Tag Archives: sex addiction

Forsythia bushes in bloom lining a path along a quite side street.The sex addiction post got me thinking about some additional things. My blasé attitude towards monogamy helped me rack up a lot of points on the men’s version of the quiz. Apparently, the deep thinkers on the subject of sex addiction are so blinded by biased, stereotyped notions of sexuality, they don’t even think to ask women as many questions about that.

I’ve been writing down my memories primarily as a way for me to explore why I believe the things I do, not because I’ve had such an unusual or fascinating life. For instance, yesterday’s post about a group project in school, was probably yawn inducing. However, my thoughts on multiculturalism have been shaped by events like that. I’m still just laying out the themes that will recur.

So far, I’ve only touched lightly on sexuality, but it will be having a big role in the near future. My experience of my own sexuality is a large part of why I see the world the way I do. I feel like I’ve spent my whole life rebelling against a society that has tried to tell me up was down, that has tried to tell me that sex was bad, or at best a means to an end, rather than a good that was good in itself. Eventually, you will get a blow by blow of each lover, or at least those who left a lasting impression. I will explain how, through trial and error, I came to not value monogamy.

One of the reasons that I’m writing all these views as a sort of memoir is because I don’t want to speak for anyone else. I can’t. I don’t want to convince anyone to abandon monogamy if it’s working well for him or her. It didn’t work well for me.

For many years, I was a terrible cheat. If I didn’t cheat on a boyfriend, it was probably because we didn’t date long enough. Finally, I came to the conclusion that the problem wasn’t the infidelity, the problem was the promise of monogamy in the first place, often simply assumed by a boy or man after the first sexual encounter. It was rare that a partner would actually ask if I would be monogamous with him. The next morning it was just assumed. For a long time, I went along with it because that is what the culture tells us to want. It’s what seemed natural and normal. Then a good-looking boy would pass by. I’d sleep with him. Fights, arguing, tears. So much drama. Then one day I thought to myself, why are all these boys assuming that we’re going to be monogamous. I’m sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and so are they. Do we really believe that neither of us will ever sleep with another person over the next seventy or so years? I realized that I never had an intention of being monogamous. Finally, I resolved to stop making promises I had no intention of keeping. Only making promises I believed in and actually wanted to keep was the key to being true to my word.

Throughout my twenties, I kept that resolve. I had several long-term non-monogamous relationships. These weren’t polyamorous relationships, a form of relationship of which I was yet unaware. They were far healthier than the previous relationships I’d had. A couple of them continued literally for years. The men became important people in my life. These weren’t “fuck buddies” or “pillow pals.” There was still a sense of romance, of getting together with a boyfriend.

Eventually, I met someone and I did feel moved to promise monogamy. We had a nice chat about what we were feeling and it turned out that he felt the same way. Eventually, we married. I remained faithful to him throughout our marriage. As far as I know, he did as well. It ended in divorce for reasons having nothing to do with fidelity.

During my twenties, when I had about four or five regular lovers, my female friends were highly critical of me. “You date like a man,” they said. It took some courage and resolve, as well as knowing what was right for me, to carve out a love life that was satisfying for me. I know very well what it is to have social norms forced on you. I also had to develop my own code of ethics. Since ethical behavior is important to me, I spent quite a long time thinking about what was the best way to behave in regards to sex and what was the best way to treat my lovers. So, yes, I think I have something to say on the subject of sex.

I mentioned a paper yesterday, but it seems that I forgot the link. My apologies. In it, Levine and Troiden describe three cultural “scripts” that govern erotic behavior in our society. They lay out three different scripts. The first, they call the procreational. In this view, the only form of healthy sex takes place within marriage. The second, they call relational. A relational view of sexuality sees a relationship and intimacy, almost always monogamous, as being the purpose of sexual contact. The third script is recreational. The recreational script views sex as enjoyable in and of itself and worth having for that reason alone. The only bounds put on sexual activity in a recreational script is that it be consensual.

The recreational script was only ever dominant in this society during the seventies, but that is when I entered adolescence and that is the sexual ethic I learned. A recreational script doesn’t inevitably lead to promiscuity. My sister also has that view of sex, yet she’s been happily married for about twenty years.

In my post on sex addiction, a commenter gave a link that she claimed would show that sex addiction is not a culturally bound idea. The link, as it happens, shows quite the opposite.

After noting contemporary society’s consumer culture in which the individual has come to expect instant gratification, the author, Vincent Estellon writes,

In just a few decades, access to pornography has not only been developed but also become banal. We are far from the censure of the early 20th century when kissing scenes were simply cut from cinematographic reels. Consumer studies show that on Google, the world’s number one search motor, the terms ‘sex,’ ‘love’, ‘porn’ arrive at the fore of all requests by both type and nature. Sexuality has become recreational, and even imperative. In effect, it was as if the slogan of the new societal Super-ego had become: ‘Unfettered and unlimited pleasure is a must!’ (emphasis mine)

It is clear that the writer is disdainful of this attitude towards sex, an attitude that he clearly identifies as coming from the recreational script described by Levine and Troiden. Further on Estellon says,

Progressively, sexual excitement is increasingly distanced from the loving feelings associated with a relationship.

Here, we see him clearly articulating the relational script. It is entirely possible, that the relational script is the dominant script today. One experience that helped me arrive at a skeptical attitude towards monogamy was my observation of the behavior of other young women. Female friends would meet a man and declare that they were “in love.” They would have sex. After a few months the relationship would sour. Soon they would be “in love” with a new man. These females friends didn’t call me a slut and a whore because I slept with more men than they did, but because I refused to engage in the charade of pretending to fall in love in order to justify going to bed with someone. It’s clear that among women saying “I like sex even if it’s not in a relationship” is taboo. I’m very interested in the origin of this relational script.

Tracy Clark-Flory acknowledges the debatable nature of sex addiction in her article “Is Sex Addiction Real.”

What’s the difference between the symptom of a compulsive disease and a disease itself? Repeatedly lathering up in the sink is a sign of OCD. We don’t call those people hand-washing addicts, now, do we?

She also points out,

An online test designed by Carnes casts a wide, sweeping net in its search for signs of the condition. Anyone who enjoys regular masturbation, has a porn collection, or indulges in an active fantasy life will likely be labeled a potential addict … potentially in need of Patrick Carnes’ services.

Richard Siegel, a licensed sex therapist, says he frequently comes across “normal, healthy college-aged guys” who have been unfortunately convinced by “flimsy pop psychology” tests that they are sex addicts for simply masturbating every day.

Well, at least it’s good to know that I’m not alone.

Clark-Flory notes that the people who support the idea of sexual addiction insist that they are not anti-sex. However, in discussing this, Clark-Flory appears to have in mind a binary model of being pro-sex or anti-sex. The sexual addiction advocates’ approval of sex within a committed relationship leads her to see them as not being truly anti-sex. However, that dichotomous view doesn’t take into account the three different scripts. When that is taken into account, the differing opinions of Dan Savage and Vincent Estellon become clear.

Clark-Flory tries to maintain a journalist’s objectivity. Barry Reay, Nina Attwood and Claire Gooder feel no such obligation in their article “Inventing Sex: The Short History of Sex Addiction,” which appeared recently in the journal Sexuality and Culture.

Sex addiction began as a 1980s product of late twentieth-century cultural anxieties and has remained responsive to those tensions, including its most recent iteration, ‘‘hypersexual disorder.’’ Its success as a concept lay with its medicalization, both as a self-help movement in terms of self-diagnosis, and as a rapidly growing industry of therapists on hand to deal with the new disease. The media has always played a role in its history, first with TV, the tabloids, and the case histories of claimed celebrity victims all helping to popularize the concept, and then with the impact of the internet. Though it is essentially mythical, creating a problem that need not exist, sex addiction has to be taken seriously as a phenomenon.

“Hypersexual disorder.” Wow. It’s almost enough to make me glad to be old.

However, I’m old enough to have seen the demonization of sexuality grow over my lifetime. It’s time to reverse this trend.

Today, I saw on Think Progress the article, “Family Research Council: Unmarried People Should Be Denied Birth Control and Punished for Having Sex.”

Well I could really go on. Since sexuality is one of my major interests, I probably will, but that will have to wait for another day. In the meantime, here’s another read on the subject: “Reinventing Perversion: Sex Addiction and Cultural Anxieties.”

When I was young, I was a Cosmo Girl. I read Cosmopolitan magazine religiously. That means I can’t resist taking quizzes which promise, in ten short minutes, to reveal some hidden subconscious secret about yourself that you didn’t know. I took the quizzes whether they were relevant or not. So before I’d even been kissed, I learned that my marriage could, indeed, be saved. At thirteen, I was told to dump the loser and move on. So I hope you won’t use it as evidence against me that I took a sex addiction for women quiz the other day. Then I took the sex quiz addiction for men. Maybe I need a quiz addiction quiz.

Crocus buds that have not yet fully opened.I came across the quizzes after following a link from Jack Games over at Step 14. This led me to a criticism of Alcoholics Anonymous on A Healthy Place: Your Mental Health Channel. On the right hand side was a link to a psychological test page. Like the Cosmo Girl I once was, I thought, “Ooh, quizzes.” You will all be glad to know that I don’t have ADHD or OCD. Apparently, I suffer from anxiety and depression, but I already knew that. All the quizzes were for both genders except for the sex addiction quiz. I took them, both the “for men” and “for women” quizzes. I learned that I would have a much bigger problem with sexual addiction if I were a man. I confess, that wasn’t the result I was expecting. Of course, I don’t believe that there is such a thing as sexual addiction, so I shrugged my shoulders and did not make an appointment with a therapist.

Then I came across a post entitled “The Purity Myth” over at Critic of Christianity and I thought maybe our different expectations of men and women’s sexual behavior might be worth discussing.

All of the quizzes were followed by the disclaimer that you can’t diagnose mental illness with an online quiz. However, the sex addiction quizzes had an additional disclaimer.

There is a wide range of prevailing opinions as to what is acceptable sexual behavior.

The Sexual addiction entry in Wikipedia states:

Addiction is the state of behavior outside the boundaries of social norms which reduces an individual’s ability to function efficiently in general routine aspects of life or develop healthy relationships. (emphasis mine)

I’m not sure how social norms interact with, let’s say, heroin addiction, but in the case of sexual addiction, social norms strike me as everything. Despite never for a moment worrying about my sexual behavior or feeling self-destructive or out of control, I came out on both these tests as a sex addict.

Unsurprisingly, I am not the only one with skepticism about sex addiction. Back in 1988, when the idea of sex addiction was still relatively new, Martin P. Levine and Richard R. Troiden published a paper questioning whether such an illness existed. They note that as sexual mores have changed, the definition of sexual pathology has also changed.

…mental health professionals viewed nonmarital and nonprocreative sex as pathological. The first edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, for example, defined masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus, homosexuality, and sexual promiscuity (e.g., “Don Juanism” and “nymphomania”) as forms of mental illness.

As the counter culture of the sixties and seventies changed the prevailing norms of sexual behavior, the mental health profession followed suit.

Against the backdrop of a (briefly) sex-positive culture, mental health professionals and sexologists re-evaluated professional definitions of erotic control and deviance. ….they depathologized nonmarital and nonprocreative sex. The DSM: III (1980) no longer listed masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus, homosexuality, Don Juanism, and nymphomania as psychosexual disorders.

Sexually permissive values, however, also provided grounds for adding new psychosexual disorders to the DSM. “Not enough” sex and “inappropriate” sexual response became pathologized. A number of problems of living were transformed into sexual dysfunctions, and were regarded as clinical conditions amenable to therapeutic intervention.

The cusp of the nineteen eighties saw the rise of the AIDS epidemic, a growing dissatisfaction with the self-absorption of the “me decade”, and the rise politicized religious movements broadly known as the “religious right.”

Thus by the 1980s, “too much sex”rather than “not enough sex” began to emerge again as an issue of concern both to the lay public and to mental health professionals. In the permissive climate of the 1970s, it had been unthinkable to argue that there were people who were”addicted to sex” or “out of control sexually.” …. In the increasingly sex-negative 1980s, however, the time had come for the ideas of sexual addiction and compulsion.

In the context of national concern about drug use and addiction, sexually transmitted disease, teenaged pregnancy, and an ethic of commitment, “sex addicts” and “sexual compulsives” were mentioned increasingly in professional publications and in mass media. Nonrelational sexual conduct that had been legitimized in the 1970s was reclassified in the 1980s as a symptom of mental disorder.

The upshot is that “sexual addiction” is a term used to enforce conformity in sexual behavior. I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to say that society accepts a greater degree of sexual behavior from men than from women. Consequently, I expected that the separate male and female tests would reflect this and that a women’s behavior would be seen as pathological with at a lower level of activity. Boy, was I wrong. That might have been the case if the questions were the same, but they weren’t.

The most prominent difference between the two tests is the phrase “not related to sexual orientation” which appears repeatedly in the test for men but not once in the test for women. For instance, women are asked:

16 ) Do you hide some of your sexual behavior from others?

While men are asked:

9 ) Do you keep the extent or nature of your sexual activities hidden from your friends and/or partners? (not related to sexual orientation)

It’s hard to be certain what prompted this difference, but I’m inclined to think that, since dykes are viewed as sexless, gay women are not seen as having sexual behaviors that need to be hidden.

The women’s questions focused more on relationships while the men’s questions presumed casual sex. So one question on the women’s test that has no analogous question for the men is:

3 ) Have you stayed in romantic relationships after they become emotionally or physically abusive?

Meanwhile, an example of a question that is asked men and not women is:

12 ) Do you believe that anonymous or casual sex has kept you from having more long term intimate relationships or from reaching other personal goals?

Considering how differently I scored on the two tests, it’s not surprising that more men than women are diagnosed as sex addicts.

I don’t want to mock people who feel that they have harmful compulsions that they need to overcome to have the sort of lives they’d like to have. I just don’t want other people imposing their values, values that everyone does not share, on others. I feel that I was fairly fortunate in that I was raised by a mother who felt like she had been harmed by the Catholic Church’s attitudes to sexuality and intentionally tried to avoid passing negative attitudes about sex on to her daughters. I also came of age during the late seventies, that little window of time when our culture was sex positive. Sometimes, when it comes to sex, I feel like I’m living in a foreign culture these days.

The concept of sex addiction is based on values that everyone does not share. The following are some of the values that are implied by many definitions of sex addiction:

    • sex and sexual desire are dangerous
    • there is only one “best” way to express sexuality
    • sex that enhances “intimacy” is the best sex
    • imagination has no healthy role in sexuality
    • people need to be told what kinds of sex are wrong/bad
    • if you feel out of control, you are out of control
    • laws and social norms define sexual health

— From Marty Klein, a sexologist and therapist.

Intellectually, I have a lot of problems with the way society views sexuality these days. I don’t feel out of control, degraded or depressed about my sexual activity.

Unsurprisingly, sexual addiction was first conceived by a group of AA members.