Longtime Hollywood mogul and producer Harvey Weinstein has left Hollywood to seek treatment for sex addiction at a rehab facility in Europe, according to media reports. This maneuver follows the recent bombshell reports of decades of sexual harassment and sexually coercive behaviors on his casting couch, towards numerous female stars. Weinstein described that: “My journey will now be to learn about myself and conquer my demons.”
Weinstein is far from the first powerful man to attempt to use the excuse du jour, sex addiction, as an explanation and answer when sexual misconduct behaviors are exposed. Here is just a partial list of the long tradition of using a trip to sex addiction treatment as a way to attempt to appear apologetic, responsible, and ready to do one’s penance:
Ozzy Osbourne: When the rock god’s history of infidelity was exposed this year, Osbourne fled to Pine Grove treatment program, for sex addiction treatment. Pine Grove was the first, and ostensibly one of the best sex addiction treatment centers in the world. Alas, they apparently didn’t do an extensive diagnostic and rule-out process for admission, as Osbourne later admitted that he wasn’t a sex addict, but was just looking for a way to avoid problems. “I’m in a f--king band, aren’t I? There have always been groupies. I just got caught, didn’t I?” …“I don’t think I’m a f--king sex addict.”
Anthony Weiner: The oh-so-appropriately-named former politician finally fled to sex addiction treatment in Tennessee, after the last round of allegations and exposure that he had sent explicit pictures to an underage female. At “The Recovery Ranch” treatment center, Weiner participated in equine therapy. At least he did until he had to file bankruptcy related to the extremely expensive treatment. Because sex addiction treatment is not an accepted diagnosis, it is not reimbursable by health insurance, and thus it is only usually available to those who have enough cash to afford the often $1000/day treatment. Sadly, no one told Weiner in advance that there is absolutely no evidence that equine therapy is of use in treating such problems (really, sending explicit pictures equals equine therapy?), and even worse, after 40 years of sex addiction treatment, there remains no empirical, peer-reviewed evidence that sex addiction treatment actually works.
Ted Haggard: Former Colorado minister and rabid anti-gay marriage opponent Haggard was exposed in a sex scandal with a male sex worker. He was sent to sex addiction treatment by church leaders. A few years later, Haggard gave an interview, where he stated “I’m probably what the kids call bisexual.” Sadly, Haggard is just one of many religious bisexual males who end up receiving treatment that unethically diagnoses their homosexual desires as evidence of a disorder.
Dick Morris: Former Clinton White House adviser Morris left office in shame, amidst a kinky scandal involving a sex worker, her feet, and conference calls to then-President Clinton. Morris fled, of course, to sex addiction treatment. Which apparently worked, as Morris was later one of the first to call out Clinton and label him as a sex addict during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Morris went on to become a Fox News commentator. Perhaps this is an effect of sex addiction treatment? Democratic White House adviser to Fox News commentator? That’s quite a life change.
The list goes on and on. It also involves many “normal,” lesser-known men who’ve committed crimes, exploiting their positions of power for sexual benefit. In 2015, Idaho college counselor Joseph Bekken was convicted of offering scholarships to young female college applicants, in exchange for sex. Bekken attended “intense therapy” for sex addiction, apparently in hopes of reducing or avoiding his sentence.
Reality show star Josh Duggar was working for a conservative religious advocacy organization when he was exposed in the Ashley Madison scandal, and his history of infidelity was revealed. Multiple trips to sex addiction residential treatment followed and apparently still continue.
What do you notice about all these folks? Well, first, they’re all men. In my years of documenting and investigating the industry of sex addiction treatment, I’ve yet to see a woman try to avoid sex scandal or punishment, by claiming to be a sex addict. I have found women who were shamed for their sexuality and labeled sex addicts, but that’s pretty different and is really just another example of the heteronormative sexual hypocrisy that is embedded in sex addiction theory.
The other thing you might notice here? These are all men in power. Men who become accustomed to using their influence and connections and wealth, feeling that they can “grab women,” and get away with it, because of who they are. Throughout history, men in power have enjoyed sexual privilege, in the form of harems, mistresses, and concubines. Today, that sexual privilege is protected by a new form of privilege: the ability to use a trip to sex addiction treatment as a way to attempt to mitigate and explain one’s reprehensible sexual choices.
It’s fascinating that Weinstein mentioned his “demons.” This hearkens back to the times when inexplicable human behaviors were in fact blamed on demonic possession. And, in those times, people who sinned were made to engage in public acts of repentance, such as wearing a “shame mask,” or a “hair shirt of suffering.” Today, the public repentance involves sex addiction summer camp, in Europe, or the hills of Tennessee, riding horses and ziplines, while doing “adventure therapy.”
Ultimately, these forms of public theater in response to sexual scandals distract us from addressing the cultural and social dynamics that excuse and minimize sexual aggression and misconduct. As long as we allow these farces to continue, we can never demand or expect sexual and moral integrity to continue, as long as they know that claims of sex addiction provide them a “get out of jail card.”