Over the past few weeks, as I’ve been listening to all the coverage of Congressman Weiner’s transgressions, I’ve realized that we’re at a crossroads.
Aside from lying about what he did, Weiner did nothing illegal. (I’m not even sure that lying about what he did was illegal.) Weiner was engaged in behavior that [hundreds of] thousands of people, men and women, participate in every day. The scandal was that he was a Congressman. We still expect better from some people, witness the response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church versus the response to the same type of abuse in other sectors of society. But I digress.
There have been reports that Weiner is checking himself in for treatment. Up to now, Tiger Woods is the only other subject of a sex scandal that I’ve heard has sought treatment.
But I was discouraged to see one of my favorite writers, James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal, mock the idea of treatment. Such thinking suggests an ignorance of the pervasiveness and reality of sexual addiction, much of it fueled by porn and various forms of cyber sex.
What Weiner did was very stupid, especially for a very intelligent man. Some would say that he, and other men involved in sexual scandals, are just power hungry. I think it takes more than an obsession with power to make the decisions that Weiner did. Forget the really obscene pictures he sent, think about the circumstances that get someone to the point where they think it’s a great idea to send a picture of their covered genital area from the gym at the Capitol? Really? Including one’s face? Really? Sent from one’s own account? Really. You can’t be thinking straight if you’re at that point.
Groups like Sexaholics Anonymous exist to help people (men and women) overcome sexual addictions. These include pornography, compulsive masturbation, cyber sex, etc. I’ve seen an increasing amount of references to scientific studies suggesting that porn is addictive and that it can be linked to sexual dysfunction. (There’s a very graphic, not PG, article written in the first person by a porn consumer in a recent edition of New York Magazine. This article is raw. Don’t read it if you will be scandalized or otherwise ill affected.)
Because this behavior is so mainstream, it won’t be long before a Weiner scandal won’t cause a ripple in the public eye. You see worse on MTV, various reality shows, and even network programming like “Two And A Half Men,” where fidelity and monogamy are portrayed as sexual deviance. In fact, I’m surprised that “Two And A Half Men,” was able to be filmed with actor Angus T. Jones, now a teenager, when he was much younger.
Efforts to limit access to pornography have been thwarted by first amendment protection. You can even watch porn at the library; it’s your “right.”
But we also have an opportunity here. Alcohol, tobacco, and drugs are all able to be regulated because they are extremely addictive and harmful. Dr. Donald L. Hilton, Jr., a neurosurgeon, has done groundbreaking research indicating that pornography can be as or more addictive than crack cocaine. And porn leads to cyber sex and many other destructive behaviors. People lose control of their lives. The New York Magazine above also suggests that these activities make it difficult/impossible to have a healthy sexual experience, let alone a healthy sexual relationship. The irony…
Weiner should be encouraged to get treatment. Anyone who is concerned about the “fiber” of our culture and society should be using this as an opportunity to discuss a serious addiction facing many, many people. You don’t have to be a right-wing and/or church going conservative to realize that this behavior is destructive and that it would be better for Weiner, Woods, Spitzer, Strauss-Kahn, Lee, Vitter, et al, to be faithful to their spouses. We’re all better off in faithful, loving, trusting, honest relationships.
The addictive and harmful characteristics of porn and its cousins raises an interesting possibility. As I noted, we regulate other harmful things like alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Will the porn family lose it’s first amendment protection if we continue to see its detrimental effects?
Now is not the time to be hearing from the moralists or the family groups. Now’s the time to be hearing from the experts at Sexaholics Anonymous, therapists, doctors, and researchers who specialize in sexual addictions. They should be on the talk shows, in the news stories, and on the radio shows. I think we have a lot to learn and we will miss the opportunity the more that the behaviors become mainstreamed.
And if you think these problems don’t affect you, your family, your friends, your church, or your community, you are living in la-la land and I don’t mean Los Angeles. You are in denial and that’s not a river in Egypt. I think you get the idea…
In my own work and community, I have heard and seen the effects of these problems countless times. Talk to any pastor or confessor and they will tell you the same. Talk to anyone who works with teens, including your own, and you will hear it. Talk to therapists. Talk to IT and HR departments that monitor internet traffic in the workspace.
My thoughts and prayers are with Weiner, his wife, and all the others who suffer the effects of these types of addiction.