Can Men Control Sex Addiction?

by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old charged with murdering eight people in the mass murder in Atlanta last week, said his actions resulted from “sexual addiction.”

It goes without saying that any excuse for murdering so many people is pathetic and it is hoped that this man will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, especially as the orgy of blood and violence murdered six Asian-Americans and was most likely a hate crime as well.

But it sexual addiction real? The medical clinicians are divided. Sexual addiction is not recognized as an psychiatric diagnosis. Joshua Grubbs, who  is an assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University who primarily researches sex addiction, tweeted, “Technically, it is an impulse control disorder, not an addiction, but to most people, that is just splitting hairs.”

Or is it? 

Far less important than the question of murdering in the name of sex addiction – an argument I find repugnant – we can ask, can men control their pornography intake or is it beyond their control? I have counseled many marriages where porn addiction is the destroyer of the relationship.

Even worse is where men actually believe – and wives sometimes agree – that porn can rescue their marriages and get them to start having sex after their intimate life has died.

Perhaps, in the short term. Watching porn may excite arousal. But before long the same boredom will set in – the erotic issues of the marriage have not been addressed – and will be much worse because it will now be accompanied by a wife’s bitterness that her husband is actually getting excited not by her but other women. 

Porn in marriage is, therefore, a bad idea, which brings us back to the question of whether men can control sexual and/or pornographic “addiction.” I know the question can apply equally to women, but I’m going to focus on men right now as the murderer was a male, most of porn is consumed by men, and men still have a higher rate of adultery in marriage, even as wives are closing in on them.

A few years ago I was on a TV show in Britain where a man claimed that he was addicted to sex and could not control himself. I was the relationship expert on the show. I pointed out an attractive woman in the audience and ask him if that’s what he meant, that he could not control his “addiction” to wanting sex to women. He said yes. I then asked the woman’s boyfriend what he would do to the man if he propositioned the woman. 
The boyfriend said, “It would not be pretty.” I now returned to the “addict” and asked if he was still interested. “No, he said.” 

“Then you’re cured,” I said triumphantly if humorously. 

Not that it’s a laughing matter. But my point was made.

Men only claim sexual addiction while the erotic pleasure impulse is experienced. But the moment way too big a price is paid, they suddenly withdraw.

They say that John F. Kennedy was a sex addict and bedded countless women in the White House. But then why was this only done when his wife Jackie was away at their home in Maryland? If he couldn’t control himself, why didn’t he do it in the presence of his wife? They say the same was true of Lyndon Johnson, whose Secret Service detail was given careful instructions to coordinate the arrival of sexual trysts only while his wife Lady Bird was absent. 

Most of the husbands I know who are porn addicts carefully conceal their addiction from their wives. How, if it is outside their control? Likewise, if they know that at work their computers are being tracked by their bosses, they would never imagine downloading sexual images at the office. 

I’m not saying that porn and sex aren’t hard to control. The sexual impulse is the strongest of our being. What I am saying is that hard to control and impossible to control are very different things.

And we need to impress upon men some measure of accountability with this stuff rather than just concede they have zero control.

Judaism still insists that we have the power of free will. That whether or not we are faithful in our marriages or engage in lewd behavior that is beneath us, or date as singles primarily to get sex from others with no thought of commitment, is all within our power. 

It is also within our power to choose passionate monogamy – having an exciting sex life in marriage – which will hopefully reduce the need to find stimulation from outside sources, which, given that we all need erotic excitement, can well become a dependency.

The problem is that holy sources on healthy sexuality remain well out of reach. I’m amaze that we Rabbis – not to mention Priests, who can’t have sex, or Pastors or Imams – continue to be so uncomfortable discussing the subject. 

Why aren’t there classes in Synagogues about Sexual Dependency, 
Sexual Health in Marriage, and Erotic Connection between couples? The most we can usually expect in the Jewish community are lectures on mikveh which is often mistakenly presented as a panacea for erotic vitality in marriage. Yes, mikveh helps tremendously as it provides an erotic obstacle to impede, and therefore, enhance passion. But so much more is necessary.

As porn has come to dominate the internet, healthy outlets in general, and religion in particular, has barely kept pace with trying to navigate sexuality in general, and male sexuality in particular, to a healthy place.

Rather, what we have are three extremes.

One, to say porn is fine, which it isn’t. Does anyone believe that the male brain absorbing such degrading images of female sexual exploitation can possibly be healthy?

Two, to shame men who look at porn or cheat in marriage, so that the dependency goes more and more underground. And the third, to simply ignore the subject until some horrible thing like a mass murder in Georgia happens and a man is claiming that he did it because of sexual addiction.

There is a better way. 

When I published Kosher Sex twenty years ago, I was attacked by many in the Jewish establishment for penning the book. We’ve come a long way since, and the book has become an established part of Jewish sexual identity. When my daughter Chana launched a Kosher Sex company, based on the ideas of the book, and opened stores in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and New York, and launched Kosher.Sex, not only was she not criticized but became a media sensation, which just shows we’re making progress thank God.

But not nearly enough. 

Until readers can look at a column like this in a mainstream Jewish publication without wondering whether it should have been published elsewhere, we have not done enough. Until a husband can tell his wife, “I’ve been looking at stuff online and I feel it’s too much and I think we should talk to someone together, we have not done enough. Until Synagogues begin offering classes, both to couples and men and women individually – about healthy sexuality, we haven’t enough. Until teenagers can speak to their parents openly about sexual challenges without feeling judged, we haven’t done enough. And until High School and Yeshiva students can come to professional mentors and speak openly and without shame about aspects of their sexuality and receive actual guidance rather than criticism, we haven’t done enough.

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