The discussion around sex addiction and promiscuity has featured heavily in the media recently, mostly due to the release of Steve McQueen’s latest film ‘Shame’, where Michael Fassbender plays sex addict Brandon whose carefully controlled life is ruined when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) arrives unannounced to stay.
The film shows us a man so wrapped up in his own addiction that he is unable to live a ‘normal lifestyle’, and a man who certainly cannot form any emotional relationships with either men or women.
The film has been described as ‘painfully accurate’ by a recovering sex-addict writing for The Guardian last week.
The director has described his reason for doing the film as: ‘No one was talking about it. It was a story screaming to be told. It is an extraordinarily important issue.’ Although seen as an important issue, does sex addiction actually exist?
Dr David Ley writing in The Telegraph thinks not, saying that sex addiction is not, and is unlikely to ever be, added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Dr Ley goes on to say that by applying the term ‘sex addict’ to yourself, it manages to absolve you from any responsibility for your actions, and so is justifying your promiscuity. If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, you face serious consequences when quitting your addiction, which will affect your health.
Dr Ley says that this just won’t happen to anyone who stops having sex, which removes any idea of addiction being part of someone’s life. A genuine sex addict would not be able to simply stop having sex and not suffer any consequences, as sex has become such a major part of their lifestyle. When looking at a figure such as Russell Brand, who is a self-described ex-sex addict, what makes him a sex addict as opposed to someone who is promiscuous?
Brand discusses in his autobiography ‘My Booky Wook’ about his sex addiction: “Addiction, by definition, is a compulsive behaviour that you cannot control or relinquish, in spite of its destructive consequences. And if my life proves nothing else, it demonstrates that this formula can be applied to sex.”
Unlike promiscuity, sex addiction is something you simply cannot control. This term can certainly be applied to the character of Brandon in ‘Shame’. Brendan O’Neill writing in The Telegraph last week would describe Brandon as nothing more than a “promiscuous loser”, and so called sex addicts as nothing more than people who “doll up their immaturity as an ‘addiction’, and plead for public pity as they tell us they have a psychological or therapeutic impairment that requires the urgent intervention of an expert.”
This harsh description, again posits that sex is something that people can control in any circumstances, so you cannot in anyway be a sex addict. The comedian Jeff Leach recently completed a documentary on sex addiction for BBC3 as part of ‘sex season’ called ‘Confessions of a sex addict’. In looking at his past sexual history of 300+ women, (all of whose names he keeps on a list on his computer) Leach looks at what is making him follow this type of lifestyle.
In meeting up with past sexual partners and discussing his issues, he can see how this lifestyle isn’t one he wants to continue with, and he resolves to find someone he can form an emotional and romantic relationship with.
His honest discussion of his poor sexual lifestyle shows us someone who is either extremely promiscuous or a sex addict, depending on your own thoughts on the issue. However, whatever he is labeled as, this lifestyle is clearly destructive and not one he wants to lead any longer.
Many people who are promiscuous and enjoy one night stands, as students have a reputation for doing, would not describe themselves as an addict, just as someone who enjoys being promiscuous.
It’s when it controls our entire lifestyle and takes over our normal functioning that it becomes an addiction.
In the end, isn’t telling a sex addict to stop having sex the same as telling an alcoholic to stop being thirsty?