The XX Factor

Addicted to Orgasm?

I’ve long been a critic of the concept of “sex addiction,” which primarily gets tossed around in service of old-fashioned prudery and the desires of authority to control human sexuality. Of course, proponents of the concept are crafty. They use men who cheat flagrantly and engage in predatory behavior as their examples, because they know this behavior causes most people to recoil. But as this article about female “sex addicts” in the New York Times shows , the mundane reality is that “sex addiction” is the same old sex-negativity dressed in brand new self help clothes.

When the “addicts” are women, it seems that the ministries trying to break their habits get way more flagrant when it comes to teaching that any sexual behavior not strictly controlled by the church and within the bonds of marriage is “addiction.” And I mean any sexual behavior, right down to thinking that guy walking down the street that isn’t your husband is cute. When the “patients” are female, there’s no hedging or warming them up to the idea that their sexuality isn’t their own, or that it’s shameful to feel sexual pleasure for its own sake. Look at one of the strategies the “therapist” uses:

For the graduation ceremony, Ms. Renaud passed out balloons and asked the group to write down the things they were giving up. Out came the bad stuff: Porn, Masturbation, Lustful Thinking, Cutting, Feeling Useless, Dad’s Bad Choices, Self-Gratification, Self-Mutilation, Unhealthy Thoughts.

Masturbation is like cutting yourself or beating yourself down? The supposed addiction counselors in this article blame masturbation on sex abuse and low self-esteem. I do agree that low self-esteem does probably explain why a lot of women are in this counseling, but that has nothing to do with masturbation. You know what’s not good for low self-esteem? Battering someone and abusing them for having a normal, healthy sexuality.

Just as troubling is the assurance the counselors and counselees have that masturbation is bad for marriage. The Christian fundamentalist view of sexuality, especially female sexuality, seems to be that it’s a limited resource. I think they think of sexuality as a bank account that doesn’t take deposits, and that every time you withdraw some sex in the form of masturbation, lust, premarital sex, etc., then you have less to spend on sex in your marriage.

What’s sad about this is that the reality is the opposite. Sexuality is more like a muscle, and if you don’t use it, you lose it. One reason many women have trouble orgasming in a sexual relationship is they don’t masturbate enough, and they have trouble knowing what works and what doesn’t. Indeed, the research links losing your virginity later in life to experiencing more sexual dysfunction. And anecdotally, most of us can think of times when we’ve been so busy that we don’t have time to think about sex (i.e., experiencing those lustful thoughts so condemned by Christians fundies), and so when we get home and are expected to perform, we have trouble getting aroused. Following the fundamentalist list of sex rules seems like the quickest way possible to drain a marriage of any passion, which strikes me as a bad idea if you want to hold those marriages together.