Sex Addiction and “Shame,” A Movie That Validates

The cover story by Chris Lee in a recent Newsweek issue quotes Steven Luff, an expert on sex addiction, as stating that we are now experiencing a “national epidemic.” At the same time, it’s pointed out that sex addiction as a construct is still controversial.

And that has been one of the main issues about sex addiction, hasn’t it? The idea that it may not be real enough.

Writer Tracy Clark-Flory‘s recent article in Salon, “Don’t Believe the Sex Addiction Hype,” serves, for example, as one of the counterpoints to the Newsweek article. Clark-Flory calls sex addiction a “cultural phenomenon, not a legitimate medical diagnosis.”

Psychologist David Ley, author of the upcoming book The Myth of Sex Addiction, is quoted by Clark-Flory as perceiving this diagnosis as a “moral attack on sexuality” that’s not substantiated by science. He’s afraid that if the DSM proceeds with adding “Hypersexual Disorder” to its new edition next year, too many people with a high frequency of sexual behavior will be inappropriately labelled and thus harmed.

Isn’t this blaming the diagnosis instead of the misguided diagnoser?

Lee’s Newsweek article also informs us about the new movie Shame. Actor Michael Fassbender plays Brandon, a sex addict, and Carey Mulligan his sister. Fassbender has already won awards for his performance.

Sheila Marikar in her review for ABC : “If you’re still in doubt about whether or not sex addiction is real, see ‘Shame.’ There are few things as depressing as watching a man defile a series of prostitutes while his suicidal sister sobs into his answering machine.”

According to Newsweek, Steve McQueen, the director of Shame, is among those who doubted the validity of this addiction—until he researched it by attending meetings of Sex Addicts Anonymous. Much as anyone with an open mind might when exposed to others’ stories of anguish, he became a believer—and made his movie.

As for shame, psychiatrist Garrett O’Connor has reportedly stated that addicts of all types carry at least some degree of malignant shame.

Shame, in turn, is also what often propels the addiction. This vicious cycle is what some would call the “shame spiral.”

You may be sorely disappointed if you see Shame expecting sexual thrills, then. In fact, be prepared to experience the opposite. Ann Hornaday, film critic: “What movies so often relegate to the margins of pornography or sophomoric titillation is radically redefined here, stripped of its erotic charge and depicted as a numbing erasure of life and emotion.”

On the issue of whether or not there’s such a thing as a sex addiction disorder, noted film critic Roger Ebert cuts to the chase on his website: “Whatever it is, Brandon suffers from it.”

And his conclusion about Shame? “This is a great act of filmmaking and acting. I don’t believe I would be able to see it twice.”

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