I’ve known since I was in the 5th grade that my dad was a “sex addict.”  This may seem like adult information that perhaps a 10 year-old shouldn’t know about, but my parents weren’t perfect.  My dad didn’t perfectly fulfill his role as monogamous husband, and my mom didn’t perfect keeping secrets from her kids.  Whatever.  It didn’t necessarily scar me for life, nor did it necessarily fuck up my own sex life.  It did, however, help to shape my understanding of “good” sex and “bad” sex.  Learning that my father had a “sex addiction” also informed me that his way of having sex was not the “right” way.  Also, I had a certain understanding that it was not necessarily his fault.  He experienced childhood sex abuse and it in turn “caused” his sex addiction, or so I thought.  I remained under the impression for quite some time that my father’s sexual behavior was deviant; it wasn’t how he was supposed to have sex.  But something went wrong along the way and he developed this pathology.  Had nothing happened to him to cause him to develop this excess sexuality, then his sexuality would have developed “normally” into heterosexual, married, monogamy.   This was the impression I had.

Janice Irvine’s Disorders of Desire really opened my eyes to the historical and cultural construction of “sex addiction.”  In the chapter “Regulated Passions,” Irvine traces the history of how sex addiction came to be seen as a legitimate, medicalized pathology.  Irvine basically says that the labeling of sex addiction was a response to those who do not conform to normative, monogamous sexuality within heterosexual marriage.  If they don’t like to have sex the “normal” way, then something must be wrong with them, and there must be a scientific justification for such behavior.  Irvine argues, “It is not surprising that professionals in the late twentieth century would conceptualize concerns regarding sexual desire as major medical problems, since historically physicians have played a significant role not only in the management of sexual behavior but in defining the existence, appropriateness, and ideal object of sexual desire or passion” (176).  In other words, my father’s sexuality was inappropriate according to normative medical standards, which are always culturally subjective.  There was something “wrong” with him because he didn’t want to have sex with just my mother.

This whole idea of the “sex addict” is a means of further legitimizing heterosexual, monogamous, married sex as the normal and natural sexuality.  There was nothing deviant about my father’s sexuality.  His sexuality was just different from my mother’s sexuality, which fell in accordance with normative societal standards (that is, until she came out as a lesbian, but that story is for another time).  My father did make a mistake, however, by not informing my mother of his different sexuality to make sure she was okay with it, or she could have made the choice not to marry him.  His sex addiction did “hurt the family,” but now I realize that is just because we live in a society where it is expected to.  My dad died when I was 16, so I can’t tell him that I get it now.  I understand that his sexuality was not deviant or wrong, just different.  Sex addiction is a historical and cultural phenomenon, it’s not some medical disease that my dad suffered from.  He just had sex differently than he was “suppose” to according to modern Western ideology.  I can’t fault him for that. -Stephanie Halsted

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