Psychotherapist Phillip Hodson explains some of the attraction of sexual self-destruction
Published 24th January 2006 – The Independent
Mark Oaten is not the first. He won’t be the last. Sexual self-destruction is not
confined to the Liberal Democrats or to politics. We are not talking serious crimes
here. We are almost solely preoccupied with the absolutely shocking difference
between the way men present themselves externally and what they are like on the
In my practice as a psychotherapist, I have learned of taxi drivers who cross-dress in
the cab in order to satisfy their secret craving and even occasionally have sex with
willing passengers then go home to their wives as if nothing had happened. Of show
business leading men who are deeply disturbed by an attraction to ladyboys which
they can neither accept nor explain: “I’m heterosexual and yet they have penises!”
Yes, I’ve replied but ‘shemales’ look exactly like the most desirable of women so why
would you not be confused into a response? Once, I interviewed (for a book) the
prostitute in a hoo-hah surrounding a daytime tv presenter. She related his boast of
‘how big a scandal it would be if only they could see me now’. Thanks to the News of
the World, they shortly did. Then there are the perennial politicians who think they
are too clever by half ever to be caught with their trousers down and appear fatally
attracted to flirting with exposure.
Thus in the case of Mark Oaten and commercial sex, there but for the grace of god
go many others. So what to make of it? I believe both sexes need to admit that
socially conventional marital customs do not seem to satisfy a significant proportion
of males. I don’t know how many prostitutes there are in Britain, and nor does
anyone, but I am sure that 98 per cent cater, in one fashion or another, for males. If
all a man needed in this world were the love of a good woman this would not be so.
Unsurprisingly, many distressed wives and mothers balk at this: “I never denied him
sex”, they might say, so why did he look elsewhere? At its crudest, this argument
runs: “Why would someone like actor Hugh Grant jump into a car with a hooker when
he had Liz Hurley simmering on the hob at home?”
Well the answer is that men not only seek a shag but they want sex with someone
who at the very least is guaranteed to refrain from criticising them. Yes, they may
admit to being lonely and frustrated but nearly all of them are looking for a certain
quality of experience. Prostitutes uniformly report today that many clients would
rather talk than perform the sex act. Ironically, the modern prostitutes’ top-selling
product is now called the ‘GFE’, short for ‘girlfriend experience’. Its principal
attractions include ‘cuddling’ and ‘deep French kissing’.
But fake love aside, commercial sex also sells on risk. High adrenalin turns men on.
Studies confirm that more men in general than women enjoy fast cars, extreme
sports and high stakes gambling with the predictable consequence that more men
than women die on the roads and go bankrupt. In the sexual world, more men seek
multiple partners, have affairs, enjoy sexual deviations and patronise prostitutes than
women. As men enter their dangerous mid-life zone with waning testosterone levels
and more fragile sexual responses, they tend to seek out increasingly extreme sexual
experiences. There is even a reported association between a man’s experimenting
with first or renewed homosexual experience and the death of his father.But just as commercial sex is not only about intercourse, so sex with other men is not
just about homosexuality. Many gay men, for example, would not allow Michael
Portillo to share their badge of gay identity merely because he admitted to certain
youthful adventures: “It’s rather more difficult to be gay than that” is the consensus.
In fact, there are at least three hidden factors to consider before you label anyone.
First, although roughly three per cent of the population is mainly homosexual there is
a far larger group who have had some same sex experience and who at different
times of life will have rather more. Second, environments which we might call
‘homosexually conducive’ – such as boarding school, prison and service in Her
Majesty’s forces – affect men who still call themselves heterosexual. For instance,
prisoners who freely sleep with their cellmates would not dream of looking at another
man after being released. Third, society legitimises gay sex not just via legal reforms
but in broad and subtle ways even down to the hints in contemporary pornography.
In the recent issue of ‘Desire’ magazine (No 34), for example, there is a phone sex
advert on page 154 reading “Straight men do have sex with other men, go on slide
your hand…” That’s an enterprising discourse in philosophy. Fourth, and back to
risk, men are less attracted to the all-male content of a Mark Oaten type encounter
than to its tabu-breaking intensity and the very fact that the world would be
flabbergasted ‘if only they could see me now’.
Finally, the role of the unconscious mind in causing these very sad and destructive
social unmaskings should not be underestimated. For many husbands, particularly in
middle-age, there is a quiet and unexplained desperation to escape an existing
pattern of life. Possibly they are attracted to power more than power is attracted to
them, and this triggers depression. Perhaps their career no longer fits them at all but
they cannot easily think about sloughing off its constricting skin. Part of them wants
to play; part of them seeks attention; part wants to drop out; part wants to be young
again; part wants to be mothered; part wants to be an artist; part wants to retire – but
none of these is considered ‘rational’. Instead, they get themselves into a horrible
public pickle – rather like the ex-Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Allan Green who
of all people was caught kerb-crawling in King’s Cross in the early 1990s. Or like
Mark Oaten in 2006 who was trapped in the headlights of the News of the World.
Their tragedy is that secretly they must have wanted to be caught.
Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and
Psychotherapy – see www.philliphodson.co.uk