Savage Love Episode 326


Well now I just want to go watch porn, lol
Despite the assertion that sex addiction is a myth, my father was a sex addict who could only form emotional bonds with people in the context of sex. He had to bang every female coworker, he would come onto my friends when I was a teenager (prompting my 14 year old friend's dad to call child protective services), he had no friends in his life except for his fuck buddies. He was totally controlling over my mother. Eventually he moved a mistress into our house, against my mother's wishes, when my brother and I were teenagers. His addiction totally ruined our lives. At this point, I have blocked him out of my life, and have not spoken to him in ten years, because I am actually afraid of him. I feel like this issue is really trivialized by focusing on dudes looking at a lot of Internet porn. The fact that people claim to be sex addicts when they are not, doesn't mean that sex addicts do not exist. I believe that when someone compulsively indulges in any substance or activity to the detriment and destruction of their lives and the lives of others around them, it is an addiction.
Dump Won't and part amicably from Can't; letting the two mix creates Dump Culture.

I'm sorry you had to go through all you did. But it doesn't prove that sex addiction is a real thing. Maybe uncontrollable sexual behavior is how your dad's problems manifested, but their roots may lie elsewhere. It sounds like he had some issues unrelated to sex.
My husband was a compulsive cheater, also a drug addict and alcoholic. At one point, I got involved with s-anon, the support group for partners of sex addicts kinda like al anon. I realized pretty quickly that in our case, he wasn't a sex addict, he was just a cheater. However, after listening to the stories of some of the people in the group, I feel that some people are sex addicts. The parallels to other kinds of addiction are just too close. It's probable pretty rare, though - doesn't just mean someone who watches a lot of porn or cheats a lot.

As for "had some issues unrelated to sex" - in a way, that's kinda the point. It's the underlying issues that transform it into a sickness and not just "more sex than is probably good for you", which anyone can get into now and then. Like the way everyone binge drinks in college, but most people slow down when they've grown up a bit. The way you tell someone has an addiction is not when they are doing it, but when they try to stop.
I agree with Dr. whathisface about the harms of pathologizing male sexuality. BUT, you can't just say women are "playing th victim" when they feel insecure in the face of porn. I am 100% pro porn, but I am also very aware that women are told from a very young age that their inherent value is inextricably tied to their physical appearance. The patriarchy made women insecure and now it's turning around and saying we're hurting by being insecure. If you want to live in a completely sex positive society (and who doesn't) then maybe we need to start challenging the ways in which very young girls are sexualized, and then demonized for being sexualized, and then blamed again for not being sexual enough later on in life. Jack off to all the porn you want, power to you. But your wife minds not because she actually thinks you are gonna fall in love with a jpeg, but because she was taught that the moment she is no longer fuckable, she is worthless. Just keep that in mind.
But since sex does not create a chemical dependency, unlike alcohol, drugs, nicotine etc., I'm not sure if it can be treated the way sex addiction is treated (to the best of my knowledge, I don't really know) with 12-step programs and somesuch. If someone cuts themselves to alleviate stress, it does very little good to just take all their knives and scissors away from them. If someone uses sex as escapism and a way to deal with their problems, making sure they cut down the amount of sex they have probably won't have much of a lasting effect either.
It was so good to hear the update from the young woman who lost her fiancé--awful to think of how shattered she still must be, but she sounds like she has some more hope for the future, now, and I'm so glad for that. I hope she calls in again, someday.
@ 7 The whole point of twelve step programs is to get to the heart of those inner problems, and to find other ways of dealing with life - just "taking away the knives" is a minor part of the program. Sex addiction would be more like a gambling addiction - no chemical dependency, but in other ways mimicking the devastation the addiction has on a life.

My feeling would be that if it's NOT causing devastation, it's probably not an addiction - those of us without addictions think "Hmm, I'm headed for trouble if I don't cut this out" and we cut it out, or cut back, or find some way of getting in control. It's when it starts interfering not just with a monogamous marriage, but with holding a job, looking after health, maintaining relationships (and, again, not just relationships with sexual partners, but also with friends, family, co workers) that you have to say "There's something going on here and it looks like a sickness".

I remember Dan saying, years ago in a podcast, something like "If the house is on fire and you can't run outside because you have to rub one out first, then you're masturbating too much". There are people who are more or less in that state, and that's what I'd call a sex addiction - not just some guy who looks at a lot of porn and has sex or masturbates a couple of times a day. It's a term that should be only used for those whose lives have become unmanageable.

I see what you are saying, but I think Dr. Klein's bigger critique is of the "sex addiction" therapists/community that exploits the "sex addiction" label. Yes, there are people that engage in self destructive sexual behavior that you would classify as sex addicts, but labeling them as such doesn't do anything to help them, and may actually hurt them because doing so may prevent addressing the underlying problems. This is because the vast majority of sex addiction therapy is sex negative and shame based and is incapable of addressing the underlying issues. I think this is why Dr. Klein would like to do away with the sex addiction label, because as it is applied, it is a myth.
I can't really argue with this.

My husband sobered up through AA and NA. I went to alanon. We both put in hard hard work on ourselves and our fucked up ways of thinking and acting in the years before his death - and he died sober. I've got enormous respect for 12 step programs because I know how much they address underlying issues, and how little truck they have with shame - if the addict is willing to do the work, and if they are not full of those who are uninterested in being honest with themselves and with their program.

When it comes to therapy, though - most therapists haven't got a clue what an addict is when it comes to drugs and alcohol, so I'm not too surprised that they don't know their asses from a hole in the ground when it comes to sex, either.
Also... (And I am *not* saying sex addiction isn't overused as an excuse, it is), but there are tons of non chemical things to which one can be addicted. Gambling is the most obvious example. You could use those exact arguments to say gambling addiction is a fraud. "You aren't really addicted to *gambling*, you're using gambling as a means to escape your real problems." And that is a very defensible argument, but no one would say gambling addiction isn't real. You can be really addicted to something, and be using it as a means of escape, the two aren't mutually exclusive.
My argument with what the doctor is saying is that he seems to have a different experience of 12 step programs than I do. Everything he is saying a person whose sexual expression is out of control needs is what they should be getting from their program with maybe the help of a therapist. So if the 'addiction model' isn't helping these people, it seems that the problem is not that it's being called an addiction, but that they aren't getting the kind of help that any addict needs - a supportive community, better ways to deal with life stressors, and healthier and less destructive ways to meet inner needs. These people don't need to escape the "addict" label, they just need good and effective addiction treatment, which it appears they aren't getting.

And, yes, we have sex negative culture which is calling any non-mainstream sexual behaviour "addiction". So we need to look at - are these people in pain because of their sexual behaviour, or because of the way their sexual behaviour is viewed by others? Part of deciding if your life has become unmanageable - an essential part of the first step - is seeing if the problem is the life, and not you.
Loved the part of the discussion about women feeling the need to compete with women on porn. So true.

What 6 said!!!

I cringed and was totally disappointed to hear this doctor say that women are 'playing the victim' when their men are so unbeLIEVably focused on the hot women online, and not anywhere near as focused on their gf/wife. How the fuck do you expect us to feel? How would guys feel if it was the opposite?

I agree women shouldn't police their guys' porn use, or criticize them for it. I'm pro porn and watch it, myself. The difference is that men don't grow up in a world that emphasizes in strongest terms, from the day they're born, that they need to be beautiful and young, and that their value and appeal all but disappears if they stop being either. It is therefore up to the GUYS to show us - by what they say and do - that we're still attractive and that we matter as much to them as the airbrushed 18 yr olds.

I agree that guys need to do more to demonstrate their attraction to the non- airbrushed 18 year old, but women themselves share equal blame in generating the culture that emphasizes youth and beauty. In part men focus on what women choose to present. Its hard for men to see what women don't see in themselves.
Also, I think Dr. Klein's point had to do with women (of which there are many) who are insecure with their partner viewing any porn or having any attraction to the airbrushed 18 year old. I think he'd agree its a problem for men to be so obsessed with porn that it takes the place of their partner.
@6 & 15,

I also predict Dan is about to get several of angry calls in response to the doctor stating that people need to take responsibility for their own sexual attractiveness. He implies that if you don't, you're responsible for your partner finding gratification elsewhere.

I struggle with this myself. The fact is that 18 year olds are and always will be hotter than the partner you've been with for 30 years. It seems that in a completely open and honest sex-positive culture, there's an element of survival-of-the-fittest that doesn't leave much room for ugly people or getting old. How is someone supposed to strike a balance between pursuing their natural desires and suppressing them out of obligation to their partner? Is it purely a utilitarian calculus?
the woman that called in about her 6yr old daughter telling her 70 yr old grandpa that it was OK for her two boy stuffed animals to marry because they were gay - made me laugh out loud and get teary eyed at the same time! Best thing I heard all week. There is hope for the future.
@18: I think you can do both. Humans are complex and can hold multiple, even contradictory thoughts in mind. You can say "Fuck, that barely legal chick is hot" *and* "I am still ridiculously attracted to my partner of many decades, because of a long fostered mutual understanding and history." The problem comes when that second part is not articulated, and one or both partners simply assume that the other is aware. No. No one is ever just aware. If you think your wife/husband/triad of lovers is hot... TELL THEM.
Glad to see I'm not alone posting the obvious response to Dr. Klein, which is: You can just walk away from a line of cocaine, too; that doesn't mean there's no such thing as drug addiction.

Yes, sex addiction is being over-diagnosed by people who stand to profit. But like all addictions, it's the addict who should be doing the diagnosing. It's not about what you're doing, to whom, or how often. It's about what it's doing to you.

Dan, your analogy to the former meth-head who switched to BDSM is a perfect example of addict brain chemistry. The BDSM isn't just metaphorically replacing the meth; it's physiologically replacing it. We addicts are a quart low on dopamine, so we give ourselves brain booster shots just to feel normal. Skydiving? Bring it on. Auto-erotic asphyxiation? Sure, why not. Vodka martini? Charming idea.

The catch is, by swapping substances or behaviors, you leave the brain's broken reward center... broke. Masturbating until you draw blood may not cause the social havoc that, say, shooting heroin does, but that doesn't make it a good idea.

So rather than blanket debunking sex addiction as a concept, how about calling for a clearer understanding of this and all "process" addictions. They exist; ask any compulsive gambler.

You still are getting addiction and compulsive disorders mixed up. People with compulsive disorders are in many cases are prone to addictions, but not all addicts have compulsive disorders. People that move from one addiction/thrill to another need to be treated for compulsive disorders not just their addiction du jour. This is the problem with "sex addiction" in that its a compulsive disorder that is typically only treated by ignoring and suppressing potentially normal sexual urges which is not an effective way to solve the problem and can just produce another set of problems. I think his point is that in order to call for a clearer understanding of "sex addiction" you first need to state that its not an addiction so that treatment extends beyond just its sexual manifestation.
@21 Well it is safe to say that recognizing sex addiction as n addiction is still a hot debate in psychiatry. The upcoming newly revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will not include sex addiction as an officially recognized disorder. That is not to say that people don't engage in compulsive sexual activities that cause them distress in their lives. In those specific cases treatment should be available to those people.

Agree. "Sex addicts" are people with real problems, but if those problems are only viewed through the lens of abnormal sexual behavior, they won't get the treatment they really need.
I realized at one point in the conversation with Dr. Marty Klein that, if every time he said "sex", "masterbation", or "porn", you substituted the word with "alcohol", it would be painfully obvious that he was describing alcoholism. It would feel ridiculous for anyone to describe drinking in those terms and deny the existence of alcoholism. It's also ridiculous for Dr. Klein to deny the existence of sex addiction.

I understand why some people do not like the term "sex addiction". Many prefer "sexual compulsive disorder". Personally, that just feels like arguing over semantics. The truth is that a problem exists. There are people who need help. And Dan, I fear that those people are less likely to get the help they need because you insist on spreading misinformation.

Sex is no more about sex addiction than alcohol is about alcoholism. Take away the dopamine-booster-of-choice and you'll still find a person battling a lot of emotional issues. Twelve step groups of all varieties are all about addressing those emotional issues. No one in these groups EVER says that all you have to do to be fine and healthy again is to stop drinking, stop snorting coke, stop gambling, stop masturbating, etc. etc. No group ever says that! None! If they dod, they'd be called One Step groups. Beating addiction is always about dealing with emotional and mental issues.

Now, I will agree that there are some flaws in the current sex addiction model, but unlike Dr. Klein, I am not willing to throw the baby out with the bath water and claim that sex addiction does not exist. It definitely exists. But the model developed by Patrick Carnes needs to be fixed. For one thing, Carnes insistence that all partners of sex addicts are "co-addicts" is an enormous fallacy and tends to do much more harm than good. And that's just one issue. So if a psychologist (preferably with a lot of experience with addiction and compulsive disorders) wants to criticize issues such as that, s/he has my support.

But the point is not to say the problem doesn't exist. The point is to recognize that a problem *does* exist and develop better, healthier ways to address it.
To the woman with the two gay brothers and the homophobic parents:

I think the reason you're having a lot of feelings might not be your parents' homophobic behavior specifically, which, as Dan pointed out, is relatively mild, so much as to the idea that your parents are dicks. I don't know anything about what your relationship with your parents was like before your brothers came out, but my guess is that if it was good, you have some grieving to do for that good relationship.

I know that when I realized my dad was a narcissist and, consequently, a manipulative asshole, it was really, really hard to come to terms with, because our relationship was great, if dysfunctional in hindsight, throughout my childhood. I'd essentially lost that father, and gained an asshole.

Anyway, I bring this up because it might be helpful for you to grieve that relationship via talking with a counselor. Having a tough skin is certainly good and necessary, but in the meantime you sound pretty broken up and I bet it would help to talk through it, focussing on your disillusionment and loss rather than the concrete details of exactly what your parents have actually done.

If that is what's going on for you. Of course, I can't know for sure. Just a suggestion.
@ 25, yeah, it seems to me here that if those diagnosed as sex addicts are getting useless treatment, the problem is the treatment, not the diagnosis. The 'addiction model" that the doctor kept talking about bore very little resemblance to what I've been watching addicts respond to for the last ten years that I've been involved with 12 step programs and addiction counselling, not to mention my own journey in a 12 step program.
I dated a "sex addict" for four years. It was a painful and infuriating four years, because as much as I tried to understand him and forgive him for the countless ways he hurt me and betrayed my trust, I could never get past the fact that he was using sex addiction to get a pass on his bad behavior. He never took responsibility for his actions. He always blamed his "addiction". And that just seemed ridiculous to me. "I can't help myself, I'm an addict." Bullshit! He had many opportunities to make different choices, but he repeatedly chose to hookup with the random stranger from Craigslist, or someone in the booth at the porn shop, or the woman he picked up at the nude beach. And he would apologize, but it was a qualified apology... "I'm sorry I hurt you, but I'm an addict."

I read the article Dan mentioned and one of things that really rang true with me is the notion that the addiction model starts with admission that you are powerless, while the therapy model starts with taking responsibility for your actions.

His behavior was compulsive and selfish, but not addictive.

"It's just a stream of electrons." Yeah yeah, good luck to those dependent on electroejaculation devices.
I have to say I'm disappointed by Dan's comments on 'sex addition', along with his special guest. Seems to me that they were calling bullshit on '12 step' programmes rather than the concept of 'sex addition' and 'porn addiction'. Yet they kept saying that these 'addictions' were bullshit.

Throughout the piece they both acknowledged how many people report problems and how these are caused by emotional problems. YES! That's all anyone is saying. That we label them 'sex addiction' and 'porn addiction' might be inaccurate (are they really addictions? The medical journals have been updated to include them) but we have to call it something.

The battle is to make the distinction between those who harness this problem to promote a sex-negative message, and those who are really having a problem and need help. Time and time again, Dan and his guest suggest solutions to the problem that many people in this area promote to help individuals and couples who are struggling.

So I call bullshit on Dan Savage! He acknowledged the problem, rejects '12 step' (me too!) and correctly identified the focus to getting over it. If it were truly bunkum then what was the conversation about emotional causes all about?

And finally - what was the nonsense about women? Come on! If he had any idea what pain is caused when a female partner endures a male partner rejecting her for hours of online trawling, he might know that blaming her is (and yes, I'm going here), creepily reminiscent of those who blame rape victims for the way they dress. Bad form from Mr Savage.
I saw the case of the woman whose sex with her boyfriend has become "boring" in a different way from Dan. She talked to her boyfriend about what to do to improve their sex lives. The boyfriend's suggestions (anal, threesome), were very specific answers. There are well-known steps one can take to make those things happen. The woman is working on these things, but they haven't happened yet. The woman asked for him to be "more passionate and rough" in bed. These are vague requests that involve elaboration that may or may not have happened. He may feel like he's already being passionate with her. He may be worried about hurting her, or taking things too far and betraying her trust. He may not know exactly what she means. Should he slap her, pull her hair, hold her down, jump into sex quickly without letting her get warmed up first, or just toss her around a bit? Being asked to be rougher in bed is a tricky thing if people don't explain exactly what they want and where the line is between sexy dominance and disturbing violence.

If a sexual partner told me that I needed to be more passionate, I would feel like I'd been accused of letting the spark die. Like it was my fault for the sex being boring. I might feel a bit hurt and insecure. I might try things in bed that seemed to ME like they were working, but to my partner like there was no change at all. If I were threatened with a BREAKUP if I didn't find some more passion for my partner? I think my sex drive would run and hide, and the relationship would be dead. This boyfriend may not be consciously ignoring his girlfriend's requests. He may just feel insecure and not know how to proceed.

I think the caller could benefit from talking to her boyfriend about EXACTLY what she wants and making more specific demands. What does rough sex look like to her? Maybe she could find a hot scene in a movie, porn, or erotica and share it with her boyfriend as inspiration. Maybe she should tell him specific actions he could take that would turn her on (being thrown against a wall, being held down and tossed around, for example), and also the things that turn her off (having her face fucked, being penetrated before she's ready, other rough things that may not be so appealing).

It sounds like the boyfriend may not know where to begin, and he could be worried about being TOO violent with his girlfriend and destroying her trust in him. Some more specific requests, or elaborating on what sort of rough sex is appealing and what goes too far, will help this woman get what she wants.
A lot of excellent comments here about the segment featuring Dr. Klein.

I'm a great fan of Dan Savage. He's generally very insightful into the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. He takes the trouble to be well-informed and overall I view him as a force for good in our society.

But his extravagant praise of Dr. Klein's glib and intellectually lazy arguments showed a deficiency of critical thinking that was disappointing.
A lot of excellent comments here about the segment featuring Dr. Klein.

I'm a great fan of Dan Savage. He's generally very insightful into the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. He takes the trouble to be well-informed and overall I view him as a force for good in our society.

But his extravagant praise of Dr. Klein's glib and intellectually lazy arguments showed a deficiency of critical thinking that was disappointing.
Does it make me a sex addict if I'm surfing porn while listening to the Savage Love podcast??!?
It's time for women to get their collective heads out of their asses with regards to male sexuality, and porn in particular. My favorite episodes of the LoveCast are when Dan Savage calls bullshit.
Love this blog. Great info and enjoyed all the info!
i dont really know about this sex adiction or something but me and my girlfriend we make love every single day 2 twice a day first in the morning while we r in the shower and second when we go to sleep at night

Seems perfectly normal to me, @27. The only time you should even consider the idea of a sex addiction would be if your sexual behaviour was having a real and persistent negative impact on your life - can't hold a job, or keep friends because you are always fucking. An hour or two a day - hell, most people watch more TV than that.
@oohlookasquirrel (#31): my thinking exactly.

If it is indeed that the boyfriend "can't" or "won't", then that is definitely DTMFA territory. But if I heard a request to "be more rough in bed" and that was all I heard, I wouldn't have a clue what to do with that. Not the first damn clue, because my sexuality doesn't run there.

Now, I'm not saying that it CAN'T go there...or that I WOULDN'T go there...but if a partner were ever to make such a request of me, I would really need some specifics to make that work properly. And I would also need some patience while I fucked it up a few times, learned, and gradually got better at it.

And before anyone brings up any nonsense along the lines of "Well, she shouldn't have to tell him. If he were a good lover, he would know. It shouldn't be up to her to draw him a road map": horse shit. It is indeed up to her to articulate what she wants, because no one else can (or damn well should) do it for her. A good lover doesn't just know things about his/her partner instinctively. A good lover watches, listens, asks questions, and learns.

It may well be that this guy is guilty of failing to ask the right questions and/or of failing to listen to what she is saying. If so, DTMFA. Abso-fucking-lutely.

But she needs to do a good job of asking before she can accuse him of failing to respond. If her request to him was as vague as her words on the podcast were, there is no way that the boyfriend has enough information to give her what she is looking for. No way, no how.