Monday, February 22, 2010

Is Tiger A Sex Addict?

First of all, is there really such a thing as sexual addiction? If you Google the phrase you will get a million and a half hits. Google sex addict and you will find over two million references. These terms are definitely popular.

What is an addict? The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines it as "the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming." So why has society decided to describe habits as addictions? It all started when society accepted the notion that habits were a "disease" that needed to be cured by special programs, experts, or religion. This became official when the prestigious American Medical Association decided in 1956 that alcoholism was a disease. From this point onward addiction has had a complicated and controversial history.

And we all know diseases must be treated by experts. Well, not always. The medical community is well aware that many diseases automatically go away. This is called spontaneous remission. The basic problem with this perspective is that the vast majority of people who are addicted to something don’t change because of any treatment program. They give it up for other reasons of their choosing. Well over 75% of people with addictions quit on their own.

The concept of addictions began solely as an explanation for alcohol abuse. It caught the public’s fancy because it seemed like such a simple way to understand inexplicable behavior. Eventually, the term began to be used for any behavior that occurred outside some arbitrary social norm. If a person gambled more than others, she had a gambling addiction. If an individual spent too much time shopping, he had a shopping addiction. The same word is now used for any behavior a person spends a lot of time doing. The computer age has allowed the addiction vocabulary to grow like weeds in our lexicons.

Men of influence, money and power have always been on the prowl sexually since the beginning of time. Some societies accept the fact that their king, prime minister, president, or other head of state is going to have a mistress and several affairs. Other societies are appalled when this happens. People differ in their expectation and acceptance of multiple partners. As you know some countries even condone multiple wives as a sign of wealth and power.

Is there anyone alive today that hasn’t been told that Tiger Woods has a sexual addiction because he had sex with multiple partners? I wonder if he would have earned this label if he had not been married? Can you name a non-married male movie star who has had multiple sex partners. Are they thought of as sex addicts? Or do we refer to them as players, eligible bachelors? Are there any men who secretly or openly envy their behavior? Are there any women who dream of being one of those partners? Think George Clooney or Warren Beatty.

What do we gain by deciding that Tiger Woods is a sex addict? Actually, nothing. Maybe we feel comforted that there is a label for such behavior. Society loves labels because it simplifies things and helps us think we really understand something. In fact, labels often make us run in circles instead of giving us clarity. If the answer to the question "why is Tiger a sex addict?" is that he has had many sex partners, this seems perfectly clear. It gets a bit unclear when we ask another question, "Why has he had so many sex partners?" The answer is an unsatisfying, "because he’s a sex addict." Labels make us run in circles when we think are walking in a straight line.

How do we decide who does and who does not have an addiction? This is a murky question because there are few acceptable criteria for answering this question. Most people leave the answer to the "experts." Unfortunately some of these experts are self appointed with little expertise or background in understanding the controversy surrounding addictions. Many addiction experts are former addicts with little or no scientific training in medicine or psychology. It seems a bit like a social reprobate who gets religion and is immediately an expert on God and the bible.

Is it possible that addictions have gained such acceptance because money might be involved? After all, if any addiction is a "disease" then someone has to provide a "cure" — at a fee. The treatment for addictions is so popular that it has a special name, rehabilitation or "rehab" in popular parlance. Did I mention money? For the curious, you might be interested to know that the clinic Tiger has decided to use costs between twenty and forty thousand dollars for a mere six weeks. Unless you are wealthy, it is best not to become a sex addict.

Most psychologists who are scientifically trained in treating "addictive" behavior see it as a problem only if it interferes with normal functioning. This seems puzzling in the case of Tiger Woods. By all accounts, until his affairs became public, he was still the world’s greatest golfer. None of his liaisons kept him from winning tournaments. He was still loved by fans. His friends never left him. Where was the dysfunction? The only part of his life that really mattered was his relationship with his wife.

What is the problem here? The problem is a private one between he and his wife. In this country (not so in all countries) married men are not expected to have sex with other women even though at least a quarter of married men admit to having had an affair. This number could probably be doubled and still be accurate.

What are society’s expectations for famous people who get caught in an extramarital relationship. The drill has become fairly commonplace. Tiger is using the standard play book: Silence, then an acceptance of the "addiction," checking into a sex rehab clinic, and finally making a public apology.
Immediately after Tiger’s public apology on Friday, the reaction was mixed with 53% percent saying the apology was sincere while the rest didn’t think so. A local television station went to a golf course and asked golfers what they thought. The male golfer said he believed Tiger and people should now leave him alone. A female golfer thought the apology was phony and did not accept his apology. When asked what Tiger could have said that would convince here he was genuine, she said that nothing he could say would change her mind about him.

Could we as a public have lived without all the sordid details? Did we really have to insist that Tiger’s apology be broadcast for all the world to see and hear? Maybe the question is why we humans are so voyeuristic when it comes to celebrities. The answer is probably on an Internet blog somewhere.

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