The XX Factor

Today in Hollywood-Induced Sex Panics

Getty Images

Dr. Drew Pinsky has two major, nay, only themes in his long career of trying to pass off sex panic as science: 1) Everyone else but Dr. Drew is a broken human being and 2) This brokenness is why anyone would consider sexual experimentation.  Read enough Dr. Drew and you’ll start to feel you need to call your shrink every time you experience orgasm, because in his world, that’s probably a symptom that you have unresolved anger because Daddy didn’t love you enough.  This latest interview with Dr. Drew features these two themes prominently, with the added bonus of Dr. Drew pretending you can draw real-world conclusions from the plot of Friends With Benefits, a romantic comedy that sticks to the romantic comedy tradition of favoring an idealized happy ending over a realistic presentation of how people actually live. If the plot of a romantic comedy forces us to believe that casual sex relationships always turn toward love, then we also have to believe that women are eager to fall for men who destroy them economically, date rapists make good boyfriends, and love can only proceed once an uppity woman has been put in her place.

Needless to say, Dr. Drew is against the entire category of “friends with benefits,” a vague term that, in my experience, encompasses everything from casual hook-ups, to people seeing if they could date, to people who did date and found no need to quit screwing just because they can’t hack it as a couple.  Many faux-psychological terms are dropped in his process of shaming people who enjoy sex for itself instead of always as a means to some marriage-and-babies end—in Dr. Drew’s world, there are not only “sex addicts” but also “love addicts” and I’m sure there will soon be an entire category set aside for “orgasm addicts“–but Dr. Drew’s main argument against having a noncommitted sexual relationship with someone is that it’s “risky”:

I was giving a lecture at the University of Maryland eight or 10 years ago, and I was describing “friends with benefits,” and I said, “You know, on paper it looks great.” And some kid yelled out, “Yeah, so does communism!” Which is very much the point: that just because something looks good on paper and sounds good intellectually doesn’t mean it’s good for the human experience. Humans don’t operate like that. Inevitably, an attachment occurs, a bond occurs, and feelings develop. Even though people swear off it, somebody develops some kind of feelings. The only scenario where I see it work is when very young screwballs are just kind of messing around, or in two sex addicts acting out together. That can go on for a while. If people are really in trouble emotionally and they’re just mutually exploitative for sex addiction, that kind of works. But, just like every other addiction, it eventually goes down in flames. So it only works for a while.  

As opposed to monogamous relationships, where everything always goes smoothly, no one ever cries, hearts are never broken, and no one ever feels neglected, cheated-on, abused, or taken for granted.  I’d argue that monogamous, committed relationships are far riskier, since they are, in my experience, much harder to extract yourself from when things go south than a casual relationship that stops working.

In fact, just on the level of physical health, a committed relationship is statistically more of a risk for women than a “friends with benefits” situation, as domestic violence is the No. 1 cause of injury for women ages 15-44 in this country. But if you said that the risks of monogamy were too great and women should vow to keep it light to avoid injury, people would look at you like you were crazy.  They’d be right to do so, because we all know that you can’t just live your life in a bubble hoping never to get hurt. But what all this demonstrates is that Dr. Drew isn’t cautioning against “friends with benefits” out of a serious concern about the risks.  He’s using “risks” as a cover to promote a conservative sexual agenda. 

Not to get all logic nerd on you, but the fallacy Dr. Drew is employing here is called the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.  His argument is that “friends with benefits” is unhealthy and therefore can’t work.  If you point out examples of when it does work, he simply dismisses them by saying that anyone who makes it work must be mentally ill, i.e., no true healthy person could do it.  You need no external proof of their unhealthiness, of course.  Simply enjoying a sexual relationship outside of the context of a movement toward commitment is proof in itself that you’re a “sex addict” or otherwise broken. It’s a neat bit of circular logic.