Is Harvey Weinstein giving sex addicts a bad name?

Since news broke of the sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, much has been said on the topic. Quite rightly, most of this has focused on the stories of the women who have made the accusations. To date, almost 40 women have said that they were assaulted by Weinstein, from inappropriate requests to rape.

It would be difficult for Mr Weinstein to deny completely the events when there are so many allegations. Instead, he claims that he thought the encounters were consensual and that he was and is suffering from a sex addiction. (He is reportedly receiving treatment.)

Few people besides himself and his therapist can know for definite whether Mr Weinstein does, in fact, suffer from such an affliction. Many people doubt it, though. If it does turn out to be untrue, what does this mean for people who suffer from sex addiction? To suggest that the condition is directly linked to committing sexual offences would be a sweeping misunderstanding but with such a high-profile case, there is a real danger that such assumptions could be made.

Some people don’t believe the condition exists and it is sometimes dismissed as ‘a fun problem to have’ but the truth is that sex addiction is like any other. It is the need to perpetuate the effects brought about by participating in sexual activity and can feel out of control. Sex addicts cannot regulate their urges like most people can. This does not mean they go around assaulting people or forcing them. Despite the damage it may cause to their relationships, work lives and finances, sex addicts often resort to extensive use of pornography or hiring sex workers, for example. Some addicts do go on to commit offences but they are not the majority. Rape, after all, is about power and control, not sex. Not all addicts are sex offenders and not all offenders are sex addicts. Most genuine addicts do not ‘blame’ others or their addiction for their behaviour. It changes personalities and turns people into things they don’t want to be.

Despite how it may currently appear, women can suffer from sex addiction, too. There is far less research than for drugs or alcohol but around 8-12% of sex addicts are women. So it is less common in women but it does exist. Some specialists say that they tend to treat women for the saccharin-named ‘love addiction’ rather than for sex. This seems a bit simplistic to say that men are out for sex and women for love, however, it does seem that way at the moment! Although sex addiction does not automatically translate into offending, can it be a coincidence that the stats for female sufferers/offenders are both so comparatively low? On top of which, most positions of power and authority are still occupied by men. The offenders are the ones who abuse that power. Are the relatively few women in those top positions abusing their power in the same way? Not that we’ve heard.

As with many addictions, the root is often in childhood. Early trauma, neglect and abuse can all be factors. According to the NHS website page on the topic, a US study found that 80% of participating sex addicts suffered emotional trauma or sexual abuse during childhood. It is also very common in those who were exposed to pornography at an early age. ‘Early’ could mean as young as four. What a worrying prospect. Many experts consider the growing availability of internet porn to be a major factor, perhaps even replacing trauma. It’s so easy to access and so explicit that it has led to overuse and, in turn, dependency. It’s a difficult thing to regulate at this point as it has already become such a presence. And how can you limit a grown adult’s use of such material? To lower rates of sex addiction, perhaps it’s the early abuse that needs addressing and the rest will follow. This won’t help with assault, however, because they are not the same thing.

It’s comfortable to define sex offenders as vile predators we don’t want in our society. But some will have been abused themselves just as many sex addicts have. That does not mean they are the same thing and people, especially famous people the whole world can hear, who claim an addiction as a reason for assault or even just having affairs are encouraging dangerous assumptions and generalisations to be made of the legitimate addiction.

Many celebrities have in the past cited sex addiction as a reason for their unfortunate behaviour, from Tiger Woods to Russell Brand and Michael Douglas to name a few. In these cases, it was affairs rather than assault or abuse, but it still seems a convenient condition to have when you get caught, particularly for a public figure. That’s not to say it wasn’t true, of course, but it does seem a fairly sizeable coincidence that quite a number of famous men are suffering from this somewhat rare condition that affects between 3-6% of people. It’s the same principle, really. In 1988, a sex tape was leaked involving actor Rob Lowe and two women, one of whom was allegedly underage. He went on to receive treatment shortly after.

Now Kevin Spacey – stupendous talent, Oscar-winner, saviour of the Old Vic theatre – has chosen to come out as gay on the day he is accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy. This is another level – it’s a child and being gay is not an addiction that can be blamed or treated – but, again, it’s the same principle. Dustin Hoffman has been accused of sexually harassing a then-seventeen intern on the set of his 1985 TV film Death of a Salesman. The actor, who has previously talked of his realisations regarding the treatment of women following his role in Tootsie, a part he played with apparent sensitivity and understanding, is also reported to have slapped Meryl Streep while filming Kramer vs Kramer to improve her dramatic performance. Since when did Meryl Streep need any assistance in that area, anyway?! He also made insensitive comments about the death of her boyfriend. Not a sex addict, so far as we know, but Hoffman has spoken of his divorce and drug use in the same breath as his apology for this behaviour. He has since stated he has the ‘’utmost respect for women’’.


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