, sleep and sex. Without sleeping, eating and procreating the human race would not exist, so your body has undeniable logic on its side. Regarding sex, some choose to be celibate for various reasons and I respect their choice. Not everyone has to engage in sex, as long as someone does. Barring immaculate conception, which doesn’t happen very often, sex is the only way to create life. Let me add my own hooray for sex, and not just for reasons of procreating.
The religions pretty much all agree on this, but they insist that one’s mind must be the one that controls the bodily urges, and not vice versa. Mind and body unity, with the mind’s hand on the helm.
I had coffee with Shirley, a dear friend who had served on the grand jury in her town for a number of years. “What’s the grand jury about?” she said, repeating my question to her. “It’s about rape.” Her voice was like steel. “We get so many rape cases. Date rape, family rape. People usually rape people they know, and who trust them.”
The daughter of Shirley’s nephew, 18, was raped a few months before that in California. She was babysitting for a neighbor. He came home after a night of drinking. His wife was out of town and the kids were asleep. He got affectionate, she tried to leave. He got aggressive. He’s in jail.
Shirley’s eyes were wet with fury as she spoke, laying the sins of my gender squarely at my feet. “She’s the nicest, sweetest girl you would ever meet. Men are shit!” Her voice blew a sharp, desolate wind through me. I must have winced.
“Sorry,” she said, “it’s still fresh in my mind.”
I pulled away from our sitdown at Starbuck’s, and resolved to write this essay straight up with no chaser, and put it in the book. As I drove, I recalled something else I heard about twenty years earlier. A friend told me his father had kept porn magazines lying around the house for as long as he could remember. He inherited a sexual addiction that ended up destroying three marriages. He can masturbate eight times a day, which leaves him feeling degraded and used by his myriad demons. He insisted to me, “I can’t stop; don’t want to stop.” His therapist, of all people, told him at their final meeting, “I feel sorry for any woman who has the misfortune to become attracted to you, thinking, here’s a man I can build a life with.”
After dithering back and forth in my mind about whether to include this essay in the book, I remembered, Hey, you wrote this book for your young adult children and their friends – your younger self – right? My spiritual teacher, Reverend Moon, often discussed the value of one’s sexual parts. It’s a worthy topic too, because I promise you that right now, this very minute, our beautiful second-generation children – the shining hope of the future of all of us – are getting slaughtered out there in a world gone sexually insane. And yet everyone’s silent. It’s like the entire building is on fire, all the windows and exits are in flames, and those who haven’t already died from smoke inhalation are coughing and choking while calmly talking about the Super Bowl. I told a couple of friends I was writing about sexual integrity based on all the stuff I’ve learned, and they both tried to discourage me. “Leave it out,” one said. “I know you mean well, but just write things that are funny … and nice. Don’t write about sexual … you know … urges or people are going to think you’re slimy.”
Well screw that, apparently, because here goes.
This essay is in this book precisely because it’s about sex, and acquitting oneself with honor in matters sexual is one of the things that contributes to a person being a good human being. I like to think that most of us wishes we were better people than we are – kinder, wiser, more loving, more mindful, more truthful. There is not one of us who, if we looked at a videotape of our entire life, would not squirm in embarrassment or shame at some points.
How do we get the sex part of our lives right when we are so completely interwoven into the fabric of our own flaws? It’s like a fish trying to clean the water he’s swimming in. The fish may not even be aware of the water itself. I don’t have a brilliant plan. I guess we’ll just shine the big hairy eyeball on the topic and I will share a few things I have learned along the way. We’ll be real and honest, call things what they really are, and see what happens.
This essay is dedicated to my good friend Sean O’Reilly, an Ambassador for Peace and one fearlessly honest individual who wrote a book, How to Manage Your Dick: Redirect Sexual Energy and Discover Your More Spiritually Enlightened, Evolved Self, published in 2001 by Ten Speed Press. He sent me a copy when it was published, and it blew my mind. The book is profound on the subject of sexual self-control – the elephant in the room – a topic that is of utmost significance in this world.
It’s a tempting planet out there. I have been around it a great deal and have seen how fragile one’s good intentions can be, and how treacherous are the waters in which fidelity swims. In the course of three decades of international travels through sixty-something countries I have been approached, sidled up to, and brushed against, by ladies in elevators and hallways from Bangkok to Managua to Moscow – some hired, I’m certain, by the government. I discovered that some Korean barber shops are little more than an excuse for a massage parlor. An attractive woman at the next table in Buenos Aires gazed intently at me all through lunch. Every time I looked up, our eyes met and she would lick her lips. I now know how a pork chop feels. In a Dominican Republic hotel with paper-thin walls, I lay awake listening to a husky-voiced woman in the room next door, entertaining a string of male visitors with loud, groaning, wall-banging sex all night long.
In the face of all this, I have had to create a few rules for myself. For example, when I was alone, I never sat in the hotel bar, even if it was just to eat dinner. I didn’t go into the disco in the basement. There are too many honey bears in those places and it doesn’t matter that you aren’t good looking. Your credit card makes you beautiful. Men with money can always exploit women who worry where they will find that day’s meal for themselves and their children. And they do it all the time. In certain African countries I have been in, the elder daughter, walking the streets in the evening, is a valuable source of income for the whole family.
In countries like Japan and Korea, and most of Western Europe, I restrict myself to the all-news channel after 10 p.m. Late night television can get very “full frontal.” Japan has midnight quiz shows where the cute, giggly young woman has to remove one article of clothing per wrong answer or unlucky toss of a pair of giant felt dice. The questions aren’t difficult, but you already know before the first toss that this girl is going to be dumb as a bag of hammers.
“Who’s buried in Tokugawa’s tomb?”
“Ummm … (giggle) no, wait … umm”
Within two minutes, she’s standing there in just her panties, blushing up a storm and feigning modesty on national television.
Once, after unwisely looking over the list of pay-per-view porn flicks on the card that sat atop the television in my room, and seeing one that looked enticing, even briefly fondling the TV remote before finally willing the card out of my hand and into the trash can, plastic holder and all, I thought, Okay, I will be sure to rent this same movie when I get home, and watch it with my sweet wife. Of course she has no tolerance for such and we never rented it – which I knew we wouldn’t – but it gave me something to look forward to in my moment of temptation. Does this make sense? Tricking oneself has its virtues. And not every such encounter with hotel television was as successful at that one.
I know the power of hungers, and am no stranger to the cold sweats. In Singapore, a woman wearing only a towel and a smile awaited me in the sauna at the Sheraton. Of course those benches are hot, and shortly her towel needed to be removed and folded into a square as a cushion for her to sit on. And there she was, long black hair, eyes of luminous onyx, acres of golden-brown skin. “So sorry,” she smiled, “okay, yes?” I think I sat there awhile, the longest three to five minutes of my life. I remember her smile was constant and she didn’t take her eyes off me for even a second. I was aware of pressure in my ears and the audible sound of my own rushing blood. Hot, sweaty, steamy.
Clutching my towel around my waist, I fled the sauna without taking any of the next steps, but not before the entire Harvard Law School Federalist Society marched through my brain, arguing nuances about which levels of transgression would allow one to approach the edge of the cliff and peek down the slope, without one actually falling over the edge. And etcetera. I rightfully count that episode a victory, but it wasn’t pretty. Is there a patron saint for close calls? There has to be, and I owe him lunch. In Asia, I came to the conclusion that every hotel on the continent, from the lobby bar to the fitness center, is designed expressly for the purpose of getting businessmen laid.
Women with powerful urges have sat next to me on the train in Buenos Aires where I lived while helping start a Spanish-language newspaper. I was alone there for a year; my family was back in the States. The women couldn’t help noticing the English-language novel in my hands and they wanted to practice their English. Nothing wrong with that. We chatted and they asked if we could get together again to practice more. This happened maybe three times during my work there, and I would always respectfully decline, fingering my wedding ring. With every one of those encounters it was excruciatingly painful for me to abruptly end what could have been a decent friendship – or, in the depths of my self-pity, possibly something that might have been blissful, intimate, intoxicating and the absolute ruin of me. If you don’t want to get to that village, don’t go down that road.
By far, the most frightening and dangerous close encounters for people to whom fidelity is important are the ones that begin with the most innocent of intent and take one unawares. We meet by chance in a park and strike up a conversation. We talk about our spouses, so all our cards are face-up on the table. I am separated by 8,000 miles from the one I love. My new friend’s heart is separated from her husband by an even greater distance across the mere width of their kitchen table. We chat some more and discover we’re both deeply interested in the same things. It’s a nice afternoon. We talk and an hour passes in an instant. And another hour. We go to a coffee shop to continue. Over coffee and media lunas (croissants), she occasionally reaches out and places her hand atop mine as a sympathetic expression of agreement on some mutually felt matter of the heart. I allow her hand to remain where it is, even though the presence and heat of her fingertips burrow a hole through the lining of my soul, through the table we’re sitting at, and through the floor all the way to China.
We’re both lonely, both more vulnerable than either of us wants to be. A web of intimacy begins to form in the air out of compressed molecules of warmth that slowly inch together and bond in the quiet pauses between words. Invisible chemistry ionizes the atmosphere. What makes encounters like this so extremely fraught with dangerous possibilities is that they are not at all about lust. They are actually about unprincipled love that has been given the face of an angel by the power of wretched loneliness.
Around 4 p.m. we say goodbye with an Argentine peck on the cheek outside the coffee shop. It was not a love affair, but a chance encounter that blossomed into what I would call intoxicating friendship over the course of three hours. So, yes, friendship – with more left unspoken than was spoken. As I walked back to my apartment I realized I had scared myself with the reality of my own susceptibility. I never called or emailed her after that, nor did she contact me. We both knew there was no space at the cliff’s edge for either of us to make the slightest move.
Figuring out how to be the kind of man on the road who is not pushed all over the place by a constant barrage of temptations has been a learning curve for me. I did a lot of work for Rev. Moon over the years and much traveling on his behalf. One time after dinner at his home in Seoul, he looked at me for a long moment and then asked, “Larry, you’ve traveled through just about every Asian country by now. Which one do you think has the most beautiful women?” I understood he was trying to help me realize something about myself. I had been doing some noticing in my travels and that had to be the worst possible question for me. I turned five shades of red as he just sat there calmly awaiting my opinion, wearing an expression as unreadable as the Mona Lisa’s smile. He looked like he actually wanted to know, so I told him The Philippines, with its long history as an intersection of East and West, edges out the others. And I meant it.
I have met men who jettison their principles the minute they step out the door, adopting a completely opposite standard of conduct while on the road. It’s tempting to do. One fellow traveler said to me, “Why resist what happens so naturally and feels so good? And anyway, if you’re reasonably discreet, what does it matter?”
It’s self-deception on the level of art, and it matters because you know about it. You can repress all thoughts of it; you can insist to yourself, “Hey, I’m my own boss. I paddle my own canoe,” or whatever, but still you know about it, and you always will. In the end, despite the oft-repeated myth, nothing stays in Vegas. Nothing.
But thanks to technology, you don’t need to go to Vegas. All you need is a computer and a few minutes alone. Or a cell phone. Of all the juicy temptations available to anyone on the planet, pornography is the most insidious because it is privately indulged in and has never been more accessible than it is right now. Even Playboy magazine has stopped publishing nude women because it can’t compete with what pops up on the internet for free. One mouse click and there you are with an imaginary human and a comforting, addicting dopamine rush surging through neuron pathways into your brain, down your spinal cord and taking over your face, limbs, breathing patterns, and your helpless control center. The self-induced orgasm stimulated by Photoshopped women (a.k.a. “making love alone”) is the new drug, and becomes the death of human relationships.
Technology has led to an explosion of porn – pop-up ads on your computer, cell phone images, television, billboards, lingerie catalogs. Imagination lives on the sharp edge of a knife, and temptation is always within arm’s reach, arriving on its own, leaked in from the ozone layer. We become acutely sexualized; without thinking, the head turns to follow the sound of high heels on a tile floor. Magazines and billboards are covered with tits, but we shame women who try to breastfeed their babies in public. Society is saying, “Cover yourself, woman, breasts are for men to stare at, not for feeding babies.” Folks, that’s very, very messed up.
Sex is the most Googled topic on the internet. It’s everywhere at once and yet nobody talks about it. That’s because so many of those folks who are looking at porn are ashamed of it, and therefore reticent to get into a deep discussion about it. If you’re a human being, man or woman, married or single, you’re already dealing with lust, porn and/or infidelity directly or indirectly. It’s the water in which the popular culture swims. The very immediacy and proximity of it undermines our moral authority and is what keeps us from addressing the pachyderm at the tea party.
And by the way, the fastest-growing demographic of pornography users today – is women. Something like a third of porn-addicted people are now female, as of this writing. For many decades, maybe since the dawn of time, it was a non-issue for women, or a silent issue, or maybe a repressed reality. But now, porn use by women is out in the open and is growing rapidly. The need for female mentors is acute.
Like many, at some point I got into the habit of looking at dirty pictures on the internet. I felt like a complete and utter hypocrite. I went to my wife Taeko and said, “Honey, I’ve been looking at naked women on the computer.” She was shocked and concerned but she didn’t back away in horror. She moved closer, physically and emotionally. Surprisingly, she said, “Show me.” So I did. We logged on and I gave her a tour.
I said, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it anymore.”
“Your apology is accepted,” she said. We held each other for a long time.
I realized later that her not reacting with disgust or finger-wagging condemnation at all is unusual for a wife when they find out their mate has been indulging. A wife’s revulsion and loathing, the door-slamming and sleeping on the sofa, are natural reactions for a wronged woman, but such things do nothing to heal the problem, and they tend to drive a man deeper into seclusion and comforting fantasies. Women (and men): how you react when you receive a confession like this is important. It can shorten or lengthen the distance to the other person’s ability to solve the issue.
Whatever she felt, and she feels everything intensely, she squelched it because she wanted to be totally, unselfishly there for me. She was interested only in helping me, us, really, get through this. Sometime later when I realized how completely self-sacrificial and unconcerned for her own feelings she had been in the moment of my confession, I understood how enormous her capacity to give love is, and I was overcome with emotion. Everyone who knows Taeko, sees that she is unusual in her ability to connect and to give. There is love and then there is capital-T True love. I am fortunate to be a recipient of the latter.
By the way, that admission to her didn’t mean my fight was over, but it was an excellent beginning because it cemented the alliance of Taeko and me in dealing with it. It was quite a ride for a few years after that, with good days and bad ones. Episodes of acting out were followed by self-loathing. I prayed about it, fasted occasionally. I experienced a struggle of great effort and personal resolve, endured a few long, dark nights of the soul. Sometimes it felt like I was trudging over plowed earth, or running in place.
What makes the fight difficult is that porn is not a metaphorical drug, but a literal one because of the chemicals it produces in your brain. The flood of dopamine rewires the brain into new “reward pathways.” A tolerance to the pleasure chemicals builds up and so the brain needs more intense images – “stronger wine, madder music.” At some point, the addiction can become so strong it becomes difficult, and then impossible, for a man to become aroused by an actual living woman. I’m not a trained counselor at all, but I’m a pretty good listener, and I have met people in their early 20s who have told me, “Porn has ruined my life.”
Gradually the issue began to fade for me due to the factors I will explain. But for a long time, even after I had abandoned porn, I still live and swim in the popular culture and therefore always know the wolf is crouching just outside the door.
Here’s what I have experienced that works in solving self-control issues and that help maintain one’s sexual integrity:
1. First, ask your gut, “How badly do I want victory?” Then ask it two or three more times in case you’re bullshitting yourself like usual. A great sage once said, “If you can’t get mastery over your wiener, you should cut it off and barbecue it.” One of those pyrrhic “victories,” where winning is also losing, so I don’t recommend it. But I do understand the element of do-or-die resolve, even frustration, underlying the words. So how much do you want to win? That was my question to myself. In a very memorable prayer, where I felt God was actually there and was listening, I heard: If you can’t get past this you will never become SanViejo (Saint Old Guy). That venerable title you’re searching for will never be more than a pretend thing, your email address. And wouldn’t that suck?
2. Spiritual support and scripture. Sacred texts are written by people who at one time have all been where you are now. Read them to learn what they learned. Pull God into the fray. I promise there really is a God out there, and for me, that includes a posse of all of history’s saints as well as my thousands of ancestors and kindred folk in the spirit world. (I love you, my guardian whozits.) I have several spiritual teachers, foremost of whom are the True Parents, Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon. Finally, serving as the voice, arms, eyes and lips of God in my life, is my wife, Taeko. Honey Nim. Maybe someday there will exist words that can describe the place she and I hold in each other’s lives. Then there is my community of friends and loved ones. For me, God is a team.
3. Your articulated set of principles. Be able to tell yourself in the mirror, in a couple of sentences, what kind of person you are and are not.
Here’s a thought: tape your resolutions to your shaving mirror. For example: Speak to women’s eyes and not their chests. Or: Cut the flirtatious banter about “taking DICKtation” with Betty Lou from Accounting. I haven’t taped anything to my own mirror, but it occurs to me it would be a really good idea to remember to remove your reminders before having visitors over to your house. On second thought, skip this one. Just wear a hair shirt, put a pebble in your shoe and talk like a Puritan: “What we speaketh, Betty Lou, consigneth both our souls to the hellfires of eternal damnation.” That will brighten up the break room.
Seriously, there are a lot of people reading this who are screaming at the pages, “Larry, geez, Louise, get over it! Get a life! You’re obsessing. It’s not that big a deal!” First, don’t tell someone who is obsessing not to obsess. It only makes us crazy. Second, men I speak with, who credit porn for their inability to have a deeply fulfilling, full-on relationship with a woman they dearly love, would disagree.
Therefore, articulate your principles aloud to yourself, at least. Also, think about your day in advance, in terms of various triggers and pitfalls that tend to put you back into your old patterns. It’s like a guy trying to quit smoking who decides ahead of time to walk with a bottle of water during his break, and not to sit and drink coffee because it triggers a cigarette moment. Or someone trying to lose weight who knows they must never approach a Christmas party buffet without a strategy thought out in advance. (First, fill up on the raw veggies, because next serving dish will contain breaded, deep-fried, mushroom caps stuffed with bacon-wrapped, buttered lump crab and tarter sauce. Game over.)
Likewise, the highly charged sexual imagination already knows certain nominally safe news websites are laced with “click bait” enticers … Fifteen Most Hilarious Celebrity Breast Implant Failures. You know where that one’s going. Ditto the highbrow documentary, “Thong Bikinis of the Roman Senate.”
These things are all foreseeable encounters but we tend to get blindsided by them for the same reasons we fail to drink enough water or get enough exercise. Mastering one’s self requires constant vigilance and that’s damned hard work.
4. Allies. You need fellow travelers, a mentor, or a group of similarly suffering buddies who also want to change their patterns. The porn habit is born in isolation, but it dies in community. So find some homies with whom to share the battle. Wives (and husbands), please be your mate’s best ally. Your husband is not a scumbag. He’s a guy adrift on a raft in a hypersexual culture that is completely devoid of restraint. Unpack the topic and talk about it. Men and women, research the many good, non-hysterical articles on the internet.
So those are four tools that have proven effective for me. Your mileage may vary. Basically it comes down to replacing old habits with new ones, and being mindful of the path you’re on. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Just be careful when you’re surfing the internet, folks. This stuff ain’t rocket science.” I guess I should add, be sure to keep a well-oiled sense of humor with you at all times.
There is one more bit of affirmative action you can do. I find that time spent on any kind of unselfish activity that helps another person will improve one’s overall spiritual health. The best kind of giving is the kind where you don’t expect or want anything back in return. Approach everything with that attitude. Incorporate service to others into your lifestyle in some consistent way. By the end of your life, you will notice that your destiny has changed. Improved.
I had the privilege of enjoying a friendship with President George H.W. Bush that was decades-long, but only occasional in frequency. I was in his Houston office one day. A gentleman and traditionalist, he said, “You know, Reverend Moon is a good man, but why does he always have to talk about ‘sex organs’ in his speeches?”
“Well, Mr. President,” I replied, “what is it that, throughout all of history, has been the ruin of marriages and families … kings – and presidents?” This was at the height of the tumult over President Bill Clinton’s Oval Office affair with Monica Lewinski.
He thought quietly for a long moment, then nodded. “Good point.”
In summary, all the tools I brought to bear on the self-control issue have bleached it out into a faint residual echo of what it was. It gives me a palpable sense of freedom. I made it a priority and kept after it. There has been an element of dumb luck, like the fact that I didn’t die twenty years ago, before I could get this far in my quest.
Maintaining God’s presence in my daily life has been, and still is, a huge priority, and I’m better at that on some days than on others. But I’ve found that even God alone is not enough. Cultivating relationships with living people needs to be involved (friends and allies), and I know I would not be writing these words today if it had not been for my wife, her wisdom and selfless nature. And the future? I guess we’ll find out. Life is a series of unmapped forks in the road and concealed monkey wrenches, but I’m feeling appropriately confident at this point.
There is a lot more to tell you face-to-face in a coffee shop. This topic really is an ongoing discussion, a sharing of paths. There are some excellent trained mentors out there. I’m not one of them, but I find myself counseling people now and then (listening, really) who seek me out because I first wrote about this back in 2005. My brothers, and increasingly my sisters, who walk the path of gaining mastery over themselves know how tedious the slow and halting, stutter-step journey is. But even slow and halting is progress.
Bottom line: if you believe human life is eternal, and if that’s a big deal to you, then you are fortunate because you will probably do everything you can to develop an honorable character while you are still alive on the earth. Will any of us succeed with all our character-related goals? Who knows? But if you keep plugging away, if you have a strong set of examined principles and a purpose that you reinforce daily with your prayers, mantras, the encouraging words of others and such, there will be improvement you can look back on one day and say, “Hey, I growed some.” Nothing wrong with that.