Perhaps you’ve heard the 2015 recording of Harvey Weinstein trying to get Ambra Battilana Gutierrez into his hotel room.

The whole thing sounds sadly pathetic. One of the world’s most influential men is begging a 22-year-old model to touch him. Or to let him touch her. Or perhaps watch him jack off. To just “come in,” to “not embarrass” him publicly. To just engage with him erotically somehow, some way.

Creepy, scary, repulsive. Absolutely.

And apparently, he has done this over and over, for most of his adult life. He has paid off at least eight women who have accused him of possible criminal behavior.

Now, can anyone actually say that this guy has ONLY a sex problem?

If it’s obvious that Weinstein has other mental problems, too, why focus on the sex? Why not see his primary problem as...

• The abuse of power? 
• The incredible lack of empathy
• Masochism or self-destructiveness?
• The fear of being insignificant, of not even existing? 
• The inability to keep marital vows? 
• The lack of integrity? 
• The inability to feel sufficiently nourished by an incredible career?

It’s because Americans are nuts about sex. We see it in public life everywhere: a safe medicine to prevent teens from getting HPV? Sex. A beach where families can enjoy the sun and sand naked? Sex. Two gay adults wanting to adopt a child? Sex. A grandmother taking photos of her toddler grandkids naked in the bathtub? Sex. 

The made-up disease of “sex addiction” is perfect for a society in which we’re not supposed to talk about sex, but yearn to. It’s perfect for a profession—psychology—that requires virtually no training in sexual behavior, desire, pleasure, or communication, but experiences people’s sexual problems every day. Labelling people as “sex addicts” is so much easier than actually talking with them about their emotional pain and their complex experience of their own sexuality.

And the made-up disease of “sex addiction” allows the American public to look at Harvey Weinstein (and Anthony Weiner, Tiger Woods, Charlie sheen, et al) and smugly say “that’s not me. I’m not like that.”

Imagine if the dominant story about Weinstein was “here’s a guy who didn’t feel whole no matter how much money, fame, and acknowledgement he got.” It would be harder for most people to look down on him and say “that’s not me.” 

Imagine if the dominant story about Weinstein was “here’s a guy who lacked integrity, despite having everything he wanted.” Or “here’s a guy who kept hurting other people, and he didn’t seem to care.” Or “here’s a guy who couldn’t learn from his mistakes.”

Narratives like that would naturally make us stop and think about our own values and decisions. It would be a lot harder for us to simply spit on Weinstein and dismiss him as a bad guy who eventually got what he deserved. 

The concept of “sex addiction” is so vague that the media and lay people feel they can diagnose someone, like Weinstein, without ever meeting him. The wives of some of my patients feel the same way—despite having no clinical training, they believe they can diagnose their philandering, narcissistic husbands. “Sex addicts,” they confidently state.

They’re wrong because it doesn’t exist. 

Take away opioids from an oxycontin addict, or alcohol from an alcohol addict, and the results are horrific: hallucinations, insomnia, vomiting, tearing at their own flesh. Take away sex from a “sex addict”? He gets crabby. 

Another hallmark of actual addiction is the habituation effect. Because real addiction is about the body’s distorted ability to metabolize a substance, over time the body needs more to get the same effect. Most alcoholics and heroin addicts need higher doses over time, which eventually destroys them. Not so with Weinstein or other so-called sex addicts—their sexual patterns (their “dosing”) rarely change over time.

So if there’s no such thing as “sex addiction,” what is it that Weinstein and others suffer from? Without meeting Weinstein I can’t say, but as he gets treated for “sex addiction,” here are diagnosable problems he may have that are completely missed:

In “sex addiction” treatment, Weinstein may successfully learn to keep his sexuality contained. While this would undoubtedly be a relief to many women—and I am NOT discounting the value of that—it wouldn’t cure him of anything. He’d continue to struggle with whatever problems he has, expressing them destructively sooner or later.

And we will have demonized one more person who uses their sexuality to express their internal pain and terror, hurting others in the process. To protect those we love, the answer isn’t to quarantine the Weinsteins of the world. Instead, we should discuss and understand sexuality enough so that people are less likely to use it to hurt others. 

 

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