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.