A few weeks ago, on a national sex therapy listserv, I read a lengthy discussion on an unfamiliar but interesting topic—individuals who self-identify as “solosexuals” and “pornosexuals.” Much of the conversation focused on whether such people are potentially intimacy avoidant related to unresolved early-life (and possibly adult-life) trauma, or whether they are the leading edge of an underexamined sexual orientation. In that discussion and in a much-referenced Medical Daily article, the general consensus leaned toward traumatized and intimacy avoidant. But that may reflect people’s belief in a societal norm (the human tendency toward pair bonding) more than any individual’s reality.
I say that because, after nearly 30 years as a sex and intimacy specialist, I’ve learned that when it comes to people’s sexual turn-ons and turn-offs, there is no such thing as normal. There’s healthy and unhealthy (for a particular person), there’s consensual and non-consensual, there’s even legal and illegal. But there is no such thing as normal.
Sexual thoughts that endlessly rev one person’s engines may make another person cringe in horror, and vice versa. And I’m not just referring to kink and fetishes here. As an example, consider sexual orientation. Gay men and straight men are turned on by very different things. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and pretty much every other major medical and psychotherapeutic professional organization recognize that sexual orientation naturally exists on a broad continuum, with people landing wherever they land.
Sexually speaking, we like what we like, and we don’t like what we don’t like. And that doesn’t change very much (if at all) throughout our lifespans. Yes, there are a few (misguided and usually moralistic) therapists who say they can “cure” an unwanted sexual orientation—typically, they’re focused on homosexuality or bisexuality—but those folks are mistaken. Our highly individualized sexual arousal templates, whatever they might look like, are for the most part fixed and immutable.
This brings me back to solosexuality and pornosexuality. Are these true sexual orientations, fixed and immutable, as we see with heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality? Or are solosexuality and pornosexuality the result of life traumas and resultant attachment deficits that have pushed a person away from not just pair bonding but real-world partner sexuality in general?
To be honest, I don’t have a definitive answer. My opinion is that at least some of the people who self-identify as solosexual or pornosexual do so because unresolved early-life neglect and abuse (possibly coupled with adult-life relationship trauma) have poisoned the well of attachment in ways that push them apart sexually and romantically, rather than pushing them to bond sexually and romantically. Some of these people may have severe social anxiety or be on the autism spectrum, and, because of that, they may find masturbation and porn more comfortable, pleasurable, and attainable. Others may have values conflicts that get in the way of intimate bonding and face-to-face sexuality.
That said, it’s entirely possible that some solosexuals and pornosexuals are “born that way.” If so, we need to accept that, acknowledge it, and maybe even celebrate it. Even if we don’t exactly understand it.
Who am I to question a person who self-identifies as solosexual or pornosexual? If a person is naturally and innately happier with solo sexual behaviors, that’s OK by me, as long as that person is not completely isolated in life and bereft of support—because study after study shows that we do better as people in every aspect of life when we feel “a part of” rather than “apart from.” (See my forthcoming book, Prodependence, for more on this topic.)
If, however, someone comes to therapy and tells me that he or she is unhappy with his or her solosexuality or pornosexuality and wants to be able to pair bond in healthy ways (or at least to have sex that involves other people), believe me when I tell you that we’re absolutely going to look at that person’s trauma and attachment history. And I will fully expect to find some unresolved abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
In the Medical Daily article mentioned above, marriage and family therapist Amanda Pasciucco says that she’s had a 100% success rate in treating people who want to overcome the “problem” of solosexuality or pornosexuality. This leads me to suspect that she is treating the category of individuals described in the preceding paragraph—people with unresolved trauma and attachment issues that make pair bonding and real-world sex with other people difficult. Essentially, she’s treating people with deep psychological issues that prevent them from living the lives they want to live. And good for her. And good for them for going to see her.
But I suspect that this does not describe every person who self-identifies as solosexual or pornosexual. I suspect (in fact, I know) that plenty of people who had perfectly uneventful childhoods have very little or no interest in a spouse, three kids, a cat, a dog, and a white picket fence. Instead, they get their need for intimacy met through friends and close family members, and their need for sexual release met through masturbation (with or without pornography). And they’re absolutely fine with this. Even if the people around them don’t understand it.
Does this mean that solosexual and pornosexual are sexual orientations in the same way that we think about heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality? Probably not. Because solosexuals and pornosexuals are indeed sexual, and that sexuality is triggered by something—some type of person or activity. Whether they’re looking at porn or just fantasizing, they’ve got something in mind when they’re sexual, and, to me, whatever it is that they’re fantasizing about is the true nature of their sexual orientation. Nevertheless, for some people solo sexuality may be less of a choice, and less of a trauma-driven behavior, and more of an ingrained personality trait than many of us might initially think.