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The Sex Addiction Myth

Social conservatism to blame for labeling people who like sex with a lot of attractive partners as sick, new paper argues.
 
 
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Here comes the latest entrant to the contentious debate over sex addiction — and, boy, is it a sassy one. The paper, unambiguously titled “Inventing Sex: The Short History of Sex Addiction,” begins with the following quote from … an episode of “Louie”: “Tiger Woods claims to be addicted to sex. Bullshit! These are hot women he was having sex with. If he was having sex with a dead chicken, I’d say, wow, that guy is addicted to sex.”

That should alert you that this particular report, published in the March issue of the journal “Sexuality & Culture,” isn’t an objective scientific study. It’s a paper by cultural historians at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, that attempts to document the growth of the concept of sex addiction. So, take it for what it’s worth. With that, allow me to present you with the paper’s pull-no-punches thesis:

We argue that this strange, short history of social opportunism, diagnostic amorphism, therapeutic self-interest, and popular cultural endorsement is marked by an essential social conservatism–sex addiction has become a convenient term to describe disapproved sex.

Many of these points should be familiar, especially if you read  my piece on sex addiction’s critics back in 2009. What’s most interesting about the paper, though, is the way it tackles the therapeutic industry — which is either shrewd or paranoid, depending on your perspective. “The financial incentives of both the therapy industry and the wider sexualization of our culture have fed into and continue to feed the growth of sex addiction as a construct,” says the report. “Billions of dollars are spent on the representation of sex and emphasis on sex as pleasurable to human experience, and this is refracted in the millions spent on creating and treating the disorders allegedly wrought by this experience.”

The authors quote psychotherapist Marty Klein who, in response to the popularity of celebrity sex confessionals, pointed out that perhaps we have an “addiction to Tiger Woods’ ‘sex addiction.’” Thus, the report’s authors argue, “Sex addiction is the sexual co-dependent of the sexualized society that its supposed sufferers so vociferously denounce.” (Is it just me being a sex-nerd or is that sentence kind of arousing?) They also point out that many “sex addict” tell-alls include “pornographic prose almost as explicit as anything on the market.” Oh, American sexual hypocrisy, you never fail to amuse.

This paper isn’t likely to settle the sex addiction debate, but it just might inspire  another alarmist Newsweek cover. Oh wait, never mind.

 

 

 

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

 
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