Relapse: My life seems to repeat itself at times (unfortunately)

Submitted by Brenmal on
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I haven't been on this site much and I haven't blogged at all for a couple of years now. Marnia's book was one of the first things that opened my mind to the way that my brain works.

On the one hand, reading a book like Marnia's helped me to understand myself better, but it also stimulated my interest so much that I became addicted to buying books on other esoteric and psychological topics that were kind of related to this. The result was that I soon became engulfed with information, obsessively and compulsively reading and all of this overloaded my brain to a point where I confused myself and got lost again. I wish I had been unable to just keep things simple. I suppose this will now become my goal. Reading about a topic is not the same as practising. I really need some assistance in practising karezza, being mindful and calming down.

I'm glad that back then I chose to blog my experiences on here, because I didn't keep a journal and coming back to reread some of my comments has reminded me of just how powerful Marnia's original book was and reminded me of a way out of the pitiful state that I've returned to in recent months. Quite simply, I have relapsed having had a period of about 18 months of regression and become again the person I was back in 2010 and before.

I have been feeling that I am losing my mind, feeling that I might be bipolar or have a borderline personality disorder. I've returned to using the pornography and prostitutes that were the bane of my life back then and karezza once again a real difficulty for me at the moment.

This time I think stress at work triggered the relapse, exacerbated by some differences of opinion over religion and philosophy between myself and my wife (she is a devout Christian whereas I am a former Christian, now an atheist). Anyhow, about the same time that I stopped blogging on here I got a new manager at work, had to stop working part-time and go full-time as a result, but still had to do the things I was doing on the day off in my own time (putting extra pressure on me) and this managers "interest" in me became quite overbearing and stressful which I think triggered my relapse because at the same time my relationship with my wife weakened and the compassion lessened in our relationship.

Anyhow, after a embarrassing interview with my boss where he suggested that I might need occupational therapy I decided that I would go and see my own doctor and try to get some help with this recurrent problem. Getting to see a psychiatrist on the national health is virtually impossible, and in spite of a referral all I've had so far is a brief interview with a psychiatric nurse which means I've been without help for about a month now, signed off work by the doctor but still undiagnosed and untreated. In this state of limbo I have been filling my time by going to the gym, and because the weather has been good, getting out in the fresh air. I've been resisting seeing prostitutes but I found it hard to resist a tendency to hunt for pornography and masturbate, often for several hours during the day. The most I've managed to abstain is four days.

I've decided to reread Marnia's book and try to be more compassionate with myself and my wife. Hopefully I will get some sort of therapy or counselling to help me through this period. I came off antidepressants November 2012. I've had a history of mood swings going back to 2002 that have also included making expensive purchases and wasting money. I'm wondering if when I was diagnosed as having depression I was actually misdiagnosed. Maybe I am bipolar and what I am experiencing as sex addiction is the hypersexuality that is associated with this. However, addiction to sex might well be the problem rather than a symptom of something else. I'm not qualified to diagnose myself I really need to talk to somebody who knows what they're talking about and am finding it really difficult to find somebody like that. If you have any suggestions please on reading this let me know, thanks.


yes bonding works

I've been totally honest with her about my addiction. I asked her to think back to how it was when we experimented with karezza last time and told her that I was reading Marnia's book again. I told her that I was going to abstain from sex for a couple of weeks and that I'd like us to practise affection and compassion to fill the gap. We are ok with that right now and I am getting my energy back slowly.

Thanks for checking in

I figured you had taken a detour when you abruptly stopped appearing.

Since you were here we've learned a lot. It's all collected on Have a look. There are several good forums too, which I strongly recommend. The first is probably best for you.




As for which came first, the illness or the habit, who knows? We've learned that OCD tendencies are the one pre-existing condition that makes addiction more likely once someone meets highspeed. IAD CAUSES Pathological Disorders (China)

That said, I've heard people report improvements in all kinds of conditions after they cut out porn, etc.

But, of course, things get worse for a while first. That's just how withdrawal works, and the OCD guys seem to have the roughest time. If you think OCD could be at work, you might find this interesting. It'll show you what we've learned: Exposure Therapy for HOCD?

It's never too late to turn things around. You might also like this new book by a UK therapist: "Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction: A comprehensive guide for people who struggle with sex addiction and those who want to help them" I'm reading it now. Lots of practical steps. If you're not near her, maybe you could work long distance.

Good luck!


Thanks for the reply Marnia sorry its been so long

I've downloaded Paula's book like you suggested and read some and its really good. I suppose one thing that's forced me to reevaluate is that this compulsion to orgasm and addicton to porn and such is ultimately unsustainable. The reward is just not worth the price I'm paying. If I carry on like this the resulting mind fug and depressing will finish me. The anaesthetic effect and the trance inducing nature of the addiction are all consuming. Hypnotic is not too strong a word. Oftentimes I have swapped out this addiction for other lesser addictions but not been able to tackle the root cause and then returned to it with a vengence. Shame, I have realised is the root.


it will get better if you are consistent in avoiding your "drug of choice." It has to, because your brain will move back toward balance, which may even ease the "shame" feelings.

Guys often report that, in fact. "Shame" seems to be as much neurochemical as guilt-related for some. It's just a feeling of deep anxiety. Unnaturally low dopamine itself can cause that - as this perfectly healthy young med student discovered: He had no reason at all to feel "shame," yet he did, when his dopamine was artificially lowered.

Not to take away from your issues or your need for counseling, but don't think your addiction will magically disappear if you get to the root of your shame. That thinking can become a rationalization for continuing to "use."


In my journal today I found myself writing - "I don’t want to turn battling porn/sex addiction into my ‘life’." and I guess what I mean is that when I get into something like this it in itself can turn into a compulsion in me until I get distracted by something else.

I've managed to do other things. Its the weekend, I did some maintenance on the house. I enjoyed the sunshine, spent some time talking to my wife and cuddling. But, I read an awful lot and I'm not sure that this is always good for my wellbeing. Ignorance is bliss to an extent. I'm not the world's greatest intellect by a long shot, but I like to read. I suppose reading when your dopamine is out of kilter can be somewhat challenging too. I get very emotional and angry when I read certain things. My ideas do seem 'inflicted' - they kind of spring on me as if they were not my own.

My focus isn't too great right now and giving myself too much to worry about isn't going to help so I'm planning to use the next month and a half (when I'm effectively on home leave) detoxing from the stuff that I believe is at the root of my guilting/shaming/depressing - over-sexing myself, over using the computer (Googling everything), over-analysing and anxietising. If you could see the deep bags under my eyes - they speak volumes. When they go I'll know I'm on the way back. That cartoon of Mr A. the college student in the AMPT study looks like a thin version of me.

My belief has to be that I will get better and my purpose for now has to be to achieve that. Sometimes less is more.

On a personal note, Marnia - how do you do all this stuff? I know you work as a team with Will, but your collective workload must be enormous. I am grateful for your sites, out of all the stuff I've researched they resonate the most with me and I know there's truth in them, the unambiguous kind. I admire what you've done enormously. I know you have to battle politically in the US over the DSM coding etc. and it intrigues me. I don't understand the arguing over addiction vs compulsion vs.. etc. Whatever this condition is, it exists. Maybe these porn-billionaires are trying to skew the definitions etc. to prevent legal action like the tobacco-billionaires did in the past. I don't know, but I do know that for some of us porn is addictive and toxic. Just like some people, my granddad included smoked until his eighties without succumbing to anything, maybe some people are immune to porn, but there are some of us that aren't.

hottest day of the year so far

I went out in the front garden and pressure washed the driveway. Took about 4 hours. Came in looking like the creature from the black lagoon. Looks lovely though, good as new. I'm getting my mojo back. Did the neighbour's too. Smile.


Glad to hear it. Simple pleasures and work are starting to feel good. That's a healthy sign. Remember daily bonding behaviors. Even a minute a day can pay off big.

I did look into and...

I didn't like the idea of 'counting' how many days it's been since I last masturbated. I'm not an experiment, although I am a work in progress.

Whether I do this or that or whatever I can accept who I am and what I've done even if it sucks. These are the cards I've been dealt and its up to me ultimately how I play them. Even if I lose this hand, there's always the next.

I can understand why some people find this useful but it would make me unduly anxious. Past=not present.

Patterns on the other hand are interesting. Often behaviours I exhibit follow a similar pattern. We're all creatures of habit therefore studying habits is worthwhile.



It's just an idea but isn't the hardest thing about the early stages after departing from this addiction a sense of loss, grief if you like? Mourning for the dopamine boost that I used to get from acting out, realising that it just ain't gonna work no more. Mourning for the lost time and life energy that I used to put into the habit. For the loss of closeness and personal relationships that's resulted, the money I've lost, the friends I've not kept up with. That's the feelings I get. It does fade away after a while I guess - its temporary just like everything else. It will pass. I can show myself lots of compassion and live through it, not try and mask it because it'll come back twice as strong.

I can tell myself to let the grieving feeling arise and accept it when it does, holding it in my conscious and exploring the feeling and letting it pass. I can remind myself that there's nothing wrong with me, its natural. I'm not sick, perverted, weird - just out of step with reality, out of step with the reality that I want to experience. I can visualise who I want to be, how I want to live the rest of my life. I've got enough right to live on this planet as every other being there's no shame, I've got nothing to be guilty about. What's gone is gone, its water under the bridge. I'll never stand in the same river twice, the water runs on. Why try to hang on to something that's passed? I can tell myself softly to let go of it, to be calm with it when it arises in my thoughts, talk to my emotions softly. I can relax and allow myself nurture, I can feel my sensitivity and rawness and compassionately tend to my need for comforting.

Externalisation (narrative therapy technique)

I like this method from Paula Hall's book Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction, Routledge 2012 p.140.

"Essentially this allows someone to create a dialogue with the problem that is located outside of the self rather than being an integral part of it. In other words, when a trigger is experienced, rather than beating the self up with negative self-talk or splitting the self up into good cop/bad cop the dialogue is aimed at the external problem - the addiction. So rather than saying 'I want to act out', externalisation would say 'the addiction wants me to act out'. By projecting the problem outside of the self a new relationship can be created with the problem, which can empower change while protecting the self."

My self voice has always been very harsh.

Anxiety disorder and PMO


In 2002 I had a 'stress reaction' when l smashed up a bathroom in my house with by bare hands. Not very sensible considering how my hands and arms looked after thumping through tile and dry-wall. This was because of a number of things all major stressors which I didn't really think about at the time. I was living "on the fly'' so to speak - I had just changed job, moved house/town and decided to leave a'cult' religion which my parents and spouse were still members of which 'shuns' people who leave. This religion had been the paradigm through which I had seen my entire life and future up until then. To say leaving was disturbing is an understatement. I was devastated and felt that I could no longer trust those who I was close to. I became paranoid - with good reason. I felt betrayed and duped. Before this time I did not have an excessive problem with PMO. Being reasonably physically healthy and in my early 30's at the time I'd never had ED either.

I was taken to the doctors and signed off work for months, prescribed antidepressants, an SSRI called citalopram and basically left home alone. I believed that because I was on the antidepressants I must be depressed and so I looked into depression and convinced myself that this was my 'illness' without understanding that depression is just a side-effect of deeper issues. Being home alone with the internet I soon found that using porn, I could get some sexual relief and so I did. My sex life had become patchy with my spouse anyhow due to our relationship difficulties and perceived differences. I interpreted this as being the beginning of the end of our relationship, however it wasn't, it was just a period when we weren't having regular sex together and when we did it was difficult for me to maintain my erections and therefore reach climax. Caused by our emotional distance.

Because there were things that were difficult to talk about they became 'off-limits' and this led to increasing long-silences. We've never been ones to have blazing rows, but sometimes these are more cathartic than the increasing distance one feels when avoiding all but the most mundane conversation. (Thankfully we're not like this now - it did improve eventually).

This was my first and continuing experience of ED. My interest in sex (libido) never ceased, in fact it increased but my ability to perform was severely inhibited. I created myself a 'den' in a spare bedroom of the house and on my own to porn, or without porn I could calm down enough, after several hours sometimes, to maintain an erection and masturbate to orgasm. It actually became easier for me to achieve an orgasm with porn than with a partner. It was a stupid risky thing to do but this developed after a few months into another behaviour - I went to prostitutes ostensibly for sex, but found that I had the same performance problems with them (or worse) than I did with my spouse. The 'den' period lasted until last year when I dismantled it and moved the computer downstairs in an attempt to rebuild our relationship.

Fast forward 10 years and this porn / prostitute use had developed into into a compulsion/impulsive reaction whenever the rejection from my spouse/family/boss/whoever rattled my nerves or when I was faced with stress at work - which got increasingly worse as my performance decreased due to the anxiety/guilt/shame built. I was using sex as an alternative to dealing with the underlying issues, in fact I hadn't really discovered what the underlying issues were. I was confused as to whether I had an addiction to porn, depression, bi-polar etc. Something else developed you see, I would sometimes substitute porn use or visiting a prostitute for buying expensive items on the internet to give myself a 'treat', or occasionally go out and drink excessively to numb myself - hence the concern with bipolar or BPD.

In short I had become increasingly impulsive, not feeling stable and trying to correct that feeling in a reactive manner. Not being able to focus or concentrate or see the bigger picture I was literally staggering from one dumb-ass thing to another looking for a way out. Obsessively reading books and internet articles looking for what was wrong with me and trying to make myself 'fit' with what I had researched, rather than looking at my own experiences and drawing my own reasoned conclusions.

I have known for a long time that masturbating to porn was no substitute for the physical contact of sex. I pay masseuses/prostitutes to give me this physical contact, and often this did not lead to sexual intercourse - it was a couple of years of visiting them before that happened in approximately 2004 (it was easier once I had achieved sex with a prostitute because the Coolidge Effect kicks in). Sex does heal. The physical contact and shared release is a natural high and very important to achieve attachment and validate a relationship or sense of belonging and emotional release.

Back in 2008 I bought some Viagra - 100mg for the first time. The side-effects for me were disturbing. They made everything appear with a blue tint and gave me awful headaches and so my use of these was sparing, only occasional before I would go to see a prostitute.

This year I had another worsening of my general mood and anxiety, depression, another period of time off work, intense use of PMO to relieve myself, visiting prostitutes etc. A real downward spiral. I felt I was losing control. I was hoping that when I stopped using antidepressants late last year my ED would go but unfortunately I still had ED more than 6 months afterwards and it was becoming increasingly frustrating and this led to a worsening of my anxiety - PMO loop. But this time I could notice this pattern/loop as being caused by anxiety about not being accepted. I've also recently read a book called Human Givens and How to master anxiety by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell that helped me make this link. Things have changed since 2002 - this time my enduring spouse knows about my 'stuff' and choses not to leave me, communication is much better and we're quite accepting of each other's difficulties. We've gradually buried our differences over the years and this has helped even though our sex life has been virtually non-existant together.

So, a few weeks ago in desperation, decided to see if Viagra can be used in a more constructive way within our relationship and by reducing the dose down to a quarter of a pill I found that I had completely eradicated the side-effects for me while maintaining the desired effect. The psychiatrist suggested that I go on all sorts of drugs, like you said he would Marnia, and wanting to avoid this cocktail and inevitable side-effects, wanting to avoid PMO or visiting prostitutes and wanting to have sex with my spouse instead, but knowing I probably wouldn't be able to because of anxiety and our 'emotional baggage' I decided to use a cut down pill, talk to my spouse about my new theory and go from there. Things quickly improved between myself and my spouse because the Viagra actually worked and took the performance-anxiety factor out of our love-making which in the past three weeks has become more or less daily. We feel closer, sex is much more fun and relaxed and my anxiety and low mood is improving considerably. My impulsiveness is reducing and my confidence returning. It's early days but I'm happy so far.

Suggested meds, Pregabalin 75 - 150mg twice daily; Reboxetine 4mg twice daily; Mirtazapine 30mg nightly.

What's the bottom line? For me? I think, on reflection, Anxiety over acceptance and rejection has been the root of my depression; porn viewing/masturbating and sexual impulsivity the 'medication' I've been using to alleviate the depressing. It's been a chain reaction.

Why? My theory is that due to anxiety I was not getting much meaningful release with someone I love, I had lost my mojo and had gotten into a destructive loop that had its own negative side-effects and co-morbidities.

What's helped? Before doing things self-compassionately asking myself what my 'best friend' would advise me to do and doing that instead of what my impulses direct. Being able to have and having regular sex with my spouse without 'performance anxiety' has made me feel accepted and as a result the general anxiety is reducing leading to a corresponding reduction in sexual impulsivity and porn use/masturbation. Smiling and not over-thinking. Exercise/walking. 7-11 breathing. Doing things to distract me from obsessing about sex and my other anxieties.

Human Givens - what's that? Basically it's an analysis of what we need to thrive, a development along the lines of CBT. The basic assumptions of the Human Givens approach are that humans have evolved innate physical and emotional needs called ‘human givens’. Human beings instinctively seek to meet these needs in their environment. When a person’s innate needs are met in the environment, he or she will flourish. When these needs are not met in a balanced way, mental distress results. The focus of the therapy is the discovery and rectification of any blocks to these needs being met. The emotional needs include:

Security – safe territory and an environment which allows full maturity and development
Attention (to give and receive it) – a form of "mental nutrition"
Sense of autonomy and control – having volition to make responsible choices
Being emotionally connected to others
Feeling part of a wider community
Friendship and intimacy with someone who is accepting of the total person, flaws included
Privacy – opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience
Sense of status within social groupings
Sense of competence and achievement
Meaning and purpose

for more info:

Anything else? Sorting out the physical condition of ED with a small dose (25mg) Viagra taken at around 6pm each evening. For me, being able to achieve and maintain a good erection is the foundation of good sex. What you do with it from there, be it Karezza or regular orgasm type sex is then up to you although variety is the spice of life and choice is everything. Learning about the Coolidge effect has helped me to form my own analysis of my experiences over the last decade.

How do I view PMO? Ultimately it wasn't the cause of my problem, not having my human givens met was and will continue to be so unless I keep an eye on them. PMO and other poor choices were the results.

Most useful thing the psychiatrist said to me? Quote: "Often the best thing to do with negative behaviours is to stop doing them." I could have wept.

Best part of sex? Physical touch and contact. This is absolutely necessary. Even when I had ED I was always able to cuddle with my spouse and my various lovers. Without this saving grace I would have lost the will to live.

Thoughts about prostitutes? Mixed. I'm not sure that they can really switch off

Glad to hear you're doing better

Are you still using porn? Do you intend to? While you may not view it as the source of your problems, it sounds like it certainly contributes.

Also, the "spice of life" can cause profound neurochemical ripples. Let's hope it doesn't for you. Just keep observing yourself carefully. There's way more to learn about the neurochemical effects of orgasm, and while you're brain is still seeking balance, the picture can be different than it will be once you're back in balance.

Really happy to hear about the regular sex. Intercourse is very healing.Taking a day off in between but doing lots of cuddling can also be surprisingly helpful.

Changes that I intend making

I'm not ruling out porn use per se. In fact I'm not going to focus on 'not' doing anything because for me this generally has the effect of inducing anxiety. What I intend to do is to focus on the type of sex and bonding behaviours that make me happy and do these instead.

Why? Porn doesn't fit my needs. I have never felt satiated after PMO - ever. Tired yes, satisfied no. Like eating a Mars bar. It's nice while it lasts but it's soon gone. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that though is there?

And prostitutes? Sex with strangers / loveless sex is like white bread - insubstantial and lacking nutrition but tastier than the heavy brown stuff. I sometimes feel like I've made a huge physical outlay, costly in time money and emotional energy for no actual lasting gain apart from directing and playing a leading role in my own porn movie, which if your memory's like mine, isn't much of a return on your investment. Also, no matter how nice the prostitute is ultimately she'll only ever love you to the bottom of your wallet. It's a job not a vocation. Of course, as soon as your mistress becomes your wife the dynamic changes and things become less adventurous. That's Coolidge for you. The love/lust trade off. Remember nothing comes without a price.

To quote Madonna, it's a 'substitute for love'. But I posit that lust is something valuable in its own right. It would be nice if it was easy to experience lust with an enduring partner and I think it can be done but both parties need to be 'on board' and willing to play. For me sex is more an art than a science. Is it possible to care enough to be carefree? Because abandon is needed. Release.

What are my views on orgasm? Knowing that you'll be able to have one if you want to have one is better than actually having one and believe me I love the sensation of orgasm. You don't know the value of anything until it's taken away from you or made ridiculously difficult to achieve. ED is a curse and subconsciously trying to cure it with porn did me no good and made matters worse.

Pair bonding? The divorce rates show that humans idealise this far more than they actually apply it. On the other hand, love is never free, even for bonobos. Emotional attachment is strengthened by sexual relations but also by hundreds of other more subtle behaviours. Honest polyamory is preferrable to stilted or deceitful monogamy, and both lifestyles have their pros and cons. Western society fears polyamory but where it exists in tribal societies it is a comparatively effective way of strengthening community bonds and raising children. Do I believe in exclusive love? No. Jealousy is sinful ;).

The Western marriage construct is based on man's ownership and domination of women, as defined in the Abrahamic tradition's Holy books. I believe these constructs are flawed, unfair and constricting for women and men. People should decide for themselves what makes them happy and how they want to live within the bounds of due consideration for others. Nobody is anybody else's property, that's slavery.

The Coolidge effect is the problem

The Western marriage construct is based on man's ownership and domination of women, as defined in the Abrahamic tradition's Holy books. I believe these constructs are flawed, unfair and constricting for women and men. People should decide for themselves what makes them happy and how they want to live within the bounds of due consideration for others. Nobody is anybody else's property, that's slavery.[/quote]

The concept of spouse ownership is bilateral, at least in the U.S. Doesn't the wife get 1/2 of the guy's stuff if they divorce? And actually, so does the guy...

But you have a point; that people should remain together because they want to, not because it's too much of a hassle to split, or that they will be shamed by their family, community, etc. I'm guessing that our society depends on stable family units which is the reason for the tradition of marriage and all of the moralistic underpinnings that go with it.

However, it's only because of the Coolidge effect that marriage is considered a burden by most people. My wife and I have experimented with swinging together, and it was o.k. - exciting to be sure. A huge squirt of dopamine every time. And it does alleviate the Coolidge effect temporarily. But it's like flying too close to the sun, especially in terms of STD's which is a massive bummer. Also, there is a definite risk to the relationship. What if your partner falls in love with someone else? What if you do? We like to think it can't happen, but I know that it can.

Now that we have discovered Karezza, we both lost interest in swinging. It's funny because I never really enjoyed being with the other partners all that much. I thought I would. As a porn addict, I absolutely loved the idea of it. After all, what is swinging really? It's live-action porn where you get to be in the scene instead of just watching. But the reality of the experience always fell short for me. I'm sure that's not the case for everyone. I guess I was not cut out to be a porn star ಠ_ಠ

For me, being with my beloved is an experience beyond compare. It takes me to a place I had never been before; and this is after almost 20 years of marriage; so I think it's safe to say there is something special about Karezza. My wife and I haven't yet finished Marnia's book, but we're working our way through it, and it's brilliant, especially because of the way she explains what is actually going on in our brains and how we evolved to be that way.

I see the Coolidge effect as the problem, and Karezza as the cure...

Thank God you live in a secular state :)


The concept of spouse ownership is bilateral, at least in the U.S. Doesn't the wife get 1/2 of the guy's stuff if they divorce? And actually, so does the guy...


It's always impressed me how the founding fathers of your country, sons of the Age of Reason no less, were much more astute and forward looking than many of our supposedly modern contemporaries.

What if your partner falls in love with someone else? What if you do? We like to think it can't happen, but I know that it can.

I'm under no illusion that this couldn't happen and I would be upset if it did. After a period of time - 20 years plus say, you really get to know someone and yet there are still surprises. The person I'm with now is not the person I married, so in a way we don't end up with the 'same' person even if we stay married/in a relationship with them.

There's something else I'll add to this.

[quote=Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel (Hodder, 2012)]

Our love affair with monogamy arguably comes at some cost. The Brazilian family therapist Michele Scheinkman says, “American culture has great tolerance for divorce—where there is a total breakdown of the loyalty bond and painful effects for the whole family—but it is a culture with no tolerance for sexual infidelity.” We would rather kill a relationship than question its structure.
So entrenched is our faith in monogamy that most couples, particularly heterosexual couples, rarely broach the subject openly. They have no need to discuss what’s a given. Even those who are otherwise willing to probe sexuality in all its permutations are often reluctant to negotiate the hard lines around exclusivity. Monogamy has an absolute quality. According to this way of thinking, you can’t be mostly monogamous, or 98 percent monogamous, or periodically nonmonogamous. Discussing fidelity implies that it’s open to discussion, no longer an imperative. The prospect of betrayal is too dark, so we avoid the subject with practiced denial. We fear that the smallest chink in our armor will let in Sodom and Gomorrah.

A little later she goes on to outline what she feels we're trying to capture in monogamy...

[quote=Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel (Hodder, 2012)]
In our adult love we seek to recapture the primordial oneness we felt with Mom. The baby knows no separateness. Once upon a time, there was one person whose only role was to be there for us. In the ecstatic communion between mother and child, there is no gap. To the newborn the mother is everything, all at once, inseparable, unbounded: her skin, her breast, her voice, her smile, it is all for him. As a pink-bottomed baby, we were full and fulfilled, and somewhere deep inside we’ve never forgotten that Eden.

Granted, some of the reason for marriage's existence is undoubtedly to do with 'who owns the children'? - paternity issues, but who wants a stifling mother relationship TWICE in their lives?

I think appreciating that my wife finds other men attractive is a big relief. At least she has someone who she fancies to fantasise about when we make love! Should I care? Definitely not.

marriage is considered a burden by most people

It's certainly a paradox. It has pros and cons, like so many socially constructed ways of life. Maybe it has developed to some extent to give families a greater sense of security in what can be a very brutal and harsh world. I try to be a realist. To live outside social constructs like 'marriage' is in some ways more difficult than to live within them. Can you imagine having to explain who the person you're with is without the concept of spouse/partner/husband etc.? What a drag. But the terms are just labels. Putting a label on a person like 'wife' will affect how you view that person. We observe that many people do live outside these constructs - and good luck to them - after all, nobody should feel like they have to be a martyr to a cause or a slave to society's norms. Where's the fun in that?

Humans don't live in a construct-free society, far from it. Marriage is just one of many examples. Something deep within me tells me that the construct 'marriage' is not ideal but it's probably the most comfortable best-fit deal for me and my spouse at the moment. So I'll continue to work with it and even though it is vexing at times the positives are immense too and, where I see something about the construct that needs change who's to say I/(we) shouldn't change it?

I don't believe in "the sanctity of the marriage bond"

Don't get me wrong; we have not introduced jealousy into our relationship - that's a highly destructive insecurity and we don't be needin' that! We both still occasionally comment to each other on people we find attractive. I have no moral objection to swinging; if we felt that it was interesting enough and worth the risks (mostly of STDs), we'd still be doing it. But it's just not compelling anymore. Not for us anyway. The fact is, swinging is a mating-program answer to the Coolidge effect. Karezza is a bonding-program answer. Our experiments with Karezza have proven to us that we prefer bonding to mating in almost every way. Of course, there are those pesky little orgasms we mostly don't have anymore, but that's a small price to pay for the bliss that's available to us now.

Marriage is, as you say, a social construct which appears to have two functions: (a) an umbrella for parents, and (b) a formalization of the pair-bond. In fact, in my country, it's a legal contract bestowing certain benefits and rights. At a pragmatic level, it's essentially a recognition of the added [shared] responsibilities of parenting. That seems reasonable to me since the vast majority of married couples choose to have children at some point. But somehow it does seem like the concepts of pair-bonding and parenting have been conflated by the marriage construct. Interesting...

I agree that raising children does change the field

For the first years of our marriage both of us were members of a Christian doomsday cult and had been raised by our parents into this mind-set from birth, I would argue that we had both been brainwashed to expect Armageddon at any minute. Although somewhat deluded at the time, we didn't want children because we were expecting the world to end at any moment and it didn't seem right to bring children into the Apocalypse. It was 8 years into our marriage when I started to have doubts in these religious beliefs and four to five years on top of that before I had broken all ties with this faith. In the early days after I became an apostate my wife and parents were particularly frosty towards me, I lost all my former friends as they were 'shunning' me and that is when I had my first major bout of anxiety and depression leading to porn use and on to other things.

[quote=sender] At a pragmatic level, it's essentially a recognition of the added [shared] responsibilities of parenting. That seems reasonable to me since the vast majority of married couples choose to have children at some point. [/quote]

After this period, I had ED for many years and a strained relationship with my wife which has taken ages to improve. Why haven't we left each other? I suppose because we actually like each other more than our differences. Outsiders imposing constructs or ideas on how people's marriages should or should not be, like religions for example can do more harm than good in my experience and lead to dishonest relationships between married couples.