What does it mean when one of the people you have sex with, apropos of nothing, suggests you write about your battle with sex addiction?
Okay, yes, I have a sex blog. I’ve definitely exceeded the average number of sexual partners. Going a week without a fix is an anomaly.
But I don’t think I’m a sex addict. I just like to fuck. And think about fucking. And write about fucking.
I realize that “I’m not a sex addict, I just like to fuck” kinda sounds like “I’m not an alcoholic, I just like to drink.”
Addiction, properly defined, probably exists. And with it, denial.
I like to get fucked and fucked up. And, yes, that likely colors my view.
So between my self-serving need to justify my behavior and my liberal white guilt need to end the drug war, I’ve looked further into the science of addiction than your average girl. I’m also a huge nerd.
After poking around, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s likely that a lot of what we think we know about addiction is mostly superstition.
Starting with how we define addiction.
One definition of addiction posits that someone is addicted to something when they lose control over their choices in pursuit of it. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, aka the scientific arm of the drug war, claims drugs cause “brain changes” that “challenge an addicted person’s self-control and hamper his or her ability to resist intense impulses to take drugs.”
Meh. Recent experiments don’t support the view that addicts have less self-control or are less rational than non-addicts. This view of addicts as sub-human also has disturbing unintended consequences. And let’s not forget that the case for free will period is pretty weak.
Okay so what is addiction? It’s probably more when people do something even though it interferes with their life. The dad who gets fired for his drinking. The daughter who steals from her mom for money for meth.
But then, taken literally, everything I do “interferes with my life.” Where, exactly, is the line between “interference” and “my life?” If my life is having group sex while I shoot heroin it cannot really be said that drugs and sex are interfering with my life.
So what do we really mean when we say someone “can’t stop” or that some habit is “ruining their lives?” We’re saying the “addict” is making choices we wouldn’t ourselves make. We’re saying they’re running their lives wrong.
And here’s where it gets really interesting.
There’s a famous study used to illustrate the point that addicts can’t control themselves. It showed that drug-addicted rats would push a button for drugs until they literally starved themselves to death.
But Dr. Hart, who studies addiction at Columbia University, found that though all the rats were given unlimited cocaine (where do I sign up for that study?), only some of the rats became addicted. Only the rats who were raised in solitary conditions and given no other options got hooked. Give the rats access to sweets and let them play with other rats, and they stop pressing the lever.
People judged the rats as making a stupid choice. In actuality, from what I know about solitary confinement, the rats were making a perfectly rational choice. I’d wager that it’s basically a coin toss between a coke binge til death and a lifetime of torture.
Non-addicts judge addicts as making irrational choices because they literally can’t imagine the horror of the options addicts see available to them.
Anyway, we’ve come pretty far afield of the central question. Am I a sex addict? I mean, no. I, like the rats, just don’t have a better option. I’d actually love nothing more than to stop whoring around and settle down with one person. It’s a fucking slog, dating. And the sex is definitely lower quality. But I don’t know how to get from here to there. Who knows, maybe it’s right around the corner. I should text that guy who asked me to write this.
[Editor’s note: My BFF has submitted that “not knowing how” to get settled down is in fact a cop-out and that in fact I remain single because I’ve rationally calculated the work cost of whoring around to be less than meeting someone else’s emotional needs. This seems plausible, but I maintain that my continued whoring around as opposed to settling down results from my standards exceeding my market value.]
I’ve done a lot of reading on this subject for a variety of reasons, and I am thoroughly in your court here. There has been a lot written about the “addiction myth” (http://addictioncapetown.blogspot.ca/2014/09/myths-of-addiction.html#more and (http://www.alternet.org/drugs/most-people-addiction-simply-grow-out-it-why-widely-denied are just a couple examples). The Reason blog has had a few articles on this subject over the last year or so.
Unfortunately, the “Addiction Industry” is really big, and like any large organization public, private, government, or charitable, it wants to preserve the status quo even at the expense of people who could truly be helped.
One of the best articles I’ve come across is this takedown of AA:
AA article: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/03/the-irrationality-of-alcoholics-anonymous/386255/
I’ve thought about it some more and I realize I didn’t give your post the reply it deserved.
I think “addiction” in the way you are using it implies uncontrolled self-destructive behavior, and from what you wrote I don’t see any evidence of that. If you were having unprotected sex with strangers and/or regretting having had sex afterwards then you might be concerned.
But I think most everyone likes to fuck (I know I do), or at least to have sex, some more than others, but it certainly isn’t abnormal.
And I hope your use of the term “whoring around” was entirely in jest, because it is certainly a sexist concept.
Thanks for the thoughtful article. I agree that determining addiction is not always clear. As someone who decided to stop drinking, I’ve always struggled with what constitutes a “problem.”
I once had a colleague who repeatedly viewed porn in the workplace. He was actually given a warning that if it happened again he would be terminated. Surprise, surprise, he ended up getting fired.
I think we can universally say that if you cannot follow reasonable rules in the workplace KNOWING you will be caught if you do constitutes a problem.
Sorry, how is the phrase “whoring around” sexist? I’ve always heard it used for all the sexes/genders. I have done a fair bit of whoring around myself (to be fair, most of it has been slutting around), and I’m “male” in whichever way you choose to interpret that concept/construct/whatever.
That Atlantic article is right on, though.
i confess that i am a sex addict as well!
I’m having a bit of a hard time with denying addiction exists by defining it away as “whatever someone does is their normal life by definition.” I suppose that’s true in and of itself, but only if you’re willing to ignore one’s own health, and the well-being of others who depend on you and even people you don’t know or may never even meet that are negatively affected (in their estimation, not mine or yours) by your actions. In other words, you can’t really define addiction as a purely victimless activity.
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