Perhaps the most startling and perplexing admission in the Cape High Court murder trial of Shrien Dewani this week was that he visited gay dating and fetish websites a day after his bride Anni had been murdered. What are we to make of Dewani’s behaviour? Did he, either driven by guilt or anxiety, return to the one place he felt the safest and entirely able to be his true self, the Internet? By MARIANNE THAMM.
Most of us would be horrified to learn the secret fantasy lives of others. If, by some miracle, we could access the private thoughts and fantasies of the person next to us we might come away shocked or horrified, or perhaps we might even recognise our own innermost secret sexual selves.
For centuries human beings have created various “systems” to control and “tame” the libido including religion and culture, which make explicit various societal taboos that are designed (mostly unsuccessfully it turns out) to keep the “beast” at bay.
But what is within will out, and a myriad of neuroses and compulsions are today understood to be the result of attempts to suppress the libido, coupled, of course, with other complexities of the human psyche, including early infantile attachment, parenting, trauma and violence. Even in the 21st Century it remains difficult to promote a healthy understanding and acceptance of our essential physical selves.
Recently the fantasy sexual lives of two men accused of killing their intimate partners, Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani, have featured in their trials. In Oscar’s case the prosecution revealed that the athlete had surfed a free porn site the afternoon prior to shooting and killing Reeva Steenkamp.
In Dewani’s case matters are much more complex and his life online, which he eventually took offline, provides a much more layered psychosexual portrait of the man and his tortured fantasy life.
While Pistorius, in using a free porn site that did not require registration, could be considered an occasional user like millions of men and women across the globe, Dewani’s use of the Internet was to enable and facilitate his “double life”, a life he lived in secret and which perhaps privately provoked overwhelming anxiety, deep shame and self loathing.
“Pornography is the new normal. It is what men and women do,” clinical sexologist Dr Marlene Wasserman also known as Dr Eve told the Daily Maverick this week.
Writing at the time of the revelations of Oscar’s porn surfing Wasserman wrote; “Porn can be a distraction from real life. People who don’t like their real lives and their real selves prefer porn to real life relationships. Coming from a traumatic childhood of loss, disability and bullying. Recreating oneself to become a super hero gives you Superman beliefs about yourself. But little ability to attach significantly to people intimately. When trust is so shattered, the only person you’re going to trust is yourself.”
It must be stated here that the fact that both men used the Internet to satisfy their sexual fantasy lives is in no way a direct contributing factor to the crime or did not “cause” the murder.
The one place it seems that Shrien Dewani could trust and completely be himself as well as feel safe was the Internet. And once he had found this world of acceptance and safety, a world free of the anxieties that dogged him in “real life”, it “escalated” and he took it offline.
It was through using prostitutes and having sex with multiple partners in clubs that Dewani found the sexual fulfillment he was not able to enjoy in a “conventional” relationship with a woman.
Earlier in the week Dewani had told the court that he is bisexual and that his “relations” with men “were mostly physical experiences or email chats with people I met online or in clubs, including prostitutes such as Leopold Leisser. My sexual interactions with females were usually during the course of a relationship which consisted of other activities and emotional attachment.”
Perhaps the window onto Dewani’s secret life online and the connection it offered to others like himself reveals more about the depth of his turmoil regarding his sexual proclivities and the conflict between this and his heteronormative life with Anni. It is also unlikely that he disclosed his bisexuality to Anni.
While “sex addiction”, an “addiction” to pornography or what was once diagnosed as Hypersexual Behaviour Disorder have been removed from the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-V) –the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States – psychologists and psychiatrists look for other underlying disorders that lead to the behaviour.
Oscar Pistorius was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and it appears as if Dewani too suffers from some form of this. Dewani’s apparent “obsessive and controlling nature” that Anni complained about to her cousin Sneha and her father would indicate underlying anxieties and a need to be in control in the “real world”.
“If he suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or GAD it would make sense that there was a compulsion with visiting these sites. This was the one safe space that the user can occupy by himself and actually be himself. It has the triple “A” – Affordable, Accessible and Anonymous,” said Wasserman.
The release of anxiety for Dewani in this case then could be viewed as a form of self-soothing. A place where he could be free of anxiety, whatever its origin or cause.
In a Master’s dissertation titled Impaired Self-soothing, Sexualisation and Avoidant Attachment: Are These Significant Precursors to Male Sexual Addiction? David Rowland attempts to define and explore sexual addiction, particularly among men who make up two thirds of those who meet the criteria.
Rowland writes that clinical experience and research findings over recent years had led many psychoanalysts to speculate that sexual activity and fantasy can also be used as a defense to master anxiety or restore self-esteem.
“During my years of training, several issues relating to sexually addicted clients intrigued me. First, as the therapeutic relationship deepened, many of these clients became distant, extremely independent and keen to ‘fix’ their addictive behaviour on their own without the need to involve or rely on anyone else. Another issue that intrigued me was why this addiction was predominantly sexual in nature instead of manifesting itself as another form of addiction such as gambling or substance abuse. Finally, after working with several sexually addicted clients, I noticed when stressors in the client’s life increased such as bill payment deadlines or a break in our therapy, there was a notable increase in the client’s sexual activity. This was very evident with a couple of the clients who were addicted to adult pornography sites. The less they were able to cope with internal conflict, the more they would isolate themselves from those around them and resort to the virtual world of online pornography. Once online, they would spend many hours trying to appease, what one client described as, ‘the internal ghost that haunted them’.”
Might this then explain Dewani’s extraordinary behaviour the night after his young wife had been hijacked and brutally murdered in Cape Town?
Did Dewani return – in apparent anxiety and grief – to the only space that offered him any comfort or is he simply an alleged psychopath who callously went in search of casual sex hours after his wife had been murdered?
The fact that Dewani used “fetish” sites, said Wasserman, would not be negative.
“That is his proclivity. People can’t help that this is what arouses them and it has been depathologised.”
In Dewani’s own formal admission to the court he acknowledged that his computer had logged onto Gaydar, a gay dating website as well as Recon, a fetish website, hours after his wife’s body had been found on 15 November 2010. Dewani had registered on the Recon website in 2004 under the user name “Asiansubguy”. He also admitted that he had logged onto Gaydar, a dating site, while he was waiting with Anni for their connecting flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Dewani’s intention was to locate available men in the same geographical space he might find himself. He deactivated both accounts on 21 November.
That Dewani regarded himself as a submissive in the relationship indicates that he was seeking, in some way, to relinquish control while at the same time retaining it.
“In the world of SM (sadomasochism) or BDSM (bondage, dominance and sadomasochism) the sub is in charge. He or she allows what is happening. There is equal power in the relationship. There is an exchange of power and an element of surrender. The matter of consent is huge in this instance,” said Wasserman.
The “motive” then for Dewani orchestrating the killing of his wife is not necessarily clear, she said, and at this point is speculation.
“In one way, by marrying her he could have used her as a cover for his double life. Because of the triple “A” he would have been able to carry on. But if she were an obstacle to him and it appears as if his online behaviour was getting more progressive and he took it offline, as he did, then she might have become an obstacle. Playing the role of the eternally grieving widower might have given him the freedom to live his life,” said Wasserman.
An interesting aspect also is that Dewani had told Anni that he had been receiving testosterone treatment for infertility, which Wasserman said is unlikely.
“Testosterone is used in gay subculture as a recreational drug. There is no way a 34-year-old man would have been given testosterone for this reason. What it does do though is make a difference to libido and muscle tone,” she added.
In fact, taking testosterone can harm fertility.
According to Charl Hattingh, a clinical psychologist in private practice who specialises in couple and psychosexual therapy, testosterone suppresses the function of the testes.
“That is why many body builders who dope have testes the size of peas. What it does do is increase sexual desire and renders more frequent and stronger erections. Another aspect of gay sub culture is the prominence of the use of anabolic steroids to produce more muscular bodies,” said Hattingh.
One of the most destructive elements of an apparent sexual addiction is the shame and secrecy attached to behaviour. Successful treatment options include breaking these “bonds of secrecy” and allowing people to find self-acceptance.
As he awaits his fate in the High Court Shrien Dewani must face the one thing that terrifies him most – chaos. The chaos of having his private life exposed to millions across the world, the chaos of no longer being in control of any aspect of his life and the chaos that has been caused to all of the families, his own, as well as the Hindochas. DM
Photo: British businessman Shrien Dewani is seen through the window of a car upon arriving at the Western Cape High Court on Thursday, 9 October 2014 for his murder trial. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA