Columns Dec 12, 2012 at 4:00 am

As One Is Wont to Do


mydriasis: I would agree with you that being in a sexually compulsive relationship is not the same thing as being a sex addict. However, I was in therapy at the time, and my therapist, convinced that anyone who drinks alcohol regularly must be an alcoholic, and that by the same token, I must be a sex addict, pushed me to attend an SLAA meeting (sex and love addicts anonymous). I sat in a room and I heard a lot of people describe themselves as "addicts" for behavior like "falling in love really easily," or "looking at porn and masturbating EVERY day (!)" (bonus points if you can correctly guess the gender of the people who were "guilty" of the above behaviors), and I thought, "this is absurd."

Lest you think that this example is an anomaly, I later had a boyfriend who told me that when he told his therapist that he had twice paid for sex, she decreed he was a sex addict and ordered him to go to an SLAA meeting, too. (These two experiences took place on opposite sides of the country.) I'd certainly like to hope that these were isolated examples of people who have been trained to see addiction everywhere, but both of us were labeled ridiculously, and my ex-boyfriend was shamed, as well.

So yes: I have a personal bias here. But we live in a culture where everything is called addiction or mental illness (this is the term you used @96), without any empirical criteria being applied. It turns into "this sounds weird to me, so I'm going to call it illness." This, I think, does a disservice to genuine mental illness. My stance against this attitude does not mean I deny the existence of genuine addiction or mental illness, or look down on people suffering from either one. It means I want an objective basis for the diagnosis.

"would you define yourself as being *addicted*?"

On the savage love comment section? Not a fucking chance in hell.

However, I wonder if you read the rest of my sentence and still felt a need to ask:

"I can tell you that without a doubt, sex is more addictive in my books"

I can't speak to SLAA but I can speak to SAA (sex addicts anonymous), and from what I know it's definitely a different picture

For one example, someone quite close to me was court-ordered to be in SAA due to their criminal conviction. This person did identify as a sex addict (independent of the criminal aspect which was tenuously a sex crime at best) and said that the people in SAA were pretty messed up.

Keep in mind this is someone who had to register as a sex offender, so they're not someone, in my opinion who's apt to run around fainting and clutching pearls just because someone masturbates daily.

I honestly and sincerely encourage you to look into the experiences of people who feel that they are sex addicts before you go ahead and assume that everyone was labeled by a puritanical shrink (or wife). The negative repercussions can be pretty awful.
@mydriasis: Yes, I read the rest of your sentence. I reiterate that you said you had experienced both sex and addictive drugs. One can experience something which has addictive properties and potential and not become addicted. That seems to be your situation vis a vis drugs. If you believe yourself to have been truly addicted to sex (which is defined, I'm not sure how. You have said you need to have it and you don't feel satisfied by masturbation, so it isn't just orgasm you need), then, assuming you are still having sex, do you consider yourself addicted?

You have mentioned that when not in a relationship, you are very picky about whom you hook up with, looking for very specific features and a narrowly-defined aesthetic ideal. But earlier, you suggested that a sex addict, in order to get his needs met, would lower his standards significantly. Perhaps you are just a very fortunate addict, and can pick and choose, and therefore don't ever experience the desperation of a true addict who can't get his first, second, or third choice drug?

If you only characterize the sex you have had when you weren't in a monogamous relationship as evidence of your addiction, would you describe yourself as no longer in the clutches of your addiction, now that you are in a relationship? Is the addictive quality tied to the casual nature of hookup sex for you?

Are you in denial about your addiction, if you are continuing to have sex even in the context of your monogamous, committed relationship, given that the physical acts of sex you engage in must be pretty much exactly the same as when you were not involved with a boyfriend, but hooking up with men you didn't care about?

If you are "addicted" to sex, how can you have it still and be anything but an addict? People "in recovery" don't still drink or use drugs. They believe that they need to abstain, not just start using differently.

You sound as though you want to identify with addiction, but I think you're just a woman who likes to have sex a lot.
@mydriasis: I'm not denying there are people with real problems of sexual compulsion (to me, the word addiction has physical and physiological connotations including withdrawl, so I won't use it, but for your purposes, you can substitute "compulsion" for "addiction," if you like); I'm just saying that the label gets tossed around by anyone who either wants to claim it for himself or is able to be put on someone by someone who has a different definition of what's "normal."

You seem hell-bent on misunderstanding me. I see virtually nothing in the world in black-and-white.
@nocutename: Gee, thanks!

LOL at the sexual frustration comment. Pretty much the only things I've managed to accomplish on this day of procrastination were eating my wife's pussy, getting a truly outstanding blowjob, and posting here. Oh, and I also shaved in anticipation of the first item.

No, please, save your applause.
@100 No one is so lazy they neglect someone who is the light of their life. I bet all neglectful spouses feel neglected themselves (though probably in a different arena): "he never listens to me so I don't feel like having sex with him"; or alternatively, "she thinks I'm fat so I don't want to ever get naked with her."

Like I said, I'm definitely not going to offer myself up to SL as a human example of whether or not sex addiction exists. So I'm going to decline to answer those questions.
@EricaP: I'll grant that laziness doesn't apply to most women, although I don't think it's uncommon for a woman to perceive her man as lazy (doesn't help with housework, unemployed and not looking for a job), which could feel like neglect.

But I disagree that neglect is always a two-way thing. People can get wrapped up in aspects of their lives at the expense of their marriage - their career, motherhood, training for triathlons, rowing crew (which means getting up a 4am and therefore going to bed immediately after you put the kids to sleep), and, if you're the OCD sort, rigid adherence to daily routines, rigid adherence to sexual routines on those occasions you manage to fit sex in, spending your energy managing anxiety, and getting caught up in minutia that could just as easily be ignored.

And sometimes, when years worth of efforts to change things have failed, keeping in mind that change is inherently difficult if you're the OCD sort, those people need a wake up call - perhaps an infidelity or the threat of divorce - to realize that their marriage is extremely important to them, that they can no longer take it for granted, and that given the choice between making some modest adjustments and having their world turned upside down, those modest adjustments suddenly seem pretty attractive, perhaps even something they want for themselves as well as for their spouse. And then they live happily ever after.

Not that I have any personal experience with any of this. :-)
Ms Erica @73 and follow-ups - "Plenty of blame to go around" feels partly right but doesn't quite sit well. Blame implies excuse. I'd be more inclined to say that the explanation is usually multi-faceted.

And the best response to the discussion being centred around female allure might be to point out that the most apt Magic Wand reference is that it just hasn't been waved before men still thought by themselves and others to be uniformly straight, but I shall refrain.
The only time my dick droops is when there is perfume OR THE LIKE in the air. Just FYI.
@109: Oops, seems I confusingly jumped back and forth between "they/their" and "you/your". Should just be "they/their".

i always assumed that seandr was female - probably because of the misogynist rants.
i guess i must have missed a few clues. :-)

on the subject of addictions... over here, it is defined as a subset of 'compulsive behaviour disorder'. and the establishment laughs at any attempt to call it an addiction.
i've always assumed that the label of 'sex addiction' is all about slut-shaming and sex negativity // being a twat and not taking responsibility for your behaviour.

i'd also like to challenge the concept that 'addict' is a valid (or maybe just useful...)identity construct. having an addiction is like having the flu. or for some(not trying to trivialise) more like a cancer diagnosis. sure, it kills some people. and for some people it becomes a 'living with it' situation. but on the whole, many people go through it, have a wake-up moment, deal with it and move on with their lives. it just not that useful to base your life/ identity around oh i had this awkward moment with a drug. or, i was really unwell at some point. or, for that matter, i've had severe depression in the past.
why? why would anyone do this? it seems terribly self-indulgent and dysfunctional.
@74 & @99: I remember a news blurb about that! Ig!
@109, I have personal experience with it too, as you probably remember. And I think it's better for the chances of the marriage to mention that you're having thoughts of infidelity or of divorce, rather than to get caught after cheating for a year, or after having moved a bunch of money into a secret separate bank account. If there's no response to the conversation, then action may need to be taken, of course. But most people are afraid of the hard conversation and go straight to the cheating or secret talks with a lawyer. That's what I would like to change.

@111 lol
@EricaP: Oh dear. Yes the conversations should happen first, with the help of marital therapy if necessary.

Indeed, this would be a good thing to change. Some of us men (is it misogynistic of me to single one gender out? feel free to reverse or ignore genders if it suits you, i'm just speaking from my experience.) aren't exactly gifted when it comes to advocating for our needs, and might even feel discomfort and shame at the idea of having needs at all, particularly when they aren't being met. Thus, even when those conversations do happen, they may not be recognizable as such, so the results only reinforce the shame and discomfort, perhaps adding a few additional layers, and the whole thing takes on the feel of a hellish merri-go-round.

But taking action? That's firmly within our comfort zone.

I'm endlessly fascinated by the dialog between men and women, in both the personal and public realms. I'd like to think my contributions might help move things along, but alas, evidence seems to be to the contrary.

Thanks for summing up the straight line between ignorance and lack of compassion so beautifully.
@107: "No one is so lazy they neglect someone who is the light of their life. I bet all neglectful spouses feel neglected themselves"

Or maybe a whole bunch of different things, all presumably legitimate in themselves, pile up one after the other after the other ("sorry, gotta finish my term paper; sorry, on my period; sorry, my sciatica is acting up again; sorry, you really don't want to catch my cold; sorry, just so tired after the long day the kids put me through; sorry, period cramps AGAIN, has it really been a whole month already?; sorry, out late tonight for book club; sorry, sciatica AGAIN, I just don't understand why it keeps acting up; sorry, midterm presentation for class; et cetera) until gee, six months has gone by and your spouse wonders why not only have you not had any sex together, but that you apparently haven't even missed it very much.

Yes, people do indeed get wrapped up in other roles such as grad student or mother or high-powered executive to the point where they forget about the role of lover. To imply that it must be that the person being neglected must have been doing some neglecting of their own is unfair; and to imply that if that person had truly been the light of their life the other person never would have let the neglect go on so long is insulting to both of them. Gee, if you had just been a better light of his life, he never would have neglected you.
@mydriasis - there's no lack of compassion, at all. and for the record, all those things i mentioned fall firmly in my own experience, most of it in my personal experience.

i'm simply saying that i don't believe that making these things 'identity markers' rather than 'experiences' is positive or useful. and i'm pretty sure it is in many cases directly damaging to the ability of people to move on with their lives.

someone said to me recently something like - but you need to think of yourself as a disabled person now, even if it's not permanent....
why? how does that help me? it doesn't. all it does is get in the way of my recovery.
@avast, we're not going to sort out the blame in an imaginary marriage. And in real marriages it's not helpful to focus on assigning blame. I like vennominon's phrasing: "the explanation is usually multi-faceted." Either move forward together, each person probably giving more than they get until they're back to a healthy partnership, or admit that it's not working out.
Teach me to read on Thursday... Yes, plugs can be had for cheap, but save up for the good stuff, Ox Balls (whatever shape and color you want) or Square Peg (comfortable enough to insert all day). Mr. S carries both and they've got a holiday free shipping special going for another day or two.
on the subject of addictions... over here, it is defined as a subset of 'compulsive behaviour disorder'. and the establishment laughs at any attempt to call it an addiction.
i've always assumed that the label of 'sex addiction' is all about slut-shaming and sex negativity // being a twat and not taking responsibility for your behaviour.

i'd also like to challenge the concept that 'addict' is a valid (or maybe just useful...)identity construct. having an addiction is like having the flu. or for some(not trying to trivialise) more like a cancer diagnosis. sure, it kills some people. and for some people it becomes a 'living with it' situation. but on the whole, many people go through it, have a wake-up moment, deal with it and move on with their lives. it just not that useful to base your life/ identity around oh i had this awkward moment with a drug. or, i was really unwell at some point. or, for that matter, i've had severe depression in the past.
why? why would anyone do this? it seems terribly self-indulgent and dysfunctional.

Dripping with compassion.
compassion and sympathy are not synonymous. sympathy is completely useless if you don't want to be defined by these dysfunctions.

calling it what it is does not indicate a lack of compassion. it indicates a frustration with enabling constructions, and a desire for actual positive discourse / change.

for whatever reason, i feel that you are disregarding the point i am actually making, in order to manufacture a perspective which does not exist. i'm a little confused by this, as you usually exhibit good logic, and rational discourse. i'm guessing i've pushed some button of yours, for which i apologise. that is never my intention. i suggest you take a deep breath, and read what i said again. what i actually said, not what you think i may have meant.
@124: Defining yourself as an addict is an enabling construction?

Seems to me what it enables is for you to admit to yourself that you are one of those people for whom Substance X or Behavior Y actually fucks with your brain chemistry, and therefore the best thing to do is just stay completely away because you physically can't handle it. Trying to pretend that you just got a little out of control back there, but now you have your willpower once again in hand, enables, if anything, relapses.

That said, I agree that there are various ways to abuse the term.

There are those who are quick to wrap themselves in the mantle of addiction, because it gives them a face-saving out. "I'm a sex addict, but I'm in treatment now" is a lot more sympathetic than "I'm an asshole who not only should have known better, but who did know better, and cheated anyway." I think it's entirely possible that there are genuine sex addicts -- but I think the vast majority of the people who show up in the tabloids and subsequently go into sex addition treatment are simply assholes dodging responsibility.

There are also a lot of people who are labeled addicts by someone else, not because the truly are, but because _somebody_ benefits from getting them into a program.
Today's Dear Margo column has a fun etiquette question. What do you say when a relative comes out to the family? Everyone had already guessed. Do you say "we already knew"? Do you say "congratulations"? Do you act surprised?
@mydriasis: However, I wonder if you read the rest of my sentence and still felt a need to ask:

Intrigued, full of questions, dying to hear more...
@113 "many people go through it, have a wake-up moment, deal with it and move on with their lives"

Wow... I don't even know where to start with that... How about I start with the fact that only 5% of alcoholics manage to actually sober up without falling back into drinking? And no, that doesn't mean the rest of them sober up after they've fallen off the wagon two or three times, it means the rest of them most likely fall off the wagon six of seven times before they finally give up and die of liver-disease.

Many people with addictions never manage to pull themselves out of it (whether it be physiological or psychological) and those that do continue to live with the addiction for the rest of their lives. There's a reason that people at AA meetings introduce themselves with "Hi, my name is XXX and I am an alcoholic", it's to remind themselves that they are alcoholics whether they are sober or not, and that staying sober means always ordering the water at restaurants and never sharing a beer after work for the rest of their lives. You don't simply move on from being addict.
Flared base

"this isn't something they go over in med school."

Must have been a pretty boring med school.


What goes in must come out? You'd think so. Some people do get a bit carried away diameter-wise. And as there is only so much internal force (I believe the term is peristalsis) available, its always a good idea to leave a handhold available.
@126: Pass the gravy, please.
@122: Sex addiction is a term invented by lawyers and their clients to milk the media.

Addiction (the definition I like) is continuing to engage in some behavior in the face of negative consequences.

So yes, it is possible to be a "sex addict". Which is more of an emotional, psychological or social problem than physiological. But there are people who engage in such behavior. In some cases, its a value judgment. I might engage in activities that others judge to be destructive (polygamy being one that society assumes will destroy families and marriages) and be labeled as an 'addict'. But as long as I properly consider the costs and handle the consequences (which may include separating myself from that judgmental portion of society), its not an addiction.

The lawyers and media have a vested interest in creating artificial consequences to further their agendas.
And then there's also today's Ask Amy on poly in-laws.
@113: Addict is useful, as an identity, to remind people that they really can't backslide. People who have been sober for some length of time often have a little voice in their heads saying "Oh, you've been so good at controlling it, there's no way you're an addict anymore, you can drink in moderation like everyone else, one drink isn't a big deal."

And you know, sometimes people can change and drink in moderation, but I don't consider that alcoholism. Alcoholics take that one drink and it rapidly becomes a relapse. And that's why alcoholics identify as "recovering", and not as "cured." Because even if they're sober, they're never going to be like other people, who can drink in moderation. It's useful as an identity because it reminds them that they can't do what everyone else does because they are different.

I suppose it would be good if things like alcoholism weren't classed with things like, say sex "addiction", because sex addiction is a lot more like compulsive eating or something- the goal isn't to stop the behavior altogether, but to put it in a moderate range.

As for whether sex addiction is real, I don't know if it's an addictive behavior, but there are people who have sex compulsions that get in the way of living an ordinary, functional life, and those people have a real problem. Whether or not we call it "sex addiction" seems like a semantic issue.
@ alguna rubia

Just semantics?
Tell that to the civil union crowd.

There is no scientific reason to call it a 'compulsion' rather than an 'addiction' except to delegitimize sex addiction and minimize the damage and pain it can cause.

It's a shame that people* show no interest in educating themselves on addiction before forming such tenacious opinions, and it's a shame that people think the way celebrities do something is an accurate reflection of how it plays out with the rest of us.

When I was younger I had a friend who was a heroin addict.

He started with codeine, he moved on to percocets, then the stronger oxycodone pills, then morpine, then heroin. One day I was sitting in his bedroom talking to him about how his father was addicted to food. And he didn't say "pfft, food addiction, as if, it's just an excuse to get fat and not be responsible". He didn't say "food addiction? please, there's no such thing as withdrawal when you eat a salad" (and he had experienced full blown heroin withdrawal himself). You know what he said?

"I feel bad for him"

Because, he explained, when he wanted to give up heroin, he could just give up heroin, quit entirely and cut it out of his life. But food addicts (and any reasonable person would argue, sex addicts) need to go through life getting little tastes of their addiction and avoid going off the deep end. In fact the people who like to blow off and delegitimize less concrete addictions are typically those who know nothing about addiction on any personal, emotional or intellectual level.

*I'm not directing this all at you, but I've seen bits of this in nearly every post on the subject.
@130: Well answered! I like it.
Reading JMT's letter, Dan's response, plus all the other comments on this issue, I have finally arrived at an overwhelmingly powerful insight:

Some people have too much time on their hands.
@106 Seandr

That sounds like a perfect day of procrastination.
I am thoroughly enjoying re-reading through all of this!!
Great idea, Erica! I, too, shall read more and post less---
especially if it's a topic I know little about or have little
experience with. Geez, sometimes I feel like the oldest
poster in the group!

Thank you, Dan, EricaP, anklosaur, mydriasis, nocutename,
for sharing very helpful sex related information.
@29 (re @23): Lol!!
Dan, great YouTube video on marriage equality!!!!
"or, if one's butt plug failed to dislodge and take flight, cause one to simply explode."

Shouldn't they put that little label on all butt-plugs then? The one they use on hair spray and paint, kind of a triangle with radiating lines from an explosion? Maybe with the words "fart hazard" underneath? ;-)
Hey--I know! What about a gas tax?
@143 lol
@135, right on.
God, seandr, I hope you're a troll.

Your partner neglecting you doesn't give you a valid excuse to cheat on them. It gives you a reason to leave them, not an excuse to cheat. And I really think that's all it is - an excuse. I don't believe that naturally monogamous, honest, loyal men and women suddenly cheat because their partner has been cold lately or because they're horny or because some attractive stranger waves a magic wand. Those are all excuses people already predisposed to cheating use to rationalize their behavior.

Because cheating and neglect, or cheating and denial of sex, aren't equivalent. Neglect or denial of sex might make you feel lonely, insecure or pissed off, but that's the worst of it. Your blue balls are not going to actually fall off. But if your partner fully believes you to be monogamous, and you cheat on them and then have sex with them again before 9 months have passed and you've been tested, then in addition to the emotional pain you've caused (which may indeed be equivalent to the emotional pain they caused with their neglect), you risk giving them an incurable and potentially deadly STD they didn't agree to risk getting. You are taking a risk with their body, health and life without their permission, and I think that's a lot more fucked up than emotionally or sexually neglecting you.

So if my lover neglects me sexually or gets a lot fatter and lazier than when I met him, am I allowed to sabotage his car in a fit of rage and just hope it won't cause any injuries? I mean, it seems like I should be allowed to do that if I'm just supposed to accept that if I ever get lazy or disappoint him, he's entitled to risk my health. And I'm not very affected by "magic wands," but I sure do have a temper and am affected by rage, so.... All's fair in love and war I guess?

Honestly, cheaters just need to grow the fuck up. There are plenty of people who are open to open or poly relationships. Date one of them if you're so easily tempted by magic wands (general you, seandr, not assuming you are speaking about yourself.) Or have the balls to confront and leave people who are not satisfying you. You really shouldn't be in an adult relationship if you can't handle either of those options and just continue to make excuses for your unethical, dishonest behavior instead of trying to improve/avoid it in the future.
@modernbar: Because cheating and neglect, or cheating and denial of sex, aren't equivalent.

I disagree. Withholding affection can be as hurtful as cheating, even more so based on my experience of both. The main difference is that the former is passive (not doing something) whereas the latter is active, so people like you have an easier time assigning blame and moral outrage to the cheaters.

A relationship is a contract, and when someone is acting in bad faith, fidelity is no more of an entitlement than sex. If one partner unilaterally changes the terms of a contract by putting up a wall, they can hardly complain when the other secretly responds by slipping out the back door.

And your view that ending a relationship is always preferable to cheating is equivalent to me suggesting that one should always end a relationship before making the decision to withhold affection indefinitely from one's partner. With some relationships, yes, putting the relationship out of its misery may be the humane thing to do. Other relationships can experience renewal after a period of distance and crisis.

Ultimately, it's up to those in the relationship to sort out. Extreme cases aside, I believe my primary moral obligation as a human isn't to wag my finger about the evils of cheating but rather to never presume to fully understand another person's marriage.

P.S. I gotta say, I encountered quite the magic wand this weekend (I behaved myself). Two days later I'm still crushing hard. Fucking monogamy...
Dan, you used the term "buttsore." This sounds like the newly popular "butthurt." Both suggest to me that anal rape is being referenced as a parallel to humiliation. Am I wrong about this?

As someone who was anally raped, I can assure you that it is excruciatingly painful, totally unlike consensual anal sex, frightening, etc etc. I can also assure you that feeling disgruntled is not at the top of the list of reactions I had to it.

When your general idiot uses one of these terms I am irritated. When you use it, Dan, as a popular sex columnist and advocate, I am hurt. It's possible I've misunderstood, but then so too have a lot of people, I'd guess.
@150: Being anally raped (or raped, period) is a horrifying experience.
I'm really sorry that happened to you, and hope that you can heal from such a nightmare. You and many others are in my thoughts and prayers.

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