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Cruise Control, by Robert Weiss

Tue 3 Oct 2006 In: Books View at Wayback View at NDHA

There's a recent new book that claims that some gay men suffer from "sex addiction." However, is the concept itself helpful to us? In the late eighties, new twin 'psychopathologies' appeared- "inhibited sexual desire" and "sexual addiction." In the case of ISD, it was listed in the third revised edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. However, "sexual addiction" has a quite different origin. It arose from the lay 'twelve step' addiction recovery movement, home to alcholics and narcotics anonymous groups, with some religious involvement in its emergence as well. "Sexual addiction" advocates often argue that 'excessive' sexual behaviour is a 'problem,' but according to feminist theorist Judith Irvine, this whole rhetoric may end up reinforcing narrowly conservative models of heterosexual female sexuality. So, why does Robert Weiss think that this suspect concept can and should be applied to gay men as well? Weiss argues that gay male 'sex addiction' emerges if someone engages in frequent risky behaviour that endangers your significant personal relationships, job and health. In itself, having multiple sexual partners isn't a sign of addiction, but sex shouldn't become an all-consuming activity, and it shouldn't involve the use of alcohol and drugs to facilitate sex. If Weiss' message was restricted to practical calls for moderation, safe sex and risk reduction, then I wouldn't have any problems with his work. However, I do part company on several conservative and prescriptive attitudes that creep into his work. Why exactly is use of male sex workers 'wrong,' given that it offers an outlet to enables some closeted gay men to explore their desires and eventually come out? Why is bog sex 'wrong', given that it may be the only sexual outlet for some men who have sex with men in conservative rural or provincial city environments? Weiss also ignores the differential repression of adolescent gay sexuality, which adversely affects optimal development and balance within gay sexual development over the lifespan. Just as seriously, Weiss pays far too little attention to 'exgay' groups that attempt to label all gay sex 'addictive.' Moreover, what about the social and historical context that criminalised gay male sex until recently? There are some positive aspects to this book, though. Weiss is to be commended for discussing how child sexual abuse can screw up optimal gay sexual development, which is far too little discussed within gay male communities. I also can't fault him for focusing strongly on the relationship between crystal methamphetamine and unprotected sex. Even given the context of low self-esteem and economic hardship that usually prompt its use, crystal meth use carries a dimension of risk that can never be understated. Can relationships be addictive? Sure, Weiss does have a chapter on 'relationship' or 'love addiction,' but the bulk of this book identifies monogamy with the 'absence' of addiction. Weiss advises readers to join 'sex addicts anonymous' groups, or find a supportive therapist. As well, they should set themselves personal boundaries, and stick to them to lead themselves toward more balanced, proportional relationships. Weiss' book is problematic. It is a mixture of unexamined prescriptive advice and judgements on the one hand, and good insights into real problems that can arise from troubled family backgrounds and/or substance abuse issues on the other hand. It offers some practical tips for restoring balance and moderation to one's life, but should be read selectively. If there is a second edition, one hopes that he will address some of the major shortcomings noted within this review. Core Reading: Robert Weiss: Cruise Control: Boston: Alyson Press: 2005. Background: Judith Irvine: "Regulated Passions: The Invention of Inhibited Sexual Desire and Sexual Addiction" in Jennifer Terry and Jacqueline Urla (ed) Deviant Bodies: Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 1995. Craig Young - 3rd October 2006    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Tuesday, 3rd October 2006 - 12:00pm

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