Says Benoit Denizet-Lewis,
To much of the general public, sex addiction is a punch line, a pop-psychology diagnosis or an attempt to explain away recklessness and perversion. But my sex addiction is unfortunately very real; it has cost me a job, romantic relationships, friendships and, on many days, my sanity and self-respect. I have checked myself into inpatient sex-addiction treatment centers twice. I have set up Internet blocking software — the kind designed for children — on my computer, only to buy another computer when the urge to go into chat rooms became too strong.
In one of the more raw and wrenching "Modern Love" essays The Times has run, Denizet-Lewis describes a trajectory of broken relationships, lost jobs and a search for oblivion, attempts at rehab and a final, desperately difficult road to recovery. His addiction begins with the validation he receives in chat rooms, then quickly spirals out of control.
But there were never enough reviews, never enough guys, never enough validation. Within three months, I had hooked up with 20 guys from online. Within six months, I was routinely skipping out on friends so I could spend nights in chat rooms. Within a year, I had essentially lost the ability to control the time I spent on the Internet. For the life of me, I couldn’t sign off.
As the author describes it, this is indeed real addiction, as uncontrollable and devastating as any substance abuse. But Denizet-Lewis himself seems to touch on part of its bad rep. "When I told one boyfriend, he said, 'Oh, aren’t all guys sort of addicted to sex?'" he recalls. In a sense, this is no more and no less than the ancient notion that men's passions are essentially bestial; as such, an inability to master them is in some ways a particular weakness - everyone has these feelings, society seems to say, you just can't control them. (It doesn't help that the term's probably been tossed around a time or two as an unconvincing excuse.) And because there is no obvious chemical opiate at work, the emotional "frailty" of this addiction can seem more glaring; an emotional neediness not veiled by any other vice.
But is sex addiction essentially a male vice? In this account it is:
We were a diverse group, including an affable husband and father arrested for soliciting a “minor” over the Internet who turned out to be a cop, a sexually abused and deeply traumatized gay man in his 30s who had started cruising parks when he was 11, a married corporate executive who couldn’t stop cheating on his wife, a minister who was fired from two colleges for viewing pornography at work and a cantankerous retired community-college professor addicted to pornography and prostitutes.
Not a woman in the bunch, although "nymphomania" is generally regarded as a female purview. But then, "mania" and "addiction" are two different things, and this in itself probably says a lot about our perceptions of sexuality. When women succumb, they are corrupt — when men do, they are weak. Sex, more than almost anything else, is still inexplicably tied to morality, as this account shows; however open we become, legally and societally, it can always be rendered something on the brink of sordid, held from it only by invisible tethers of control and 'healthiness.' As the author points out, even the 'cure' is different from other addictions — unlike, say, alcohol, sex isn't something an addict is encouraged to swear off of altogether; rather, they're expected to develop a healthy and 'normal' attitude towards it. Which is, after all, hard enough for anyone.
Facing My Obsession, in the Flesh [New York Times]