Is “sex addiction” real?
This question obsesses many – clinicians, people who experience themselves as being out of control of their sexual behavior, spouses, partners, friends.
But what does the question even mean?
This isn’t the first time I’m writing about the question, and I don’t know if I have anything new to say, but it’s been in my head lately (particularly as I’ve been grappling once again with my addiction to cigarettes).
Ariel Castro, who kidnapped three young women for a decade or more, said he is a “good person,” “not a monster,” that he was “addicted to sex and pornography,” and that his addiction made him kidnap, beat, torture, rape, these young women.
Those of us who suffer from one or another addiction know all to well the sense of being out of control, of our bodies pursuing an agenda of their own, one to which we profess hostility.
One of the most seductive aspects of the concept of addiction is the “free pass” some believe it gives to those in its clutches. “It wasn’t me, it was my addict,” we tell ourselves, and our brothers and sisters in recovery, and they all nod, sagely. Dissociation is a vital refuge of the addict.
Twelve steppers have a formulation that makes sense to them, but that no one outside of “the rooms” ever could fathom: on the one hand, we addicts are powerless over x, and our lives are out of control; on the other hand, only we (along with our higher power) can possibly save ourselves. Only by surrendering to our higher power can we be restored to sanity; we can’t surrender to our higher power until we have “hit bottom.”
We are responsible for all our actions; we are powerless over our actions.
Non-Christians have a similarly hard time understanding the simultaneous claims that Christianity is a monotheistic religion and that God is triune.
The addiction debate boils down to some simple questions:
1) For the addict: Is there hope for me?
2) For her/his partner: Should I leave my husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend? (Is there a way to understand what s/he did [to me] that will allow me to stay with her/him?)
3) For both, and for clinicians: What is the most promising path to a restoration of sanity for those who are, truly, out of control?
Partisans of the concept of “sex addiction” really are peddling a set of answers to these questions: Yes, there’s hope. No, you shouldn’t leave your partner (or at least, you need not). And, most important: the most promising path to a restoration of sanity is the twelve steps, acceptance of a higher power, abstinence from, at a minimum, certain types of sexual behaviors (often, but not always, correlating to religious precepts).
I think the whole debate is a canard, a distraction. When people find themselves out of control, there is no single, simple path to sanity. For each of us, the path may well look different. A simple program for complicated people, as twelve-step programs often call themselves, is one among many. But because we addicts are so susceptible to our own self-deception, we often take refuge in the idea that this or that path is wrong for us, rather than finding the path that’s right.