‘Sex addiction’ more demeaning of women than Tiger Woods or Jesse James
It looks like Sandra Bullock’s marital woes are once again getting some press attention. Michelle “Bombshell” McGee, the original paramour to come forward with allegations of Jesse James’ shenanigans, apparently wants to have some “girl talk.”
As the nightmare continues for Sandra Bullock, Michelle “Bombshell” McGee tells Life & Style she wants to meet the Oscar-winning actress in person. “I would like to sit down with Sandra and speak one-on-one,” she says. “I’d let her ask me questions, and I would be honest and open with her about the affair. If that would help her heal, I would do it.”
Good idea? Bad idea? Yet another callous publicity stunt? Would she try and explain that Jesse James was or was not a “sex addict?” Who knows what McGee is up to, but she is indeed up to something—and always has been. So too with all the women linked to Tiger Woods. They too were up to something, however wrong or misguided their plans may have been.
But these women were not merely addictive substances waiting around to ensnare susceptible men into degrading lives as “sex addicts,” “addicts” who would then have to cruise the social scene for their next fix. I don’t want to overstate the obvious but, instead, these women were just people; intentional subjects who can’t be reduced to being nothing more than a passive object or alluring vessel. And once you see women as people (doh!) the whole concept of “sex addiction” falls apart into a tired cliche of male dominance and privilege.
It’s all about whether addiction is going to be an inclusive metaphor for all problems with compulsive behavior and irresistible impulses, or whether is is going to remain a rather specialized concept covering things like drug addiction. Clearly, I’m in favor of the later. So too is a neuroeconomist named Don Ross who has a new book chapter titled “Economic Models of Pathological Gambling.” In it he makes a compelling case for us to think about pathological gambling as a genuine and not metaphorical addiction. At the same time he contrasts how sex with other people, even when done to a compulsive extreme, is not an addiction (which is not to say it is not a problem—it can be—just that it is not an addiction). He says,
“Sex has a number of crucial disanalogies with targets of addiction. One of these is that the fine manipulation of the reward contingency is not under the individual’s own control”
In other words, an addict controls the jolt of surprise from the slot machine, the bender in the bottle, the high in the needle. That is how the “targets of addiction” gain control over a person’s motivational systems. But that “fine manipulation of the reward contingency” is not present for sexual pleasures with another person because, well, they are another person. To call Tiger or Jesse a “sex addict” is to say that the women they were with had no say in the matter, no part in constructing the experience. And that is just not a good thing to do.
So, keep in mind that every time you go along with calling Tiger or Jesse a “sex addict,” or doing the same with someone in you life who can’t keep it zipped, you are complicit in erasing the women who also participated, complicit in denying the choices we all need to make about what to do with our desires.