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What Weinstein, Spacey, and Celebrity Scandals Teach Us About Sexual Addiction

What Weinstein, Spacey, and Celebrity Scandals Teach Us About Sexual Addiction

It looks like Harvey Weinstein was just the tip of a very sordid iceberg. Almost every day, we read and hear about yet another incident or another famous person accused of sexual behaviors unthinkable by most of us. Dozens of celebrities are being identified as alleged – and in some cases, admitted – sexual assailants and harassers, including:

  • Harvey Weinstein, film executive
  • Kevin Spacey, actor
  • Louis C.K., comedian
  • Bill Cosby, actor
  • Steven Seagal, actor
  • Danny Masterson, actor
  • Brett Ratner, director
  • Jeremy Piven, actor
  • James Toback, director
  • Ed Westwick, actor
  • Bill O’Reilly, political commentator
  • Andrew Kreisberg, producer
  • Chris Savino, producer
  • John Besh, celebrity chef
  • Mark Halperin, journalist
  • Hamilton Fish, publisher
  • Leon Wieseltier, editor
  • Michael Oreskes, NPR news chief
  • Knight Landesman, publisher
  • Kirt Webster, public relations CEO
  • Roy Price, Amazon executive
  • Jeffrey Hover, Kentucky’s Speaker of the House

Are They Taking Responsibility for Their Behaviors or Avoiding It?

Several of these men have stated that they “have a problem” and are “stepping away” to “get help”. But what does that mean, exactly? What is the difference between acting inappropriately – or even offensively – and having a compulsive behavioral disorder like sexual addiction? Although it’s impossible to properly diagnose anyone without an in-depth evaluation by a trained mental health professional, we CAN compare what is known about their behaviors to what is known about sexual addiction.

First Things First – What Is Sexual Addiction?

Like any addictive disorder, sex addiction is identified by compulsive behaviors despite negative consequences. In other words, anyone suffering from this condition will be unable to control their sexual urges, thoughts, or activities, regardless of the resulting damage to other areas of their life. Sex addicts typically have profound intimacy issues, and they may find it difficult to maintain healthy, long-term romantic relationships. Some sufferers may even view others as disposable objects merely to be used for their own gratification. There are three main considerations to keep in mind: FIRST, sex addiction is NOT an actual clinical diagnosis. Opponents argue that because virtually all consensual sexual behaviors between adults is “normal”, to pathologize sex could be harmful. That does not mean that people with sex-related disorders don’t need specialized help. The loss of control and resultant harm almost always requires a professional intervention and an individualized treatment plan. SECOND, with that in mind, the concept of sexual addiction as a behavioral problem is rarely because of the behavior itself. The manifestation of any sexual desire or activity usually only becomes a real problem when:

  • It is unwelcomed by any party.
  • It results in physical or emotional harm.
  • It involves people who do not or cannot consent.
  • It interferes with other areas of a healthy, productive life.
  • It is criminal in nature.

THIRD, sexual addiction is considered by many experts to fall under the umbrella of a larger mental health concept known as hypersexuality. This is a blanket term generally used to cover most compulsive sexual behaviors.

What Are Some Examples of Compulsive Sexual Behaviors?

Although there are no clearly defined boundaries, problematic sexual behaviors can take many forms:

  • Nymphomania – uncontrollable sexual desire and actions among females
  • Satyriasis/Don Juan Syndrome – uncontrollable sexual desire and actions among males
  • Paraphilia/Fetishism – recurring extreme sexual arousal caused by non-typical or even “taboo” objects of desire or situations:
    • Animals
    • Non-human objects
    • Children
    • Non-consenting people
    • Public sex
  • Porn Addiction – compulsive need to view pornographic images and videos to achieve arousal.
  • Voyeurism – watching others when they are naked or engaging in sexual activity.
  • Exhibitionism –compulsive urge to expose one’s genitals, breasts, or buttocks, or receiving gratification from being watched while engaged in sexual acts.
  • Exploitation – abusing one’s position or power to take sexual advantage of a vulnerable person.
  • Intrusion –unwanted touching or groping, obscene phone calls/emails/texts, etc.
  • Pain/Humiliation –when sexual stimulation relies on inflicting or receiving emotional or physical pain.
  • Partialism—erotic fixation on one part of the body.
  • Erotomania – a delusion where the sufferer believes that someone else is secretly in love with them. Often, the “secret admirer” is a famous person or even a complete stranger.

Kink, High Sex Drive, or Sexual Addiction?

So, if virtually all sexual activities between consenting adults are “normal”, why would any of the above-listed behaviors be potentially problematic? Let’s address the two most common defenses offered by sexual composites. “I just have a high sex drive.” An active libido is not at all a problem – when it is expressed in a healthy manner. But when the urge to seek sexual satisfaction harms others or replaces other important concerns, that is a definite red flag. Examples from prominent celebrity sex scandals include:

  • Serial adultery – (Jesse James, Tiger Woods, David Duchovny)
  • Abuse of position – (Harvey Weinstein, Hamilton Fish, Leon Wieseltier)
  • Sexual Harassment – (Mark Halperin, Chris Savino, Roy Price, Andrew Kreisberg, Jeffrey Hoover)
  • Porn Addiction—(Terry Crews, John Mayer)

That’s just what I’m into.” “Kink” isn’t a problem—everyone has their own proclivities and preferences. However, when acting upon those preferences becomes criminal or interferes with other healthy expressions of sexuality, it is cause for concern:

  • Assault/Rape (Harvey Weinstein, Ed Westwick, Bill Cosby, Danny Masterson, James Toback)
  • Exposure – (Louis C.K., Jeremy Piven, Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner)
  • Underage Victims – (Kevin Spacey, Mark Salling, Victor Salva)

Sexual Addiction is Not a One-Time Thing

Here’s the key consideration that to consider—for each of these individuals, they exhibited a pattern of problematic sexual behaviors. Even when they knew full well that their behaviors were unacceptable, offensive, or against the law, they still compulsively acted on their urges. Continuing a self-destructive behavior despite negative consequences is a one of the major warning signs of addiction. It demonstrates how a compulsion can override good judgement and intentions.

  • In 2012, a crew member on House of Cards made a complaint about Kevin Spacey’s harassing behaviors. MRC, the production company behind the show, promptly addressed the situation. Yet Spacey’s sexually-aggressive actions continued, creating a work environment described as “toxic”. Spacey has been fired from his hit Netflix series.
  • Harvey Weinstein has a documented history of harassment and assault allegations that goes back decades. Over the years, he has had to pay out at least eight settlements to aggrieved women.  But Weinstein continued to abuse his powerful position, until an October 2017 New York Times investigative article exposed him and led to his ouster from his own company.
  • Over the years, Bill O’Reilly pattern of lewd comments and sexual advances towards at least six women connected with his television programs resulted in $45 million in settlements. A pattern of repeated sexual misconduct is evidenced by settlements in 2002, 2004, 2011, 2016, and 2017. In April 2017, O’Reilly was fired by Fox news, and in October, both his literary and talent agencies announced that they would not be renewing their contracts with him.

How Do Sex Addicts Get Away with Their Actions?

Each of the celebrities listed here demonstrated a pattern of sexual misconduct – these were not isolated incidents or even terrible mistakes that they eventually learned from. In fact, within their social and professional circles, their actions were usually an “open secret”. Some of these men harassed or assaulted HUNDREDS of victims. That begs the question– Why didn’t anyone who knew something DO anything? As with any behavioral or substance abuse disorder, the people closest to the sex addict play a part in allowing the problem to worsen. By not speaking up, or intervening, or at the very least, forcing the person to face the natural consequences of their behaviors, family members, friends, and coworkers enable the addiction to continue. In other words, by their inaction, they are giving tacit permission for the sex addict to keep doing what they are doing. After all, if there are no repercussions to their misconduct, what motivation do they have to change? Why does this enabling take place?

  • Power – Almost without exception, the people allegedly committing these sexual offenses are in a position of greater power and authority than their victims. They misuse their position by victimizing naïve, vulnerable, or comparatively powerless subordinates.
  • Economics – There are sometimes hundreds of people employed by a television show or movie. Enablers use this as justification for protecting the offender.
  • Image – By the same token, a star’s reputation is their “brand”, and it can be worth BILLIONS to studios. Paying out settlements tied to Non-Disclosure Agreements – even huge ones – is preferable to damaging the brand.
  • Self-Preservation –Some offenders are so powerful within their industry that they can literally ruin careers. This fear silences too many people.
  • Culture – The problem is (evidently) so widespread that a sexually-hostile, “quid pro quo” atmosphere is almost normalized in the entertainment industry. It’s hard to find a woman who HASN’T been harassed.

How Common Is Sexual Addiction?

According to the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, up to 5% of the US population struggles with Out-of-Control Sexual Behavior. This equates to over 16 MILLION Americans. In 2016, the popular site Pornhub was visited 23 BILLION times – 729 people per second and 64 MILLION per day. The need for effective treatment is evidenced by the number of professional sex therapists. At the turn of the century, there were less than 100 specialists who treated sex-related behavioral disorders. Now, that number is over 1500.

Warning Signs of Sexual Addiction

What might a sex-related behavioral disorder look like in you or someone you care about?

  • Chronic infidelity.
  • Objectifying others.
  • Defining love as sex and nothing else.
  • Using sex as a coping mechanism to combat stress, anger, loneliness, depression, anxiety, etc.
  • A preoccupation or obsession with sex.
  • Neglecting other interests, obligations, and responsibilities in pursuit of sex.
  • Spending a large amount of time online viewing pornography, dating/swinger sites, or adult chat rooms.
  • Extreme promiscuity, to the point of having more sex with a greater number of partners than intended.
  • Compulsive masturbation.
  • An inability to stop or cut back on sexual activity.
  • Feelings of guilt or shame after engaging in sexual activity.
  • Irritability or agitation when sex isn’t available.
  • An escalating need for greater stimulation—more partners, greater frequency, extreme or even risky sexual behaviors.
  • Health problems—HIV, AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, crabs, or other sexual injuries.
  • Legal issues – public indecency, solicitation of prostitutes, lewd acts,
  • Continuing these behaviors, even when there are personal consequences, such as divorce, breakups, problems at work, etc.

How Is Sexual Addiction Treated?

Although sexual addiction is not officially recognized as a distinct disorder by psychiatric regulatory bodies, it is a maladaptive behavior that responds well to many of the therapies used during substance abuse treatment.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
    • Healthy coping strategies
    • Changing attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts
    • Emotional regulation
    • Relapse prevention
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
    • Mindfulness meditation
    • Distress tolerance – learning to accept things non-judgmentally
    • Distraction therapy
    • Self-soothing
    • Positive imagery
    • Relaxation techniques
    • Emotional regulation
    • Interpersonal skills
  • Support groups
  • Medications

Recent research suggests that dopamine may play a role in sex addiction. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with memory, learning, and motivation. It is part of the body’s reward system.  Drugs, alcohol, and sex all boost dopamine production.

This suggests substance abuse and sexual disorders are closely related. For example, viewing pornography increases neural activity in the same brain regions that are affected by substance use.

This leads researchers to believe that some of the drugs used to curb drug cravings could also help compulsive sexual urges. In particular, naloxone, an opioid agonist used to reverse overdoses, is also effective at suppressing abnormal sexual behavior such as:

  • Exhibitionism
  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Incessant touching of sexual organs
  • Spontaneous erections

Naltrexone seems especially promising when used as an early pharmaceutical intervention among adolescent sexual offenders. In one study, 71% of teenage subjects given naloxone reported a reduction in sexual fantasies and frequency of masturbation. The prevailing theory is that these benefits could possibly also be repeated in the larger population of sex addicts.

What’s the Bottom Line about Sex Addiction?

Although it is impossible to make an accurate behavioral diagnosis of these celebrities accused of sexual improprieties based solely upon allegations, if the claims are true, it is safe to say that many of their behaviors closely resemble the warning signs of sexual addiction. Whether or not they are successful at getting the help they say they are seeking depends entirely on three things:

  • Their admission that their out-of-control behaviors have become a problem, both for themselves and for others, thereby making their lives unmanageable.
  • The services of specially-trained and experienced professionals who use treatment protocols that are grounded in empirical evidence.
  • Their willingness to sincerely and diligently work the program of recovery prescribed by their treatment team.

And what does all of this mean to YOU? It means that if you, too, are experiencing problems due to your sexual thoughts and behaviors, it is possible for you to get the help you need. You can regain a healthy balance in your relationships and all other areas of your life.