Sex addiction or an excuse for promiscuity?

The discussion around sex addiction and promiscuity has been featured heavily in the media recently, mostly due to the release of Steve McQueens latest film Shame, where Michael Fassbender plays sex addict Brandon whose carefully controlled life is altered 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 continues 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 sex addiction being part of someone’s life. However, if it does exist as a condition, a genuine sex addict would not be able to simply stop having sex and not suffer any consequences, even if the consequences are not health related, 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 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 Brand as nothing more than a ‘promiscuous loser’, and so called sex addicts are 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.’

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 continue with this type of lifestyle. In meeting up with past sexual partners and discussing his issues, he can see that 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 thoughts on the issue. However, whatever he is labeled as, this lifestyle is clearly very destructive.

Anyone who is seen as ‘promiscuous’ would not describe themselves as an addict, just as someone who enjoys having sex. It is when it controls our entire lifestyle and takes over our normal functioning as a human that it becomes an addiction, and then when we should seek out help.

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About writingsuzanne

History graduate. Freelance writer and reviewer. Passionate about film, theatre and music (film soundtracks!).
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2 Responses to Sex addiction or an excuse for promiscuity?

  1. laura says:

    This is really great! I love all the points you’ve brought up. The only thing I’d say is, I think this Doctor David Ley guy from The Telegraph is wrong. I know I’m not a doctor and I don’t have all the books and knowledge about human anatomy and the brain etc. etc. etc but I am pretty sure he’s mistaken about there being no physical or psychological difficulties/health issues when it comes to sex addiction and the cessation of such.
    It is pretty well known (or so I thought) that sexual stimulation produces a variety of hormonal changes in both men and women. We know that ‘sex means more to women than men’ so for this I’d say the chemical reactions in women during intercourse are greater than in men, but this doesn’t mean men aren’t affected by sex.
    Oxytocin is a hormone released during sex, giving birth and breast feeding, in women. We know that sex is more emotionally significant in women because this hormone makes us feel as though we are in love – striking a bond between men and women during sex, and mothers and their children during childbirth and breast feeding. This hormone is very strong. Men do produce Oxytocin as well, though not as much as they only produce it during sexual activity, due to not having babies. Some people call this the ‘love’ hormone, but I refer to the fact that Oxytocin reduces the level of the stress-hormone Cortisol, and also helps in the reuptake of Endorphins – the happy-hormones. Combined, they can make one feel euphoric. Why wouldn’t you want that over and over again?
    So – we all know why addicts become addicts. They try something once, they like it, they get into a habit of doing it more often, they necessity to achieve the same/greater pleasure from it each time drives the addict to do it more, and thus the vicious cycle becomes hard to break. Some people are predisposed to enjoy sex a lot more, and if their first experience with sex turns out to be a whole lot better than the rest of the population, it can have the effect of making them want to achieve that same ‘high’ every time, and so they do it more and more to find that.
    Withdrawal from sex isn’t like withdrawal from drugs and alcohol as such, but it is physical as well as psychological. With a constant lack of Endorphins to keep you happy and the suppression of Cortisol, you can become very stressed and unhappy. If someone were to go from having a lot of sex, to no sex at all, this can cause mild-moderate depression. There are a ridiculous amount of people who go around winging about past relationships and how they feel more unhappy now than they ever did before the relationship – even if they were the ones to end it. This is because regular intercourse lulls your body into a false sense of security, with happy hormones and lack of stress, and when that’s taken away, it’s like the carpet has been pulled from under your feet and hell is waiting beneath you. This is how addicts feel. And it’s not just your brain that will be affected. Muscles, joints, certain organs, skin and general health are affected quite significantly during sex withdrawal. Yes, narcotics and alcohol are seen as really strong, potent, drugs that are really bad for your body (and they are), but naturally-occurring, pure, unadulterated hormones can attack your brain and your body just as badly, if you let them. Those with schizophrenia, DID, severe mania and many other serious disorders that pertain to differences in the brain can tell you, it’s not easy-going with all these chemicals you already have in your body, so don’t take them lightly. If you fuck around with them – they will fuck around with you.
    Sorry this is so long, my brain’s on a roll this morning… not really sure why I’m up at 5am, commenting on your blog, but hey, why not? 🙂 Your blog obviously inspired me.


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