Watch and read Dr. Eve’s inspiring talk at SUCCESSness FEST Cape Town 2017
Dr Eve’s inspiration highlight: ” Be Flexible, be Adaptive, live Cohesively, have Energy, and Synthesise your minds so that you’re able to be fully in your body and fully able to be intimate.”
Below is a full transcript of Dr Eve’s talk:
I don’t talk about sex. There was a time that I did talk about sex, and I got the whole country to talk about sex, this was in 1994. I was a sweet young girl, won’t say virgin, but I was a sweet young girl. And I had just come back from my first training in Guelph in Canada. I was very naive and I walked into a radio station, called Capital Radio, which was based in Natal where I was living, and I said I want to talk about sex on the radio, and they said: “Do it”.
This was on Monday and by Friday I was on the radio with a new name called Dr Eve, because they told me no one would call in to talk to Marlene Wasserman. And for 23 years I have been on the radio and on television talking to people who want to talk about sex. I spoke about: masturbation, anatomy, physiology, sexual dysfunction. It was a time in South Africa, where no one had spoken about sexuality because of apartheid. There was such a ban and censorship that people were hungry and desperate for information and I was giving them and learning from them and opening people’s minds to a possibility of sexual pleasure.
At the same time HIV AIDS had become a reality in Africa and in South Africa. At the same time there was also an awareness of huge sexual violence that was happening to women and children in our country. And I was positioned in a place where I had a voice and people allowed me to talk about sex because of AIDS and HIV. At the same time, synergistically, I was also there when Viagra was launched. So my career has been very determined by the politics and the culture of the world.
As Viagra was launched in 1999, I was in international meetings, sitting on international boards, working really, really hard to become trained in a new profession, called Sexual Medicine. Suddenly sexuality had moved from the juiciness, the curiosity around what sexuality was about and how I could get more of it and how I could enjoy it more, into a very medicalised space. We begin to pathologize people, people who didn’t want to have sex and people who wanted to have sex too much. People came to see me because they had something called sexual dysfunctions. Women would talk to me because they were so upset about not having any sexual desire. Their partners would talk to me about the difficulties with erections, or ejaculation. I was very studious, very conscientious, following all the rules of what I was learning in sexual medicine. I even called these people my patients, that’s how medicalised I became. I saw them as sick. And so there was medicine, and so there was treatment for these people who were sexually dysfunctional. But because I’m a therapist and because I’ve been trained as a clinician, I listened to their stories, and these stories were not of dysfunction, these stories were of relating and connecting and intimacy and communication. And little by little, I began to realise, that this pathologizing of people’s sexuality was uncomfortable for me and didn’t reflect the truth of what was happening in people’s lives. I began to feel dissatisfied and uncomfortable in my international meetings, and decided finally that I had to leave the space. I left all the international bodies and I turned away from sexual medicine as it was, and began to focus on what people were telling me, the couples, who I only see, only couples, were talking to me about what was happening in their worlds. Suddenly another world opened for me, a world of intense relationships, intense difficulty, intense pain.
Shift began to happen and in 2013 my career changed again. This is kind of what’s interesting about coming to a halfway time in your life, when you have to look around and ask yourself: “Does it fit well?” Yes – you have the ability and freedom to say: “No, I have to let it end because it doesn’t fit well any longer.” In 2013, Ashley Madison arrived in South Africa, I’m sure many of you have heard of this dating site that had a by-line that said: “Life is short, have an affair”. It was an online dating site, and I spoke to it, I felt uncomfortable around it, I couldn’t understand why people would want to get online and deliberately cheat. It was then that I entered a mad world.
This was the mad world, the mad world of online and for 2 years I sat online at Ashley Madison. Women started coming into my therapy room saying: “I’m happily married, I went on to this dating site and I found excitement, I found I was interesting, I found I was alive, I really don’t think I’m cheating, I’m just having fun. Sure, I’m meeting men and I’m kind of having real-life sex with them, but I really don’t think I’m cheating because I’m having more sex with my partner, and I’m feeling way more alive in the world.” And I thought, this is interesting. Something happened in me, something shifted in me, and I needed to know more.
I went into negotiation with Ashley Madison and we agreed that I would do research into their database, this was in 2013. Since that time I’ve published a book, called cyber infidelity, and I have travelled the world with this research. I no longer think about sexuality in terms of sexual medicine or dysfunction, I think about sexuality as an incredibly complex terrain of connection between people. From cyber infidelity, I wanted to know why people were doing this, I wanted to understand what was going on in our modern worlds, our love lives, our relationships that no longer was appealing or satisfying to us. Why was it that we wanted to step out of something, which is so-called sacred, such as a marriage, and risk everything to be having an extraordinary experience with someone or many other people.
So I went into the world of questioning what monogamy is, what commitment is, what sexual fidelity is and couples began coming to me, sharing with me their stories, and these stories were absolute conundrums: how do we manage to be married? how do we manage to still be sexually interested in each other? how do we manage not to be in love with somebody else? how do we actually manage our online lives? what is infidelity? And so many, many painful, painful hours followed in my therapy room, where I would go home and want to slit my wrists trying to work out how do I manage as a clinician, infidelity. There weren’t any diagnostic criteria for it, there weren’t any treatment plans for it, the model of treating or managing infidelity didn’t fit with cyber infidelity any longer, I had to be very inventive. I had to lose the rigidity and move into the chaos of the unknown. People would come to me with huge, huge pain. Pain that I had not seen before in my therapy room, a different kind of pain. I had a couple this week, many, who in their late 60s, don’t think this is only a young millennial or an iGen problem, where she had just discovered her partners mobile, because you will be found out. And she said there in a madness, in a mad world, her world had become mad, where her tears flowed and she looked at her husband as if he was a total stranger in this mad world of hers. Having discovered that for 3 years he had had a WhatsApp relationship with his secretary. She melts with the pain.
From many years of this, since 2013, my interventions need to be adapted, we can’t stay fixed in what we know, we have to keep learning. And from that time I realised that I was ill equipped to be dealing with this kind of pain that couples were presenting with, cyber infidelity. It’s kind of different when you know that your partner’s doing the secretary in the room, but you don’t have to look at it or hear it. When you’re online you see the video clips of it, you’re reading every single word that’s been written, it is torturous and tormenting to people. And I realised what I was dealing with was something completely different, and this difference is called trauma. I began to realise I needed to become equipped in working with trauma, not sexuality, sexuality is kind of boring right? I mean how much can one do, how many holes are there on the body, it’s not that interesting really, it’s how do we get there, it’s how do we sustain the interest, it’s how do we have the connection, the communication, the intimacy, that’s really interesting for people. And when there is trauma, you have no ability to connect with anyone. So I began to work with trauma, I began to study trauma, I began to look at this thing which opened another whole world for me, and which once again, if you want to be living in the world as an older person, you have to be able to be flexible and not rigid. I love very much the expression of not being in the rigidity and moving into the chaos of the unknown and having the courage to be able to do that.
And so I courageously moved into the area of trauma, and with this trauma I was having people coming to me with what they call sex addiction. I don’t know if any of you heard my radio show yesterday, because of Harvey Weinstein, that’s going down, so sex addiction is something that needs to be spoken about. I had a man call in and he said to me, his opening sentence was, at 7 years old I was sexually abused by my uncle and I don’t understand if I’m gay, if I’m straight or why I like anal play. Now you’re in a radio station, you’re in a studio, and you’ve got like 3 minutes to answer this: “sexually abused, I like anal play, I don’t know if I’m gay, I don’t know if I’m straight, I’m really confused” and there is a gulping in his voice, you can hear he can just about talk. And what pops out for me now, whereas before I would have like focused: “Oh I wonder on the Kinsey scale is this man gay, bi sexual, is he straight”, there’s so much gender variation, and there’s so much fluidity in sexual orientation today that everything is pretty normal in my world. But I am interested in his first sentence which says: “I was abused as a child.” Because that’s where my work is now – sourcing and mining the childhood trauma. Because those men and women who come to me enraged and with anxiety, and with out of control behaviour, they have childhood trauma, and that impacts their ability to be intimate, and that’s for me a very unsexy place, that’s where they need to learn how to be intimate through their trauma.
I had one man who called to say that he does, in fact two men, doesn’t know why but he likes to visit sex workers, doesn’t understand why he likes it, he loves his wife. Imagine the pain of not knowing and not having a forum, not having a place to talk about this pain. So trauma is the place that I go to. Trauma is the place that I visit every day in my therapy room, where people gift me with the privilege of teaching me about what trauma has done to them.
My world has now opened up, where I spend my conference times in conferences where we talk about contemporary intimacies and non-monogamy. We talk about polyamory and how we can expand people’s definition of relationship structures. Because clearly being in a monogamous situation feels too traumatic for many people, being out of monogamous situation is incredibly challenging, and for my work as a therapist I am there to be able to get people, to be creative and constructive and responsible about how they want to be living an intimate life with or without the trauma in their lives.
And so, when you’re in my therapy room we practice mindfulness, we do breathing, and we do something called grounding, and what I want to do with you now, I know you’re not my clients but I have a beautiful piece of music that I want you to listen to, to ground yourselves. It comes from a movie called Youth, which was a beautiful story of aging and of men struggling with their aging, and the beauty of youthfulness and how that’s no longer attainable. So this is music by David Lang, and I encourage you just to sit still, be, be present with your senses, ground yourself and let’s just spend a few minutes just listening to David Lang and this beautiful Sumi Jo singing about a simple song.
As we come into the second half, to lose all control, of myths, of stereotypes about what sexuality is, what gender is, how we should be living our lives. and I take great comfort from a man whose work I follow called Daniel Siegel who is a psych-neurologist who works with the brain. You know my life has moved from working with the genitals to people’s hearts and now I’m interested in their brains, because of the neurobiology. And what he talks about is the acronym of FACES, and I leave this with you, in the second half, be Flexible, be Adaptive, live Cohesively, have Energy, and Synthesise your minds so that you’re able to be fully in your body and fully able to be intimate.
Thank you so much.