The transformation of rehab from a legitimate strategy for dealing with drug addiction to a 21 st century form of religious-ish penance for the wealthy is complete: Tiger Woods is in rehab for “sex addiction .” Addiction is the new sin, and fancy rehab centers have replaced monastic retreats for the American nobility, our celebrities. People who suffer from actual addictions who don’t live in the rarefied world of celebrity get to go to prison or die. Or, if they’re lucky, they manage to get a doctor who takes real addiction seriously as a disease and gets them into an effective treatment program. But in the popular culture, the word “addiction” is increasingly a trendy new way of looking at old-fashioned sin, and rehab is a rather expensive kind of repentance and for the wealthy, it’s cushy enough that it borders on buying indulgences .
My already-present skepticism about the reality of “sex addiction”-one shared by the writers of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , who have declined to include it-is dramatically reinforced by definining Tiger Woods as a man with a disease, instead of a man with a fairly typical set of attitudes about women coupled with a lot of opportunities. I’d say a good 30 percent of American men share his notion that women aren’t really for respecting and that cheating is only a problem if you got caught. If such men could get away with it like Woods could, they’d cheat just as much. Are they “addicts”? Or just pigs? My money’s on the latter. Real addicts have trouble keeping it together enough to perform a job competently. Men who behave like Woods are the norm in professional sports, and they keep it together enough to be not just competent, but the very best at the job, even though they get laid a lot.
Claiming that men who like to have sex lives that hurt women’s feelings or disrespect their wives have a disease is all fun and games … until someone gets hurt. And this trendy new “diagnosis” of sex addiction is hurting a whole lot of people. Teenagers with normal sexual appetites are worried that they’re addicts and aren’t using protection because of it. The medicalization of normal sexual urges gives the religious right cover to pretend their prudery is merely medical science when they apply it to fornication, masturbation , and homosexuality . My fear is that if this trend gets any more popular, rapists are going to start pleading for sympathy because they’re “addicts” who have a disease, instead of criminals who like to hurt women for fun.
If nothing else, the trendiness of sex addiction is keeping Dr. Drew’s career alive. That’s reason alone to be skeptical.
Photograph of Tiger Woods by William West/AFP/Getty Images.