Now that Representative Anthony Weiner is reported to be seeking professional help, one question seems to be on many people’s minds:
Help for what?
That’s not clear. Sending suggestive photos of oneself to young women is clearly personally and professionally hazardous. But does it reflect a disorder requiring treatment?
Common sense would say that it’s certainly a symptom of something. But of what?
There’s no real consensus about how to approach the issue.
For example, there’s the question of whether such behavior might represent an “addiction.”
Many people, myself included, think there’s something to the sex addiction idea. But that the term over-simplifies something that’s often more complex.
We should also keep in mind that it’s not so easy to be sexually sane these days. As a country, we’re very conflicted about sex. We’re sensation-seeking and puritanical at the same time. As my West Coast colleague Marty Klein writes concerning the Weiner affair, we’re fairly hypocritical about which sexual conflicts get labeled as scandals. And there are people like Betty Dodson who say we might do better to just chuck the whole notion of sexual pathology.
I recently returned from the annual spring meeting of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR), where this year the meeting featured a debate concerning whether or not certain kinds of hypersexual behaviors should be considered addictions.
There are arguments to be made on both sides, and the matter is by no means settled. Eli Coleman, a leading figure in the field, prefers the term “Impulsive/Compulsive Sexual Behavior (ICSB).”
I like ICSB — it hews closely to the facts, and doesn’t automatically lead to any specific theory of treatment.
But how about cases such as Weiner’s, where (as far as we know) the behaviors in question don’t seem to involve actual sex at all? Here there’s even less agreement.
As far as I know, there’s no term for “Impulsive/Compulsive Courtship Behavior.” But perhaps there should be.
For many men, impulsive/compulsive courtship behavior seems to be more about nonsexual issues than strictly sexual ones. Showing off one’s pecs might be intended as a sexual invitation. But it’s also a statement about the self. Many men these days enjoy working out more than they enjoy sex.
Also, before we go categorizing, it’s important to remember that there are all kinds of minds. Some tend to be over-confident. Some tend to brood and obsess. Some are a mix of both. Every mind has its assets and its weaknesses. And every mind will have its own particular kind of relationship with sexuality.
Let’s hope that whomever Congressman Weiner chooses to see for treatment can avoid simply fitting the behaviors into a ready-made notion of “addiction” or anything else.
Let’s hope they can just listen for awhile, before they start treating whatever it is they’re going to treat.
© Stephen Snyder, MD 2011
New York City
See related article– “Eros and Technology: Jonathan Franzen in The New York Times”