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Sexual Shame and Brokenness | Jay Stringer #588

On the Regular version of today’s show …

Many, if not most, of us have some sort of sexual brokenness or shame or trauma in our pasts. Today we have a conversation with Jay Stringer about his work in this area.

Learn more about Jay and his work here –

On the Xtended version …

Jay and I dive into his research on the subject of sexual brokenness and porn and trauma. How do you deal with unwanted sexual behaviors in your life when they may be coming from things in your past?

Enjoy the show!

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Got a question?

Call/Text us at  214-702-9565

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Speaker 1: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio.

Corey Allan: Welcome to the show. I'm Dr. Corey Allan and allow me to introduce you to my wife Pam.

Pam Allan: Hello, everyone. Good to be here today with you.

Corey Allan: Each and every week, we explore the wisdom and skills of the world's smartest relationship minds and we try to talk about what's going on that will help people frame their conversations that go on behind closed doors, that will build a deeper understanding of how their relationship works and inaudible propel their life and marriage forward.

Pam Allan: Absolutely.

Corey Allan: Something we can all benefit from. If you're new to the show, or you're looking for a simple way to tell your friends about the SMR Nation, we highly suggest the episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic and they give you a taste of everything that we do here on the show, so go to or you can search for our show in the Spotify app. If you've got the feedback, we always like having the nation tell us what's going on in their world.

Pam Allan: We do. Yes.

Corey Allan: You can let us know by calling us at 214-702-9565 or email us at Coming up on today's regular free version of Sexy Marriage Radio is a conversation I had with Jay Stringer where we are talking about his book Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing.
Correct me if I'm wrong here, we tried not to therapy out in this conversation.

Pam Allan: I agree with that. I think you did a good job on that.

Corey Allan: But I do want to forewarn everybody that listens, there is some sensitive topics that get covered in this show, because we talk about trauma and abuse and even get into some of the darkness in there. Most of that's in the extended content but inaudible.

Pam Allan: I was going to say, the free version isn't that dark.

Corey Allan: But this topic is one that it really impacts a lot of people and Jay's work is incredibly beneficial and valuable. On the extended content, which is deeper, longer, and no ads, you can subscribe at We get into the research on his subject and how unwanted ... He has a phrase, he says unwanted sexual behaviors can be both shaped and predicted, from what he discovered from his research. All that's coming up on today's show.
I'm pleased to be able to welcome Jay Stringer to the podcast today. Jay's the author of a book entitled Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing. He's a psychotherapist, author, speaker and you have done an expert job, in my opinion, and several others, by the way too, just if anybody is not familiar with you yet, in capturing the negativeness, the dark, the broken ... All the stuff that we don't like to talk about in our lives and the baggage that we have and use that as a way to help reframe and heal.
I am fascinated with this and excited about our conversation, Jay, so welcome.

Jay Stringer: Thank you, Corey for having me. It's just an honor to be on your show.

Corey Allan: Well, thank you very much. I don't want to get ... I mean, we're two clinicians chatting here, so I don't want to get into that part yet. We'll do that in extended maybe but I am interested in how people stumble upon or find the work they do. How did you wind up in this particular focus?

Jay Stringer: Yeah. Two stories initially come to mind. The first story would be my dad was a minister, and so if you know anything about smaller churches, in particular, I mean, there's not a lot of staff. If there was a crisis, if there was a mental health issue, an affair, something along those lines, this is the day where not a lot of people reach out to therapists. They'd reach out to a minister, to a pastor.
I can remember many meals at my household where we did not pick up the phone, but calls would go right to the answering machine. That was kind of early Netflix for me. Not great boundaries on my parents' part.

Corey Allan: Not at all.

Jay Stringer: Those were some of those initial stories with regard to, "Whoa, there is an underbelly that people don't talk about when they gather at ..." Whether it's church or just a baseball game or anything, people do not talk about the heartache and the crises of their lives. That was just an early window into, wow, there are so many stories that I have no idea about.
That really intrigued me. There's a lot that would happen after that where my dad would go and attend to these crises and then my role in the family was often to check in and to see how my mom was doing. Very enmeshed, triangulated relationship with her early on. That would shape my style of relating with women and a lot of stuff we could debrief maybe afterwards.

Corey Allan: Let's just jump through it right here real quick, Jay, because you're meddling in my world and brain too a little bit with this, as minister's kid ... Yeah.

Jay Stringer: Are you really? I didn't know that.

Corey Allan: There's a lot of similarities in the story you're sharing and to my experience as well. Okay.

Jay Stringer: Yes. Yeah. That shaped my sense of, wow, there is an underbelly and I have a particular role to play within my family. We can get into that later but the second story that comes to mind and I'll try and make this somewhat abbreviated but my grandmother, my dad's mom, her name was Dorothy and she was just a cold, steel door of emotion.
A lot of people have warm stories about their grandmother being their good object growing up. Dorothy was not that person. I can remember being like eight years old and she calls in the middle of January after she had just visited us for Christmas and she's like, "Is your dad there?" I said no. I said, "Grandma, can I take a message?" She said, "Yeah. I just want you to know that I was very disappointed in what your family gave me for Christmas this year."

Corey Allan: Okay.

Jay Stringer: I'm eight years old. I'm supposed to be saying that to you. That all happened. We were just really intrigued as to where did this kind of ... Who is this woman? I had made an attempt near the end of her life to get to know her. I had taken her out to a café, gave her these three skeleton keys for her birthday, and just said each of these keys represents a lunch, a meal, that I want to take you out to to learn more about your life. Five seconds pass, 10 seconds pass, she says nothing. Like, nothing.
I don't know what's going to happen and she eventually looks down at the box of keys and then shoves it back across the table at me and says, "Jay, there are some doors you just don't open, there are some stories you just don't tell." Again, we started doing some digging after she died and found a lot of trauma history that she had never opened up about and, to me, that was in grad school when we had that conversation at the end of her life, and that, again, opened up this kind of intrigue and fascination with me of there are so many of us that feel like there are doors that we can't open and stories we cannot tell.

Corey Allan: Right.

Jay Stringer: That's my work, as a therapist, as a clinician, is I want to dive into the stories that couples and individuals do not want to tell and I want to do that much more kind, curious, and efficient than, at least, inaudible.

Corey Allan: Than what was modeled and what's out there. Absolutely.

Jay Stringer: inaudible that are out there. That was the intro to my work. At least, as a child, before my professional work began, but that's what created the intrigue and the fascination around why do we do what we do?

Corey Allan: Yeah. Let's start there then, because this is kind of what your book is about too, is how do we get there? Because it's a far too common occurrence among us ... I mean, one of the original co-hosts I had for Sexy Marriage Radio was a lady named Gina Parris. She and I were the ones that started this. She was with me as a co-host for two years. She would have a phrase of if we could heal the sexual baggage for God's people, we would heal God's people. Just because the universality of that statement.

Jay Stringer: It's true.

Corey Allan: And that experience, right? Those things that in varying degrees, we all have and we all get there but, obviously, it's varied of a path, as each unique individual.

Jay Stringer: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. A couple things about that. I grew up ... I went through puberty while attending a Southern Baptist high school in rural Virginia, not a great experience. You have things like purity culture. What a lot of people don't think about is someone like Augustine, who was a brilliant theologian, philosopher in his own right, also struggled with out of control sexual behavior and if you've ever struggled with something and you try and develop a theology or a philosophy out of self-hatred, it's not going to be very healthy.

Corey Allan: Right.

Jay Stringer: Augustine and a lot of the church fathers have bequeathed onto church tradition, just a lot of shame, a lot of stigma, in the area of sexuality, which has led to a lot of the current things like purity culture and a lot of the things that have done so much harm.
My assessment of the Christian faith-based world is that they have gone into the direction of lust management and lust management would be bounce your eyes, get some internet monitoring on your computer, get into accountability. Some people slap rubber bands around their wrist, some people try and take cold showers. It's this attempt to try to manage your life.

Corey Allan: Right.

Jay Stringer: Then when you look at a lot of what's happening in progressive culture, they see sexual shame and stigma as the primary issues, so the issue is if we could just reduce the shame and stigma, then couples are going to make healthier choices.
Sometimes that's true but a lot of times that's not true. What my work around my book Unwanted was was what if we could develop a third way that wasn't about pathologizing but also wasn't about overly normalizing. I use the phrase unwanted sexual behavior, not to go into the sex addiction realm and also not to go into let's just be sex positive, which I want to be but not normalizing of things that a lot of couples are dealing with.
I did some research on about 4000 men and women who are struggling with affairs, porn use, buying sex, and we wanted to get a sense of what is the why that's driving this? Instead of just trying to manage something or dismiss something, what could we learn about unwanted sexual behavior?
I hired a team of PHDs, because I do not have my PHD, Dr. Allan, and part of what we found I think was just stunning. If I had to summarize all of the research, it would be this, unwanted sexual behavior is not random. It is a direct reflection of the parts of our story that remain unaddressed and so, therefore, unwanted sexual behavior in an individual's life or the crises that a couple goes through, is not a life sentence to shame or stigma. It's actually a road map to healing. That's my whole approach is what are the difficulties that every couple has to go through? Everybody is going to have a sexual crucible, whether it is a porn problem, affair, a third of all marriages will encounter an affair. There is always going to be a high desire and a low desire sexual partner within a marriage.
How do we work with the sexual problems? Not to stigmatize or pathologize people but to say what is this thing trying to communicate? What is it trying to teach? How can we use the antagonist and the difficulty and the shame as a road map to healing and not this life sentence to he's an addict or he's always going to struggle with this or she's always going to be ... The judgment that we bring to inaudible.

Corey Allan: Man, you're speaking my language on this, Jay, because this is one of those things that while I love the framework of the 12 steps, and some of the addiction model, that it truly does give somebody something they can put their teeth in for the moment, to help get a hold of some stuff ... Most of us, that's the one thing I've figured out over the years of doing this and then also the 20 years of being a therapist, everybody, in large part, just give me the answer. Right? Tell me what I'm supposed to do. Right? I think we all are bent that way.

Jay Stringer: Yes.

Corey Allan: If somebody gives me the answer, I won't like it or it won't go well and then I can blame them or whatever it might be rather than realizing, okay, if I can get a framework to start, that's good but I don't like the labels, like you're describing, that make it an indefinite life sentence.

Jay Stringer: Yes.

Corey Allan: We evolve and we grow and we mature and we create wisdom and there's so many things we do as people that we weren't who we were and how do we ... That's the thing I like about what you're describing is it creates almost a freedom path for people, an empowerment path for people.

Jay Stringer: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. One of the things we looked at was we know that two-thirds of men are looking at porn, if not more. We know that a third of all women use porn now. We know that a third of all marriages will be impacted by infidelity.
At least, from a lot of the research that I looked at, I couldn't get a sense of why. One of the things that my research looked at was could we predict someone's porn preference? Like actually what they put into Google or what they're looking for in a particular porn site, and what could we learn about those things?
One example of that would be that men who sought out porn with someone that was younger, a body type or a race that suggested to them some level of subservience, if that was your porn preference, your background, the key drivers of that porn preference had to do with having a father that was strict, a lack of purpose in life, and a high level of shame.
If we were to just play armchair psychologist for a minute, we have to begin to think about what is the strategy embedded within a sexual problem? Let's say your sexual problem is porn and that's your porn preference, well, maybe you've been through a type of childhood where your father or a family system or a religious system exercised a lot of dogma and control over you. They were constantly telling you what to do, the discipline wasn't the root word of discipline, which is disciple, to teach. It was actually to shame and to humiliate.
If you're growing up in a very powerless context, well, part of the appeal to porn is that porn is not just about fantasy and lust. Porn is about power. It's the ability to get exactly what I want when I want it.
If you come from a family system that blocked desire, that told you that you were bad and wrong and you needed to go and find your desires in secret, well, lo and behold, you're going to have something of a porn problem later or that lack of purpose issue. We found that people struggling with unwanted sexual behavior were seven times more likely to be dealing with a lack of purpose.
Just that sense that if you don't like your job, you feel like you're spinning your wheels in your relationship, you look back at your life and see a lot of just failure and misery and just that sense of what's the point in even trying tomorrow? Well, if you feel stuck, you're going to pursue behaviors that provide a temporary relief but far more, they compound all of the original feelings of purposelessness because once you are in something of an out of control behavior, it's both comfort for you but far more it's this sense of misery and I'm never going to be able to get out of this.
That's what we started learning about fantasy types, specific decisions that people were making is that we could learn so much about someone's story based in the type of unwanted sexual behavior that they were choosing.
Just that invitation to how can we be curious about a sexual problem? In some couples, that sexual problem is high desire ... It's like I want porn, I want an affair, I'm going to buy sex. In some marriages, there's also a low desire partner, which struggles with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, where I just can't even find desire for sex. Sometimes those types of couples find each other and that's the real difficulty and also opportunity for couples is most of the time, they run in packs where there's a high desire/low desire.

Corey Allan: Yeah. That's that idea of we can look at things in some regards, if we're looking well enough, it'll make sense. It's like, "Ugh, okay. I get it. Okay. I see how that ..." I think it's worth nothing just for anybody that's listening, that's not familiar with research terminology and stuff, that we are ... Tell me if I'm wrong, Jay. We're talking correlation here, not causation. If I was raised by a strict father, that doesn't mean I will X, Y, Z. It just means there's a likelihood or a possibility, that's a factor.

Jay Stringer: Yeah. They're drivers. Yeah. Yeah. The way that my lead researcher put it is he said there's a high correlation between turkeys, hams and Christmas but turkeys do not cause Christmas.

Corey Allan: Correct.

Jay Stringer: You do know that you're approaching Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Corey Allan: You know the holidays are around the corner when you start seeing them more and more.

Jay Stringer: But turkeys do not cause Thanksgiving.

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I love this because this is one of those things that is so desperately needed for people, because there's two things that come to my mind with this, Jay. One is it shines a light on a dark history every one of us can have to varying degrees, right? That we have these different things that happen to us when we were powerless. We have these different things that we brought on ourself when we were a little bit older. We have these things that we can still continually bring on ourselves while we're adults even. Like just by choices.
One, just shining a light on that matters because I think it's important to realize these are behaviors that are going on and there's things that are happening and they will cause issue. There will be consequences from them. But then the other thing is helping people make sense of why does this happen? Because a lot of us, we can ... I don't know. I've had moments. Obviously, you and I with similar backgrounds, going through grad school because part of what therapy training is you go through a lot of therapy and you deal with yourself a lot, so you can help other people in a lot of ways.
It's the courage it takes to look back at my history and ask some questions that sometimes aren't good, because we want to paint a Disneyland version of history a lot of times, because I don't want to think of my parents as bad or as evil or cruel or too domineering.
It's just recognizing the importance of people needing to be able to do this, because this is who we live with, right? I don't know if you're familiar with David Schnarch but one of my favorite phrases of his is we need to realize in marriage we live with an emotional terrorist and then there's our spouse to deal with too. Right?

Jay Stringer: Yeah.

Corey Allan: So brilliant. Yeah.

Jay Stringer: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's the real bridge, right? Like the way that trauma therapist, Bessel van der Kolk, kind of talks about it is trauma is not just this memory of something long ago, it's the current imprint of that event on us today.
Sometimes we do have a lot of ... The difficulties and the crucibles that every marriage has to go through, they invite us to healing. They invite us to attend to our adverse childhood experiences, those moments where we were powerless, those moments where we were used, those moments where we were neglected.
We need to heal but to Schnarch's point and yours, we also need to build the bridge between how did these early traumas now influence us to be fairly militant and I think Schnarch also uses the term normal marital sadism.

Corey Allan: One of my favorites.

Jay Stringer: Yeah. It's that we can become cruel. That's the work of both grief and strength is I need to be able to attend to places where I was used and hurt but I also need to be able to connect the dots where I learn that something of my own anger could be powerful when I begin to feel backed into a corner with my spouse or when I want to blame her and influence her to feel a lot of shame for a decision that she made.
Marriage is just ... It's that razor's edge where you've got to go back to deal with the debris in your story but you also need to have the integrity to really confront parts of yourself that are not lovely. They're actually mean and manipulative.
The more that I've gone back to address my mother and father's manipulation over my life and I've seen the impact to that boy, that, in a way, tenderizes me to be able to get a sense of that's not the ... I don't want to be something of a militant, dogmatic and angry husband. I've got some things that I need to confront.

Corey Allan: No. That's good. I think every one of us has this work ahead of us. I would jokingly say to people when I get a chance to speak, I realize I'm biased, you would be biased too, that everybody needs therapy because we're all born in families and every family has varying degrees of dysfunction. Just when you're in it, it doesn't seem like that as much. It just seems like, "Well, that's just what we do" but then you look back at it or your spouse points out, "You guys are crazy. You realize that? The way you do life, that's crazy." She's comparing it to how they did life, which then you would say the same thing, "Well, you're crazy, honey, because I can't believe you guys do this." You know? There's so many variations of what we all experience.

Jay Stringer: Yeah. It's so true. Yeah.

Corey Allan: It would be a disservice to the people that are listening to this of the road map of what do you do with this? Because you can talk about how you get here, how do you get out of here, so what are some things that are logical, next best steps for people that are hearing this and they're not familiar with this idea? What's the next best step for them?

Jay Stringer: Yeah. I mean, sometimes it's that sense of ... If we were to look at something like porn, right? It would be that sense of at what point were you introduced to it? Yeah, sure, you could have found something on the side of the road but more often that not, it was introduced somewhat relationally. Even if your grandfather or your father had some stack of magazines in a somewhat hidden place, I mean, kids are natural detectives. They're going to scour everything and case the home.
That sense of why was there such a neglect within your home to actually protect you from some of that? You've got to go back to be able to say who introduced it to me? Or if this is a recurrent problem that I've had since I was 15 or 18, get really curious about why you might want to do that and try and develop something of a strategy.
Some of you might be dealing with hypoarousal, meaning like I can't find any desire for sex, I used to have it but being able to have a compassionate approach to be able to say I wonder why I needed to turn off desire in my marriage or throughout my life? Sometimes that might go back to childhood harm where abuse, before abuse became traumatic and incredibly shameful, most abusers are trying to groom their victims so that they feel pleasure and desire, right?

Corey Allan: Right.

Jay Stringer: If we come from families that tend to be very rigid or disengaged, an abuser's first involvement in our life is to celebrate us, to name us, to bring pleasure. Sometimes when our bodies feel alive with someone and then there's shame afterwards, we can learn if I just turn off desire, then I don't have to deal with shame or betrayal anymore.
It could also be just that sense of in your marriage, you feel like you're married to someone who if they don't get sex or intimacy or what they want, they become fairly entitled. It's really hard to find desire for an entitled asshole. It just is. That sense of hypoarousal, you need to honor it before you seek to change it and pathologize it.

Corey Allan: Yeah.

Jay Stringer: I think that's the thing is get really curious and as you've hinted at and said, see a therapist that will allow you to excavate your story to deal with some of that debris. Then also ... I mean, this is always one of those difficult things of how do we talk to our friends about some of these things but shame convinces us that we are abnormal, there's something wrong with us and usually we try to hide and run away from those messages of shame, so any time you can turn towards the shame and say this is what it's telling me about myself and tell that to your spouse, you're going to create a much better foundation to begin to engage this stuff.
Groups are very effective, getting a therapist that's trained in sex therapy, not just in sex addiction therapy, so there's a lot of things that we can do but I think it has to be that sense of we go into this in order to learn about ourselves, so you've got to fall in love with the problem and what you're going to find.

Corey Allan: You've said this several times, it's touching on using that word curious, right? It's how do I just be curious about some of these things, because then I think we go into it with a much more openness as our stance rather than a determinative, I've got to find the right answer. "No, that one doesn't quite fit. No, that one doesn't ... Well, hold on, what if it's not that clean? What if it's a bunch of these things that are collaborating to make this happen?"

Jay Stringer: Yeah. It's that sense that our sex life is working for us, not against us, and if we could really believe that I think it would change a lot. If we sidestep this to just an issue like anxiety, right? Anxiety is something that we pathologize all the time these days but the purpose of anxiety is good. It's to get us into movement, right? If I live in Florida and a hurricane is coming through, that anxiety is propelling me to get to Home Depot, get some plywood, and get some stuff filled up. If I live in Boston and there's a snowstorm coming through, that anxiety is saying get some shovels and deal with this stuff.

Corey Allan: Right.

Jay Stringer: We need to be able to increase our tolerance for anxiety rather than just develop an anxiety reduction model. It's the same thing with sexual problems. They are normative. Every relationship has to travel through them, so we need to be able to develop our tolerance for sexual difficulties, not try to just reduce them immediately.
I mean, from the outset of our conversation, we want it to be ... When I have a problem with my Forerunner, I've got an old Toyota Forerunner and I don't want to deal ... I have a mechanic and that's what I want. I don't want to deal with any of the grime, any of the dirt, any of the complexity and, unfortunately, we just don't have that ... I'm just going to drop my soul off at a therapist and hope they can ... And I'll pick it up in an hour. It doesn't work like that and I wish it did.

Corey Allan: I get it. I get it.

Jay Stringer: I'm glad that it requires a lot of agony as well, because that's where connection, vulnerability, intimacy is really found is in those places.

Corey Allan: That's also where you create something of a life that is so much deeper and richer and engaging and connected.

Jay Stringer: Beautifully said.

Corey Allan: Jay, tell the members of the nation how they can find you. What's the easiest way?

Jay Stringer: My website is J-A-Y dash Stringer dot com. I'm also on Instagram with J-A-Y underscore Stringer underscore. You know, that website has an online course if you're interested in going deeper, there's a self-assessment based in the research that I did, so if you want to get some compass headings about what might be driving your compulsive sexual behavior, that's a great instrument that will give you some places of curiosity, of here's some things that might be influencing that from your story, and you can find my book there as well or on Amazon.

Corey Allan: I'll put all that it'll be in the show notes. Jay, thank you so much for the time thus far. I'm looking forward to geeking out a little bit with you about the research and going a little deeper here in just a second.
It's quite an honor to talk to Jay and the depth of the work that he does, and, I mean, we could have gone for longer. I'm sort of disappointed because when we recorded this, we had technical issues at the beginning and we each only had an hour, and so we had a hard stop. We could have got even more going. We'll get him back on the show again.

Pam Allan: I was going to say, next time. Yeah.

Corey Allan: Absolutely. I'm curious, what's your takeaway? What stood out to you from this, Pam?

Pam Allan: Well, there's a lot of things that stood out to me and I think of here he is, diving into bringing away the healing by reframing old hurts and you hear him talking about his grandma and her just flat-out ... There's some things we just don't talk about, we never share. How many people do that?

Corey Allan: That's a history of a lot of us.

Pam Allan: Right. Then I keep doing the same thing over and over. I think of him then reframing that with the shame that's associated and how shame makes me keep doing these unwanted things over and over. Not makes me but that's the cycle that I get into. If we're not willing to unpack and just look at ourselves, look at our history, it's not like we're trying to point blame on everybody. We're just trying to figure out how to be better going forward.

Corey Allan: Right. He is the epitome of something I've said before, he just captures it really, really well in his work, of the idea of when I'm dealing with trauma, I've got to go towards it. That's counterintuitive in a lot of ways.

Pam Allan: Whether it's what we have referred to in the past, big T, little T, it's all the same.

Corey Allan: All of it impacts us. There's correlations involved in all of that. It's so good that he dives into this to the depth he does and he gets into the nitty gritty with people. That's what was so much fun to me is it's almost like a therapy session during the extended content of just talking about some of the deeper, darker that goes on.

Pam Allan: One other thing that I love, especially in today's day and age with anxiety being such a key word, and talking about developing coping skills for anxiety, not that I need to get rid of it, because it's always going to be there.

Corey Allan: Correct.

Pam Allan: But I think there's so many things that are going on in our church, in all kinds of different places, in the schools, that it's like, well, we'll remove your anxiety from things. Everything we're doing is trying to point toward removing and keeping you out of these situations where you might have anxiety. Well, that's where we can grow, that's where we can get bigger and better.
Pointing that out, we've got to just figure out how to cope with things quite often as opposed to just trying to not have anything happen that will make us anxious.

Corey Allan: That's the Schnarch-ian phrase of we have to learn to tolerate some discomfort.

Pam Allan: Yeah.

Corey Allan: For our growth. We don't just make things go away, because our world is not bubble-wrap. It is not a safe place to be, as his work in our lives, anybody listening in the nation, can attest to.
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