This morning, I stumbled across this piece at Jezebel discussing the seeming lack of female sex addicts.
Oh, boy. Where do I begin?
I don't really know where all the female sex addicts are. I went to a couple of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings about five years ago (don't judge, and no, I don't want your phone number), and the room was pretty much half-and-half at those meetings. There seemed to be plenty of female sex addicts in Dallas, Texas, at least compared to the number of male sex addicts. I will say, several of them were more comfortable calling themselves "love addicts" as opposed to "sex addicts", which was something I could never understand. "Love addict" sounds like someone who is willing to be treated like shit as long as they get to be in a relationship. "Sex addict" sounds like someone who gets laid. A lot. Which would you rather be?
That's exactly what I wanted to talk about from this Jezebel piece. Female sex addiction, when it does occur, is framed as a desperate desire to be intimate with another person gone awry. It's a good impulse--it's just all out of whack. Meanwhile, male sex addiction is framed as the objectification of women and desire to fool around...on steroids. When you walk into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, they don't tell you that male alcoholism is any different than female alcoholism. We're all alcoholics for basically the same physiological reasons. Welcome. They'll point out that people often have a harder time accepting that a woman is an alcoholic because it's just so unfathomable that a lady would do those things! But once you're there, you're just one big club, all the same under the skin. When women and men start to talk about their sex addictions, we all just automatically place them in two different categories: women with low self-esteem who really! just want to be INTIMATE!, and men who are just livin' the dream and got caught by their wives.
I'm now going to lower the boom. The odds are much, much greater that a woman who is suffering from "sex addiction" (if such a thing exists) doesn't want anything to do with intimacy. The same could be said of the male "sex addict". We refuse to see women as just wanting to get laid. It's like a gnome or a unicorn--it's just not possible! They must have daddy issues! They must be looking for love in all the wrong places (and too many faces)! A line in this piece that Jezebel quotes from the Times of London says that sex addicted ladies don't understand boundaries, and that must be the culprit. They just don't understand how normal people act! That's why they're sex addicts! This is completely reverse from the truth. No addict of any stripe understands good boundaries. Lady "sex addiction" isn't just a case of, "Oopsie! Bad boundaries! Sorry. My daddy didn't love me enough." If sex addiction is real, it will come from the same place in both men and women. It will be physiologically precipitated. It will stem from a biochemical urge that becomes extremely difficult if not impossible for the addict to control without help.
But the more that I read this piece at Time, the more it became clear to me that so much of what we think of sex addiction is wrapped up in what we think about sex. Alocholism isn't purely defined by the number of drinks you have on a regular basis. It's defined by the consequences of those drinks. Whether or not a person should get sober is defined by how willing they are to suffer those consequences. I've said that if someone is okay with losing friends and effing up their job for the sake of the drink, they should go forth and drink it up. Anyone associated with them should feel free to walk away or be supportive as they see fit and as they determine is best for them. The Time piece seems all too eager to make sex addiction purely about the numbers--TIGER WOODS HAD AFFAIRS WITH 12 WOMEN! 12! WOMEN! Sure, he suffered consequences, but the consequences of sexual behavior are not the focus of this piece. The behavior is. At some point it is mentioned that sex addiction has been defined as having seven or more orgasms in a week. I just call that lucky. What if you're having those seven orgasms with your spouse? Are you a sex addict? That question is posed in the piece but never answered, and there are more subtle clues throughout that illustrate that our real problem with sex addiction is our real problem with sex.
Toward the end of the Time piece, the author describes a sex addict he's interviewing.
When I was with Melinkovich, I sometimes felt he was a normal guy who didn't quite know how to deal with the many women who find him attractive. Other times, like when he got a lascivious look in his eyes while reading a text from a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, he seemed like a guy with a debilitating illness.
Let's look at that. First it's, "Poor dude is just overwhelmed by women throwing themselves at him!" Uh, okay. Then, when the man makes a "lascivious" face, he's got a debilitating illness? So it's fine to be the unwitting victim of others sexual advances, but the minute you start to like it, you're a sick person. Many might not approve of that man's behavior, but that's a moral issue, not an issue of an illness. We'd love to frame it as an illness, wouldn't we? To show that "normal" people would never act that way? To distance ourselves from desire? To show the line between being in control and out of it? I've never been encouraged to see myself as the unwitting victim of all that vodka that just threw itself at me. You cannot have it both ways, and this bit of copy just sounds like the struggle between our moral problems with sex and our ideas about what is and what is not appropriate behavior. The language used in this piece is problematic.
There were many people in those meetings I went to who seemed genuinely troubled by their own behaviors and appetites. They'd lost things they cared about. They felt like maybe there were better uses for their time than internet pornography. They were addicts. I don't doubt that our sexual appetites, just like our appetites for virtually anything else that creates physical pleasure to the point that it takes us into our bodies and out of our minds, can get out of control to the degree that they actually cause us pain. But if we're going to talk about sex addiction, we have to talk about that pain. That pain that is being caused by the action, not just the action itself.
When we're talking purely about the action, all we're talking about is sex.
They told me just to be still, quiet. Release and relax. Breathe in these qualities, these states of ease, and simply exist. They said that is was being cured. I did it, and now all I want in life is to die.
Everyone has heard the saying, "Only boring people get bored!" It's a phrase used by manipulative mothers to make their children shut up. It's boisterously propelled from the mouths of type A people by the energy of their insecurities. In case you hadn't picked up on it, I hate this phrase.
I was thinking about this phrase today after reading this week's Savage Love column. A man wrote in to complain about his boring life with his boring wife and their boring kids. That phrase--"Only boring people get bored!"--popped into my head immediately. While driving home from work (a place I find inexorably boring) hours later, I found this phrase rattling around in my head. I spend about 8 hours a day, Monday through Friday, bored. I try to get excited about whatever it is I'm doing. When that doesn't work (as it will never work when I'm having to deal with Excel spreadsheets), I try to find interesting things to read on the internet. When that fails (did y'all know there's a ton of worthless crap floating around on the internet?), I...am bored.
I read in a book once that man has been struggling with boredom since the beginning of time. I've been known to argue that the only reason we've made life so goddamn complicated is because of boredom. Often, when I'm driving on a highway, I will contemplate the complexity of the system of the roads, all those cars converging onto the same stretch for a moment before they diverge. I contemplate other complexities that feeds--the complexity of our economic system, which is built on the idea that each person is a cog in a greater machine. Think about the levels of organization that requires! And truth be told, I can see no reason for creating complex systems other than to combat boredom. There isn't any overarching goal for any of this. If you asked people why they thought society needed to be more complicated in these ways, they would say, "To make the world a better place." But while our world has gotten progressively more complicated, we've made little progress toward anything resembling a "better place". People love to talk about the past as if it were vastly different from the present in some substantive way, but the truth is that all we've bought ourselves with this complication is more time on this earth for a few extra people. I'm not really sure this is a worthwhile goal in and of itself. You're going to have to do better, progress, before I'll believe in your inherent value.
And, it struck me, a higher standard of living for a greater number of people--which creates even greater levels of boredom.
One of the comments on that Savage Love column said something to the effect that all people are boring, and if you don't want to be bored, you should give up your cushy job and go be a single parent supporting five kids by working two jobs. I thought this to be perhaps one of the most brilliant comments on the whole column. The letter had been about sexual boredom to a large extent, and most of the comments got down in the trenches with the "men do that/women do this" arguments as usual. This comment got to the real heart of the matter, though, without even mentioning sex or anything sexy. When people say, "Only boring people get bored!", they're completely missing the mark. The implication is that if you were an interesting person, you'd feel constantly stimulated. You'd be interested in any and everything. You'd be able to find the awesome in the mundane, and if you couldn't, you'd get up and do something. But this completely ignores the way the world works and the way that humans operate. Everyone gets bored, and the only people who don't are those type As who fill their lives with so much activity to avoid that aching feeling of not being good enough or the people who are still struggling to make life even livable. To be human is to find yourself lying on your couch, staring at the wall, wondering when you're going to die because you've run out of shit to do or the energy with which to do it. Once all of our basic needs are covered, we run out of hard work to do, and then we start to look around for other kinds of stimulation. Once we've exhausted those (our wives, our credit cards, our kids), we start looking for still others. Boredom, man. That shit is life.
If only boring people get bored, then we're all fucking boring. In fact, this thing you just read? It's pretty fucking boring. But at least it kept me from being bored, if only for a little while.
We've been hearing for decades--nay, eons--about the evils of pornography from the religious right. They've told us that pornography is evil, that it erodes the sacred bonds between one man and one woman. Many feminists don't much care for the porn, either. They say it degrades women and encourages violence.
Now, one wouldn't usually think that a man who watches a lot of pornography would find himself in bed with the religious right and Gloria Steinem. The good news is, though, that once he finds himself in that bed, he won't be able to seal the deal anyway. Why? Because we're in the middle of an epidemic. The availability of porn on the internet has basically made it impossible for the modern male to do anything but jack off to pictures of women with surgically enhanced waist-to-hip ratios that are never found in nature, and all this jacking off has in turn made it impossible for men to want to have sex with real women.
Oh, and we're supposed to feel sorry for these men because the big bad pornography grabbed them by the balls and is refusing to let go.
I don't want to talk about whether or not porn is evil, though. I want to talk about the article by Davy Rothbart at New York Magazine. Specifically, I want to talk about why men still don't ever feel the need to take responsibility for their sexual issues. According to this piece, it's porn's fault (and therefore the fault of the women found in the porn)! It's their girlfriend's/wive's fault! As usual, all sexual evils are the fault of the women. Men would love to control themselves, you see, but all these sexy womens! They will not let thems!
I can break down my problem with this piece by simply dissecting this little bit at the end:
Men, oversaturated by porn, secretly hunger for the variety that porn offers. Women, noticing a decline in their partners’ libidos, try to reenact the kinds of scenes that men watch on their computer screens. Men, as a result, get really freaked out. They don’t want their real women and their fantasy women to inhabit the same body.
Essentially, the men we're talking about here would rather watch porn than have sex with their real-life partners. This is causing a huge problem, as one might imagine, both for the men themselves and the women who want to eff them. But when the women try to act like porn stars, the men freak out! What we see in the language used here is the tired old saw about Madonnas and whores. "There are women men want to marry and women men want to eff, and they are not the same women!" I remember hearing this in college. Talk about a no-win situation. That statement above, though, pretty much lays the blame for this conundrum on the women. Girlfriends and wives should not act sexy--it spooks their men. Men won't be able to get turned on by anything other than strange, unattainable women who wear crazy outfits and let you stick it in their poopers! So deal, ladies. Deal, but don't try to compete. And certainly don't try to operate anywhere outside of the cultural framework for relationships that says that good women are loving, understanding, and not sexual while men are dogs and only want to have sex with strangers.
Sex is a feelings thing. Whether those feelings are loving or lusting or a little of both, it's always about feelings. Feelings are volatile things. We don't want to mess with them sometimes. We cast women as the seat of emotions and then throw them to the hounds. Let them pay for our inability to be constant and disciplined. Let them pay for our feelings. All of us, even women, blame women for all the evils of not feeling as we should. Can't control yourself? You must be having a feeling, and we all know who is associated with feelings.
All I wanted to hear was that this man recognized his part in this whole problem. He kind of does...right at the end. He unplugs for a week and, ta-dah--he gets it on with a real flesh-and-blood lady! But everything leading up to that moment is whiney, poor me bullshit. Three pages worth of a different dudes saying, "I want to watch a woman get it on with farm animals, but I don't want that woman to be my girlfirend! Feel sorry for ME!"