My husband sketches as a hobby and I thought he was showing me all of his finished works. But the other day I was cleaning house and found some sketchbooks hidden away in his art room that I’ve never seen before. When it looked through them, I was shocked to discover they were full of sketches of men’s genitals. Dates on the sketches show he’s been doing this for years only he’s never mentioned it. I didn’t count them, but there were a lot and would’ve been a huge time investment. All this time I thought he was just into landscapes. Now I’m seriously worried that he might be hiding homosexual feelings? What else could it mean if he’s focused on this kind of imagery and hiding it from me? I don’t even know how to bring this up with him, but I won’t be able to hide how upset I am much longer. Help?
I understand that this was a distressing discovery, however I would caution you not to leap to any conclusions just yet. A fixation on genitals typically indicates that the mind has some unresolved stress which it is linking to that part of the human anatomy. The fact that your husband is drawing the same body parts over and over, the fact that they are so different than his main artistic interest (scenery), plus the fact that he is hiding these sketches indicates that he is dealing with persistent psychological stress which he could use some help dealing with productively. But does this have to mean he’s secretly gay? No. While homosexuality is caused by psychological stress, that condition can be caused by a wide range of issues, and will not necessarily include an obsession with same sex genitals.
When you bring this subject up with your husband, it will be very important for you to monitor your own body language and try to avoid communicating hostility. The fact that your husband has been hiding this from you clearly indicates that he is sensitive about it. He is likely assuming you would not be a safe person to talk to about whatever is driving this. Your best chance of getting your husband to communicate with you is to approach the subject calmly and make it clear from the start that you want to offer support, not criticism.
Understanding helps us remain calm in these situations, and it also helps us be better listeners. So I will now explain some basic principles of this kind of thing so that you can get a feel for how many possible explanations there are.
While it’s very common for sexual assault experiences to result in victims feeling hypersensitive about their privates, what’s most traumatic to the mind in these cases is not the physical experience, but the theories that are being implied. For example, a man who is raped might sustain some physical damage to his body, but that damage will likely be temporary and repaired by the body in a short period of time. The psychological injury caused by rape is far more serious and longer lasting. A man who has been raped will naturally try to make logical sense out of what happened to him. Why was he chosen to be attacked in such a terrible way? For the victims, sexual assault feels like a devastating and powerful statement about their intrinsic value as human beings, their future ability to protect themselves, and their basic makeup. Rape victims often end up forming strong beliefs that they are inferior to other humans, that they are incapable of defending them from future attacks, that they are likely to be assaulted again, and that there is something seriously flawed about them which is causing rapists to attract to them. It is these psychological beliefs that cause sexual assault to be such a crippling experience. Without the beliefs, the physical injuries by themselves would certainly be upsetting in the moment, but not nearly as damaging. It is always our beliefs that impact us the most.
Now once you understand that negative beliefs are the things which upset the mind the most, the next key point to grasp is that there are so many life experiences that can result in the mind forming traumatic beliefs. Some form of violent assault is not at all necessary for the mind to form conclusions that it feels it can’t get comfortable with. Once the mind becomes stressed, it often begins to obsess over whatever is bothering it. The human mind is really quite admirable in its determination to find solutions to its problems, and it will often spend any spare resources it has to keep trying to come up with fresh ideas. This constant background mulling over unresolved problems is what causes obsessive behaviors to surface. Those obsessive behaviors come in many forms. Collecting huge piles of stuff you never use, taking ten showers a day, excessive eating, checking your weight multiple times a day, watching the same movie over and over again, polishing your shoes every time they get a speck of dirt on them, treating your animal pet like a human child, biting your nails…the list goes on and on. When stress driven behaviors are accepted by the culture you live in, they get labeled as “normal” and often remain unaddressed, which can cause them to grow worse. When stress driven behaviors get labeled as bad (which is how you currently view feel your husband’s secret drawings), they can be condemned before any productive conversations can be had. In both cases, no one is looking past the surface behavior to try to understand what is driving it. Yet this will be what is needed when you talk with your husband. Instead of focusing the conversation on how upset you are by his secrecy and the subject of his art, you’ll want to ask him what concepts and/or beliefs he is associating with the pictures he is drawing.
In all cases of obsessive behaviors, the behavior itself is symbolic to the mind, and has been mentally linked to a concept which often seems unrelated at first glance. For example, a woman who is turning her home into a playground for vermin because she has so much junk piled up can appear to be a lazy slob who doesn’t care about how gross her living conditions are. Yet hoarding is often a way that the mind tries to symbolically compensate for feeling powerless. Perhaps our woman grew up in extreme poverty and today she collects piles of stuff as a way to visually reassure herself that she is no longer in danger of having nothing. Or perhaps she lost a child to cancer, and today she refuses to throw anything away because she is trying to compensate for the trauma of having her child ripped away before she was ready. On the surface, piles of molding physical objects have nothing to do with childhood poverty or the death of a loved one. But there is no limit to the type of concept or memory that the human mind can link to a particular object, behavior, or person.
So far all you can tell by your husband’s behavior is that his mind feels agitated by male genitals. That agitation is making him feel compelled to keep studying that part of the male body through repetitive sketches. The agitation is a result of his mind linking male privates to certain beliefs and memories that it finds distressing. Once those core issues get resolved, he will no longer feel a need to keep drawing privates over and over. The behavior indicates an internal effort to resolve a psychological stress. But the exact details of that stress could turn out to have nothing to do with genitals, sex, sexual orientation, or even physical exposure.
From the perspective of your own mind, your physical anatomy is loaded with symbolism. Your mind does not view all of your body parts equally. It is very guarded about some parts, and those are parts that it doesn’t want just anyone interacting with. By this point in your life, your mind has formed a long list of complex rules that define how other people can and can’t interact with you. While your mind might be fine with a stranger shaking your hand, it certainly wouldn’t be okay with a stranger grabbing your ear or chest. If a coworker were to accidentally pull off a glove you were wearing, you’d react quite differently than if they were to accidentally pull down your pants. The reason your mind governs your physical zones so differently has to do with what kinds of beliefs and symbolism it attaches to each area. A stranger shaking your hand can be mentally interpreted as an act of politeness or respect. But a stranger grabbing your privates would be associated with invasion, disrespect, and danger. It’s the way you psychologically interpret how someone physically interacts with you that determines how comfortable you are with that interaction.
Now let’s forget about other people interacting with you and just have you study your own reflection in a mirror. As your eyes move over the different areas of your anatomy, you will find your mind moving through a list of different concepts. For many women, the size of their breasts and waists are linked to concepts of personal worth, physical beauty, social rank, and self-confidence. By itself a breast has nothing to do with any of these concepts, yet our cultures and life experiences encourage us to form such links.
Now while women are subconsciously linking a long list of important concepts to their bra and pants sizes, men are taught to do the same with their privates. For men, their penises and testicles end up getting strongly linked to all kinds of beliefs and concepts which are critical to them feeling comfortable with who they are. Cultural brainwashing plays a big role here, but every man will add a few non-standard items to his personal list of psychological links. For example, to some men, the appearance of their personal genitals feels like a measure of their level of intelligence and/or ability to socially compete with other men. What does a penis have to do with a man’s ability to solve a math problem or get that promotion at work? Nothing, but once this kind of psychological link is formed, it’s not easy to change.
What happens when a woman has a strong psychological link between being thin and being socially valued? Suddenly she is obsessing over her waistline. Whenever she looks at herself in a mirror, her eyes go right to her hips and she feels distressed when she sees her definition of “too much fat.” Such a woman will spend a lot of time fussing over her appearance, thinking about her pants, and using weight scales and measuring tapes. Her negative associations with her waistline will branch out into negative beliefs about the food she consumes, and soon she’ll find it impossible to genuinely enjoy a tasty dessert because she’ll be stressing over how many calories it has. On the surface, we just see a woman who seems too focused on her physical appearance. But internally, physical appearance isn’t really the problem. What the woman really needs help with is not a good diet plan, but productive ways to combat her false belief that she is generally inferior to other women. It’s her sense of inferiority that is the problem. The fact that her mind has linked that stressful idea to her physical waist is just making things complicated.
Using punishments to eliminate obsessive behaviors is like pruning a tree that you want to get rid of. If you really want a tree to leave your garden, you need to dig the thing up by its roots, not just trim back its branches. In the same way, if you want to help your husband with whatever is stressing him, you need to try to help him figure out what the root issues are, not just get on his case about what he’s drawing. If you make a big negative fuss over the artwork, you’ll just confirm his belief that you’re not a safe person to talk to about this. His stress levels will then rise, which will likely intensify his need to do more secret sketches.
Now to clarify, there’s a whole artistic challenge to trying to draw realistic images of the human body. If your husband was simply drawing the occasional nude, there wouldn’t be need for concern. But the fact that he’s producing so many sketches of an area of the body which is often linked to negative beliefs for men, and the fact that he’s been doing this for so long in secret makes it reasonable to assume that this is a stress driven activity which could be helped through positive discussion.
Given the kind of symbolic activity his mind has latched onto (drawing), it’s unrealistic to expect your husband to suddenly stop making these kinds of pictures. Ideal first steps would be to get this subject out in the open and demonstrate that it does not need to be viewed as something shameful that your husband has to hide from you. Often in these cases there is a lot of internal pressure to keep making the sketches, and trying to block that would have a negative effect. I recommend that you keep taking short runs at talking about what the sketches mean to him, and why he feels they are helpful/important to make. Don’t try to pin him down in a long session of analysis, because right now he might not be able to articulate what kinds of links he’s formed. But if you keep taking runs at the subject and keep the mood light, you might be able to help him get better connected with his own mental processes. If all goes well, he will eventually become consciously aware of some specific stressful ideas that he is linking to male genitals. Once those beliefs surface, he’ll be in a better position to address them directly, either by talking with you or talking with a counselor or even working on his own through some kind of journaling.
There are many ways to help the mind resolve its stressful beliefs, and when possible, it’s helpful not to take away its preferred stress relief methods. Since drawing sketches isn’t doing any harm to your husband or others, there’s no need to label this activity as “bad.” If you have kids in the house, it would be prudent to keep this kind of artwork out of their reach, but it would be helpful if your husband could feel free to sketch as needed without a fear of being condemned. By showing genuine, non-critical interest in what is driving his interest on this subject, you will encourage your husband to see his actions in a more positive light. The fact that he’s being so secretive suggests that he’s probably feeling disturbed by what he’s feeling compelled to do. If you treat this as the logical stress relieving activity that it is, it will encourage him to do the same, and to try to sort out what is really driving his stress.
This post is written was written in response to Worried Wife.
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