I wrote this (though I never quite finished it) back in mid ’08 when David Duchovny started mumbling nonsense about Sex Addiction. It sort of stopped feeling timely, so I didn’t quite put the finish on it.
But recently I ran across this on ErosBlog:
I’ve long been hostile to the idea of “sex addiction” because it strikes me as nonsense on its face. Sex is a core biological imperative, like breathing or excreting, making a “sex addiction” as nonsensical as a “crapping addiction”.
(read the whole thing here)
That led me to this piece by Annie Sprinkle.
— insert quote here—-
Obviously, it was Tiger Woods getting caught with his hand in the coockie jar (or actually, in may cookie jars) that brought this back to the public eye. And typically, the media reaction was to once again start discussing a ‘disease’ when none exists.
I figured, then, that I might as well trot this back out and finish it, in hopes that enough smacks-to-the-head will eventually dislodge the idea of sex addiction from popular consciousness.
You know, every time I run across a news story like this one, I quietly seethe.
David Duchovny has checked into rehab to undergo treatment for sex addiction, E! News has confirmed.
“I have voluntarily entered a facility for the treatment of sex addiction,” Duchovny said in a statement released Thursday by his attorney, Stanton “Larry” Stein. “I ask for respect and privacy for my wife and children as we deal with this situation as a family.”
No, I don’t seethe because of David Duchovny; he’s now got the honor of being in two of my favorite teevee shows ever.
What angers me is the toxic lie in the concept of sex addiction.
Now, I have a semantic objection to this; but that’s not the real issue. Still, I thnk it’s significant.
I have an objection to the over-loading of the word ‘addiction’ to mean both physical dependance, and to mean behavioral habits.
One word, simply put, can’t mean both things. Because physical dependance is utterly different than the obsessive/compulsive behavior pattern which often comes with it.
Personally I think we need be more exact in our language. Maybe we should abandon the word ‘addiction’ entirely, though I’d like to see it go back to it’s medical use (physical dependance). Because I think we now label things as ‘addiction’ which have no real relation to either physical dependance, or to the underlying psycho-chemistry that cause predilection to addictive behavior.
I realize I fight a losing battle with these things; langauge will go where it goes, and we cannot re-train a population to use words correctly. Hell, we can’t even teach our leaders how to pronounce new-cle-ar, how can we teach a population that they’re mis-using a word?
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Maybe the problem is that we lack good, concise words for the difference. And that’s a difficult one, because in fact, we don’t really understand the psychological/genetic/biochemical nature of addiction yet. Sure, we’re learning, but given that we can’t use human guinea pigs to controlled-test these things, we will always be relying on theory as much as data.
Still though, we need better terms in order to improve both the understanding, and the dialog, of what “addiction” means. Partly because it will help us – addicts and non-addicts – understand and share dialog. But more importantly, I think, in that it might prevent mis-use of concept where it most profoundly does not belong.
But my motivator here isn’t simply the over-loading (and frequent mis-use) of the word ‘addiction’; it’s the mis-use of the concept of addiction.
Now, when we label something addiction, what is the common thread?
Drugs? Alcohol? Gambling? Smoking? They are all known, understood, and proven to be harmful.
Food? Sleep? Exercise? Learning? Games? TV?
Sure, you can find anything like that called ‘addiction’ casually. But we don’t seek treatment to an addiction to, say, exercise. When we think of lists of addictions, these are not what come to mind. Our mis-use of the word ‘addiction’ carries with it an implication of negativity. To be an ‘Addiction’, it must be to something bad for us.
Yet, we see statements as above; ‘sex addiction‘.
How is it sex got lumped into that? When did sex become a controlled substance? What makes sex one of the ‘bad things’ to which we mis-apply the term ‘addiction’?
Ok, sure; sex can cause harm. Pregnancies and STDs are easy targets. But water can kill you if you drink enough of it. But what’s sex there for? Why does it exist in the first place? The answer is really simple, and yes, darwinian. Sex is there to sustain the species. No sex, no people. Biological entities exist for one reason, and that is to pass on genes, to self-replicate. It’s as fundamental to our existance as the drive to eat, to drink, to find shelter, to find protection and safety. Because without these things, again, no pass-down of our genetic code.
We would not label biological needs as addictions; they’re wired into our very genetic material. We’re not addicted to water; we’re not addicted to shelter. We’re not addicted to food (indeed, when we do eat too much, we call it ‘over-eating’, not ‘food addiction)’. Yet we find it so very easy to label sex – the mechanism via which our code is delivered, and as absolutely essential to humanity as air – as one of these bad things.
We don’t see Oprah go into rehab for ‘food addiction’; yet every day we hear about someone in rehab for pills, or needles, or drink. How is it, then, that we find one of life’s most basic, essential needs grouped in with crystal meth, heroin, or alcohol?
It isn’t news that our culture is still very sex-hostile. Violence is available on every television, every video game, every comic book. Yet sex is hidden behind closed doors, wrapped in plain brown wrappers. Soldiers and fighters are celebrated; courtesans and nudity are punished. Sex, still, is a source of shame. Never mind that it is more universal to humanity than any culture, any art, any food, drink, sport. Nevermind that each and every one of is here because someone had sex. It is still something we have to hide, something we pretend we’re not doing.
‘Sex Addiction,’ I submit, is nothing less than the vilification of sex itself. It is the product of a toxic cultural prohibition of sexuality. It is the product of a culture that celebrates crime and acquisition, yet fines and jails people who show off nipples.
When I read a headline like the above, I see a scenario of public humiliation and punishment. I imagine a spouse who feels cheated on, demanding a pointless gesture. “I’ll take you back,” he or she says, “if you prostrate yourself before me and the world.”
What we see is an empty, symbolic gesture, a public humiliation. We aren’t branded a scarlet letter anymore; we instead call our press agents and fall upon rubber swords before E! and Perez Hilton.
For having ‘too much’ sex; for doing what is wired into our genes. For hearing the genetic imperative and passing on that code well and freely.
The funny thing is, we don’t use terms like ‘nymphomaniac’ anymore. We’ve grown up enough to no longer use a derogatory term for women who actually enjoy sex. Yet we’ve only repaced it with a gender-nuetral idea of the same thing. Instead of ‘mania’ we call it call it ‘hypersexuality’ and honor it with an IDC number. Yet we don’t label breathing or sleeping or taking a crap with the term ‘mania’, or give them numeric codes signifying them as disorders/
Sex, though; ex is still special. And too much of it, we still seem to think – at least when someone else has too much – is still a disease.
The other thing that troubles me about the concept of sex addiction – aside from what it says about our culture’s deranged view of sex – is that it puts an imaginary disorder in the same grouping with real addictions.
It places ‘sex addiction’ on a list next to ‘alcoholism’, ‘heroin’, ‘crack’ and other very real, very harmful, very physical dependancies. And as someone who grew up witness to alcoholism, who’s lost friends to drug addiction, I find it both insulting, and potentially damaging.