Sex in America: A Conversation with Suzy Spencer on Sex, Religion, Honesty, and Connection
Greg, you hit on everything I was trying to convey in Secret Sex Lives. I was absolutely stunned by the depth of loneliness in this nation, particularly the loneliness of the married. Men and women are so terrified to reveal their deepest sexual desires to the people they love most that they withdraw and hide, both emotionally and physically, and build what they believe are walls of protection.
They think the walls will ensure that their secrets are safe, and that way they—and their relationships—are safe, too. In other words, they won't be judged, condemned, and rejected for being who they really are and therefore their marriages won't end in divorce. Instead, the walls make them lonely, isolated, insecure, and fearful in their relationships, and sometimes angry at the one they believe (and often rightfully so) will reject them. So they go online and find someone else who will fulfill their sexual fantasies.
In essence, they begin living a double life that endangers them, their marriages, and their spouses. When I say their spouses, I don't mean endangers them just emotionally. I mean physically too, because, let's face it, the more sex partners one has, the more chances one has of catching a sexually transmitted disease (STD). More than 50 percent of Americans will get an STD sometime in their lives, but only 14 percent of men and 8 percent of women think they're at STD risk.
Those statistics aren't intended to put the fear of the Southern Baptist god in someone. They're simply facts. Reality. And eventually one has to deal with reality.
But getting back to what you said, yes, loneliness, intimacy, connection, and love—or its failure, they are very real in the lives of Americans. At least many of the ones with whom I communicated.
What did I learn about myself? Many things. And I'm still learning. But one thing I learned is that as much as I don't want to be a sexual human being, I am. And I learned that as much as I don't want to be, I am very much like my sex sources in that I fear my secret sexual desires will cause people to judge me and reject me.
The good news is that with the publication of Secret Sex Lives, I've been forced to reveal some of my sex life, some of who I really am. And though my family has been somewhat shocked and disappointed in me, they have clearly stated that I am still loved and will not be rejected. They just don't want me to do it—sex—anymore!
I know—and now your readers know—that your family is a central part of your life. Your love for them shows through in your writing, and in your concerns about what they'll think about you for writing this book. Can you talk about how you manage being in relationship with people you love but with whom you don't necessarily see eye to eye on all things? Are there any lessons we could carry into society?
Unfortunately, I coped just like my sex sources—I built walls. I kept secrets. Just like my sex sources, it made me lonely, isolated, angry, resentful, and insecure. I was living a dual life, which was very, very stressful—so stressful that I've been in and out of therapy for decades with no resolution.
Solely because of the publication of Secret Sex Lives, I've been forced to be more open and honest with those closest to me, meaning my mother and sister. It's been tough. It's been painful . . . for all of us. But it's been rewarding too in that I can rest in the blessed assurance that I truly am loved and accepted by them, something that I've doubted all my life. Now I don't have to doubt. I know. Knowing is so much easier.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.