Hello, this is Sam Vaknin, your favorite and sexy, may I add, sex guru.
I also happen to be a professor of psychology and the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
Can some forms of sex be bad for you? Can sex become toxic? Should you avoid some sexual choices and practices?
The answer to all these three questions is a resounding yes.
Numerous studies over decades have demonstrated that sex, exactly like cigarettes, can be dangerous to your mental health.
Some forms of sex, some types and, shall I say, variants of concern you should avoid at all costs.
Not that it is easy, but at least I will try to give you some awareness of what's going on.
Let's start by stating that what you do in sex is not important.
We no longer in psychology believe in perversions or deviance. We have narrowed down the number of sexual practices which we consider to be self-harming or problematic.
We call them sexual paraphilias.
I would have narrowed down this list even further. I would have left only pedophilia in the sacred books, the good books, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the International Classification of Disorders.
I think only pedophilia qualifies as a mental health problem. Anything that is done between two consenting adults is okay.
I repeat, anything and everything that is done between consenting adults, two or more, is okay.
It's not perverted. It's not deviant. It's not a problem. It has no mental health implications.
What you do is not important, but why you do what you do in sex is very important.
The motivation, the psychological background, the processes that underlie the sex and lead to it, these are very crucial.
Sex for all the wrong reasons can be bad for your mental health. Sex for all the wrong reasons can lead to or enhance pre-existing conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Sex for all the wrong reasons is an expression and manifestation of several mental health disorders and personality disorders, for example, borderline personality disorder. Sex for all the wrong reasons is a warning sign on the one hand that there are underlying mental health issues that have to be tackled urgently.
On the other hand, it could lead to these very mental health issues if it is practiced repeatedly, consistently and over a long period of time.
What is this? Sex for all the wrong reasons.
When is sex wrong? How can sex be wrong?
If two consenting adults engage in pleasurable activities or activities they find pleasurable, what on earth could be wrong with this?
What are the wrong detrimental kinds of sex?
Well, let's go through the list.
First of all, sex that is intended to regulate your internal environment, that is bad sex, that is wrong sex.
Some people use sex to control their emotions, to regulate affect, to regulate effects and emotions.
So when they have sex, they control their emotions, they regulate them, they reduce them, they suppress them or they enhance them.
Some people use sex to control and regulate their moods. They are labile, they have dysphoria, they are depressed, they are anxious, but when they engage in sex, they are elated. They feel they have a high, exactly like in drugs and indeed this form of activity, sexual activity, is actually tantamount to an addiction, exactly like people with chemical addictions use substances to regulate their moods, their emotions.
So do people who use sex to accomplish the same. And we call this type of thing process addiction.
It's not an addiction to a chemical substance, it's an addiction to an activity. Process addiction, for example, engaging in sex has exactly the same effects, like consuming heroin, drinking alcohol, doing other drugs.
You use sex to regulate your moods, your self-esteem and your sense of self-worth. You use sex to subdue your overwhelming emotions, to regulate the dysregulated environment, that is you.
If you use sex for these reasons, this is the wrong kind of sex. This is toxic sex, this is bad sex.
Next, sex in situations where meaningful informed consent is impossible is always bad and wrong sex.
Ignore for a minute the legalities. Let us not discuss what the courts may say. Let us not consider extreme cases such as rape.
Let's talk about the twilight zone, the grey areas where there is possibly sexual assault and maybe not.
Areas like alcoholic break out or hookups in parties. Situations where you are not in the position to give full informed meaningful consent, where you are not in the position to predict the consequences of your actions, the outcomes, because you are cognitively impaired, for example, by alcohol.
In these situations where consent is impossible, the sex is wrong and the sex is bad. In cases of extreme intoxication, for example, regrettably, a huge part, a huge number of young people, somewhere between 50%, between 40% and 80%, depending on the setting, a huge number of young people engage in sex exclusively when they are drunk.
This is the wrong kind of sex.
Numerous studies have shown that following such a night of drunkenness and the sex that follows drunkenness, inevitably, the morning after, there is a lot of negative affectivity and negative emotionality, shame, regret, remorse, anger, etc.
This kind of sex takes you to bad places.
Now, if you drink, you are anywhere between three to seven times more likely to end up having sex with a wrong partner, depending on your age.
So, drinking, yes, drinking does lead to unwanted sex, unprotected sex, reckless sex, sexual assault and in 27% of the cases, a whopping, shocking 27% of the cases, it leads to rape.
The next category of bad, wrong and toxic sex is when sex, when you use sex, when sex is used as a form of self-mutilation, self-harm, self-punishment, self-trashing, especially when the sex is coupled with all kinds of addictions, the use of disinhibiting substances such as alcohol, weed, other drugs.
So, when sex is used as a way to affirm your negative self-perception as a bad or object, a whore, a slut, in the case of women, when sex is used to harm yourself, to punish yourself, to trash yourself, using the sex partner as an instrument for self-mutilation, self-flagellation.
That's bad and wrong sex, it leads to severe mental health outcomes if it becomes a habit.
When the sex is used to self-objectify, when there is extreme self-objectification in sex, that is also very bad for mental health.
For example, if you engage in group sex with strangers without the presence of an intimate partner or a friend, that would entail extreme self-objectification.
Self-objectification, even when not extreme, leads to negative mental health outcomes.
We have quite a few studies on this. I refer you to my video on hookups, where I cite close to 90 studies on the topic, 9-0 studies on the topic.
We have established conclusively that self-objectification, even when it is perceived as desirable, even when self-objectification causes sexual arousal, still has severe mental health consequences.
Of course, when sex is reckless, when it is a risky sexual practice, when there are risky encounters with total strangers in sleazy hotels, under the influence of drugs and drink, recklessness is a psychopathic feature. It is very dangerous on the one hand, but it also is a form of self-objectification, because it requires the reckless person to suspend his or her self-love, emotional self-investment.
When you engage in reckless sexual practices and encounters, you actually are saying, I don't matter, I don't love myself, I don't mind if I'm harmed and damaged, I hate myself, I loathe myself.
Of course, such a message, known as negative automatic thought, such a message is detrimental, is destructive, is very bad for your mental health.
Non-autonomous sex is another form of toxic, bad, wrong kind of sex. Non-autonomous sex is intended to make the sex partner like you, accept you, or even love you.
It is the belief that if you want someone to love you or to like you or to accept you, you must give them your body, you must share your body with them. It is the only asset you have, it's the only thing you can give.
Assuredly, if you share your body, if you provide access to your body, you will be liked, you will be long, you will experience warmth and affection and compassion and understanding. People will be attentive to you and to your needs. People will accept you as part of a group or as part of a couple.
It's like sex is the coinage, is the currency with which you pay in order to experience a minimal amount of liking, in order to be attentive to it all. This is called non-autonomous sex and it's possibly the sickest form of sex.
It's when we trade sex as a measure of performance for conditional love.
It's like everyone is telling us, if you don't give me sex, I'm not going to love you. My love, my liking of you, crucially depends on performing sexually.
This is a devastating message, absolutely devastating message. It is a message that underlies narcissism and other mental health disorders.
Children in early childhood, when they're subject to conditional love, love conditioned on performance, they're ruined for life. Don't do this to yourself. Don't engage in sex because otherwise you will not be loved or you will not be liked or you will not be accepted.
And if you do, be ready for horrendous lifelong consequences as far as your psychology goes.
Sex with people you dislike, sex with people you're not attracted to is toxic sex. It is bad sex. It's a wrong kind of sex. Never engage in sex out of a sense of duty or obligation. Never engage in sex because you are grateful to someone for something. Never engage in sex in return for benefits like free drinks or a place to crash for the night. Never give access to your body. Never sacrifice your self-respect, your dignity. Never bridge your boundaries just because you want something. Never weaponize and instrumentalize your sex.
Your sex because it's going to rebound on you. It's going to ricochet. It's going to ruin you. Instrumentalizing and weaponizing your sex is instrumentalizing and weaponizing yourself. It's converting yourself into an object. Worthy, not worthy of human treatment because you're not human anymore. You're a weapon. You're an instrument, a tool.
When you talk to people who participate in these toxic practices of sex, when you talk to people who do sex for all the wrong reasons, participants in such erroneous sex, misguided sex, bad sex, when you talk to people who exercise and practice such sex, they claim that they wanted the sex. They claim to have acted in an agentic and empowered manner. They say, I'm a free agent. I have free will. I chose to sleep with this guy. Or guys, I made a decision. I was in control. I was empowered. I felt empowered.
And these protestations, of course, are nonsense. As Shakespeare had said, the lady protested too much.
These protestations are counterfactual. They negate the facts as we know them, substantiated in hundreds of studies with tens of thousands of participants.
When you engage in a bad, toxic, wrong kind of sex, you do not really want the sex because usually you're not in the condition to want anything let alone sex. When you engage in toxic, wrong, bad kind of sex, you do not act in an agentic and empowered manner. You're not agentic and empowered. You're an object, a tool, an instrument, a piece of trash. Your sex partners use you, dump you and discard you. End of story. You never hear from them again.
So no, you're not agentic. You're not empowered.
All these claims are intended to resolve the cognitive dissonance, the shame, the guilt and the traumas that inevitably rise out of wrong toxic and bad sex.
The denials, the reframings, the reduced affect display. These are all variants of defensive emotional numbing, inappropriate affect. These are defenses. They're not real. They're not true.
Do not believe these people when they tell you, I chose to do what I did. They did not choose to do what they did. They acted compulsively. They couldn't help it.
These defenses must debilitating dissonances, inner conflicts, traumas, competing internal voices and introjects and left to fester, left on their own. These voices generate depression and anxiety and they lead to substance abuse as a form of self soothing.
Although of course the abuse of alcohol and drugs has many other functions and caters to multiple psychological needs. One of these needs is self soothing or self medication.
People who engage in bad toxic wrong kind of sex, their number one preoccupation is to forget. They want to forget. When you talk to them, when you ask them to provide the details of the sex, they're not able to because they had dissociated the sex. They had repressed the details. They give a lot of nausea. They had depersonalized and derealized the sex. They don't want to remember the sex. It's harrowing. It's bad. It's traumatic. It's disgusting. It's not a good experience. Ever. Never. Majority of participants in one night's stands do not experience an orgasm and these are not small majorities.
Psychosexuality of such people fluctuates between psychopathic, objectifying individual or group sex. That is a sex that is called mechanical, exhibitionistic, motionless, sometimes anonymous. So that's one type of sex they're engaging. And people pleasing instrumental sex intended to render potential partners addicted to the sex and to make these partners like or live or love the provider of the sexual services.
So people who engage habitually in wrong sex, in bad sex, in toxic sex, they have a highly specific psychosexuality, psychosexual profile. They are part psychopaths and part people pleasers. They are perhaps, the best definition would be people pleasing psychopaths.
And their psychosexuality reflects this. Some of their sexual encounters are totally psychopathic. They objectify the sex partners. The sex is mechanical and cold and exhibitionistic and motionless and anonymous. And sometimes, especially in intimate long-term relationships or wannabe intimate long-term relationships, they resort to people pleasing. They will do anything for the partner and with the partner. No matter how wrong, how bad and how toxic the sexual practice is. And we can't ignore, of course, the role of culture and society and current mores in our postmodern world and technology and all this.
There is a shift in gender roles and a shift in sexual scripts. Women describe themselves increasingly more in masculine terms and not men are not becoming more effeminate. That's precisely the problem. The problem is that women are becoming men and men had remained men. So we ended up with a single gender, men, men with two types of genitalia. The women had adopted the role of psychopathic men, antisocial men, abrasive men, narcissistic men, in your face men, defiant men, contumacious men, impulsive men, reckless men, tough, aggressive men. These are the roles that women are adopting increasingly all over the world. There's a clinical term for it. It's called the stalled revolution, S-T-A-L-L-E-D, the stalled revolution. Look it up.
As women and men converge, women begin to wear the word slot as a badge of honor. I wouldn't be surprised to see a slot parade, pride parade shortly.
But you see, slot is an objectifying male point of view. Ironically, the more women consider themselves to be emancipated, liberated, agentic, and empowered, the more they are trying to conform to the stereotypical view of them by men.
To be a slot is to be a men's slot. To be empowered is to be empowered to play the slot, the stereotype that men had foisted on sexually active women, promiscuous women.
It's a men's world. Women are buying into a men's world. Women are becoming men. And for some bizarre reason, they feel empowered.
This is the total victory of men, over women. Men have finally succeeded to totally objectify women.
How? By selling them the dream of being a man.
So now women want to be men. And one of the ways to be a man is to be a slot, but then they don't realize they had bought into the male stereotype of a woman.
So wrong sex, bad sex, toxic sex makes use, leverages, male chauvinistic male stereotypes of female sexuality.
Women find themselves trapped in a universe constructed by men intended to convert them into slots, into sexually available, on demand women.
And so they play into this. And when they play into this, they feel that they're empowered, that they're agentic, that they're strong, that they're liberated.
Isn't this the irony of all ironies?
There has never been a generation of less empowered, never been a generation of less empowered women than today's women. Never sexually at least. Bad sex, wrong sex, toxic sex. These are the direct outcomes of bad, wrong and toxic gender roles.
The direct outcome of bad, wrong and toxic stereotypes. And the direct outcome of bad, wrong and toxic relationships between the genders or what's left of them.
The world is degenerating in this sense. And no wonder young people are avoiding sex altogether. They're avoiding dating. They're avoiding romance. They're avoiding intimacy. They don't want relationships. They don't want to get married. They don't want children. They don't want anything.
A small minority keep engaging in utterly wrong, toxic and bad sex like hookups. The vast majority stay at home, watch video games or even much worse, watch me.