“Sex addiction” does not exist. Sorry, Christian right

September 10, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

Bad news, America: You cannot be addicted to porn. You cannot be addicted to sex. You cannot be addicted to masturbation, or the Internet, or shopping, or television, or eating, or your iPhone or Instagram or Facebook or silly cat videos, or cupcakes, or The Bachelor or even sublime designer leather goods that smell like God and feel even better on your bare and willing skin. Ahem.

Have you heard that you could? Be really and truly addicted to any/all those things?

You probably have; it’s a common refrain, this claim of abject powerlessness, of clinical helplessness in the face of… well, whatever you want – usually some hotly attractive, “sinful” product, activity, pop culture confection, fitness regime or junk food item, to the point that you might just require hospitalization, medication, rehab.

It’s mostly a lie, of course. Bogus. Largely a myth, crutch, excuse. Sex addiction isn’t a thing. Neither are any of the others, not really.

Do you already know? You can’t, medically speaking, be truly addicted to a behavior, or an entertainment, or a device, or even most foods or medications. Even clinical addiction – alcohol, cigarettes, heroin, et al – is still, in many circles, up for debate as to its real nature and true causes (and fixes). Don’t tell Big Pharma. Or your therapist.

Or fundamentalist Christians! Especially them. As Amanda Marcotte points out so well over at Slate, you’d be hard-pressed to find a group more in love with shouting “addiction!” when they really mean “stuff my religious dogma frowns upon, even though it’s completely natural and fantastic and deeply pleasing,” by which they almost always mean sex, or masturbation, kink, experimentation, even homosexuality.

Have you noticed? Addiction has become the sad, go-to excuse for many on the far right – Josh Duggar, just the latest example – to explain away some otherwise untoward, “sinful” behavior. They’re powerless, you see! The poor dears.

She writes:

Is porn addiction really a thing? Or, at least in [Duggar’s] particular case, is it an attempt to medicalize religious dogma that forbids normal and healthy interest in sexual fantasies? Certainly, the idea that men (and women) who look at porn are addicts is incredibly popular in Christian-right circles. … But a closer reading should induce some concern they’re just making this all up.

It’s not hard to see why addiction is, you might say, totally addictive. Feeling lost? Lied to? Drunk on bad choices? Sneaking away from your church to pop some MDMA, crank up some Daft Punk and scour PornHub’s latex fetish channel even as you wish, deep down, that you were dancing in a dust storm at Burning Man right about now?

Don’t take personal responsibility. Don’t engage in any self-investigation into your patterns, stories, false convictions. Don’t realize some of those things are, if you’re attuned and balanced, quite wonderful, and to be applauded.

And if you’re a member of the Christian right? Definitely don’t realize how you’ve been lied to, how your constrictive belief system might be crushing your sexuality and your soul.

Just blame addiction. Medicalize that behavior, declare yourself too weak and/or “it” too strong, and watch all responsibility fall away, sort of. Easy, right?

Calm down. They're just hot pants. Or are they the work of the devil?

Calm down. They’re just hot pants. Or are they the work of the devil?

Do not misunderstand. While many claims of addiction are false, you can very much become unduly habituated to all sorts of hurtful, harmful, even criminal endeavors, particularly when you have no core identity of your own, no self-defined spiritual center to hold you steady. It’s common enough to lean more and more heavily on some “unhealthy” distractions to try and get your needs met, however poorly. But that’s not addiction. You’ve just been duped, is all.

Maybe you ask, “Is any of this all that much of a big deal? Isn’t it mostly harmless that fundamentalist Christians (or congressmen, priests, Tea Partiers etc) who can’t handle sex or porn just chalk up any explicit dabbling to addiction?”

It’s not harmless in the slightest. It’s actually the same historically hateful mechanism that leads to all sorts of savage rules, restrictions, sexist thinking, violence against women and gays, and beyond.

Look at it this way: If you truly believe sex, or porn, or masturbation – all just shorthand, by the way, for “women’s sexuality,” given how it’s almost always men who claim addiction – are truly dangerous, if you really believe that enjoying such things can result in a genuine medical condition bordering on psychosis, it’s no leap at all to demand that those forces – i.e.; women – be curtailed, shut down, defunded, the “drug” of their sexuality restricted and made forbidden, lest dumb, powerless, God-fearing men go “insane” with uncontrollable lust and… well, you know the rest.

Right? It’s the same revolting message across the planet and since times biblical: Women’s sexuality is pure sin, a poison of devilish origin, the Serpent in disguise. If an innocent Christian – like poor little Josh Duggar – is “addicted” to sex, guess who’s to really to blame for enflaming and engorging his desires?

Maybe you think that’s too extreme? Maybe it’s not worth going one step further, and mentioning the Islamic world’s brutal treatment of women and sexuality, how it links rather directly to that same evangelical Christian belief? How it’s all of a piece? For millennia?

Fair enough. Hey, I know. It’s always more fun to talk about this crazily addictive new video game, or iPhone app, or cool TV show, right? Have you seen it? OMG, so addictive! I can’t stop watching.

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Mark Morford

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