Sep 27

“Thanks for Sharing”: Dramedy About Sex Addiction Recovery

About the new film Thanks for Sharing, from sex addiction expert Robert Weiss, LCSW, founder of The Sexual Recovery Institute (on The Huffington Post):

Thanks for Sharing is a meaningful and important film in three key ways. First, it is a well-written, well-acted, entertaining movie. Second, it is an accurate portrayal of the trials, tribulations, and joys of sex addiction recovery. Third, it is a film that can and hopefully will educate both active sex addicts and the general public about the nature (and recovery path) of a heretofore mostly misunderstood disease. Perhaps the most telling thought in this regard comes from an associate of mine — a recovering sex addict with more than a decade of sobriety. He saw the movie with a non-addicted friend who has long questioned the existence of sex addiction, despite knowledge of my associate’s troublesome sexual history. After the movie the non-addict friend said two things:

  1. I think I finally get it. Sex really can be an addiction.
  2. Is there a 12-step program for non-addicts? Because if there is, I’d really like to go.

In Thanks for Sharing the three main characters—Adam (Mark Ruffalo), Mike (Tim Robbins), and Neil (Josh Gad)—are in three different phases of participation in Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). Five years into recovery, Adam has Mike as a sponsor, a guy who’s quick with an SAA aphorism but has conflicted relationships with his wife (Joely Richardson) and son Danny (Patrick Fugit), whose own addiction has been drugs. Adam sponsors the resistant, legally mandated Neil.

It is in fact much more common for men to attend SAA than women, so the fact that there’s only one female group member rings true. Like Neil, Dede (Alecia Moore) is a relative newcomer to SAA. And, by the way, Moore is otherwise known as the singer Pink, and she’s received positive reviews for her role.

Each addict has his/her struggles, but critics seem to focus the most on the emerging romantic relationship between Adam and Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), who’s already had a bad experience with an addict, an alcoholic partner. Adam thus fails initially to admit his addiction, a dishonest and unhealthy way for a member of SAA to go.

In addition to Adam and Phoebe, another interpersonal thread is the friendship that emerges between Neil and Dede, who’s previously only been able to relate to men via sex. The opinion of Linda Holmes, NPR, echoes that of several other reviewers as well:

…I think the most pleasant surprise is the friendship between the characters played by Josh Gad and Pink. This is the story that underscores the importance of giving a rip about someone besides yourself if you’re ever going to recover from anything. At first, the Gad character is so sketchy…that it seems like he might be irredeemable, but there’s a lot of ground to cover — as there is for all these characters.

What Are Some of the Things We Learn About Sex Addiction?

It’s a real condition for many, not an excuse for inappropriate behavior.

In the film the guys call recovery the daily struggle to “quit [the proverbial] crack while the pipe’s attached to your body.”

Robert Weiss, The Huffington Post, reports that two key sexual recovery books are seen in the film, Patrick Carnes‘s Out of the Shadows and A Gentle Path through the Twelve Steps.

Although generally giving a favorable critique, Weiss adds:

My sole gripe, and it’s a very small gripe, is that the concept of ‘sexual sobriety’ is not adequately explained. I worry that viewers potentially interested in sexual recovery for themselves will walk away thinking that being sexually sober means they can never have sex again, with themselves or anyone else. And in reality that is not the case. Sexual sobriety differs for every person, and it does not equate to an elimination of sexuality. Instead, sexual sobriety is about finding ways to be sexual that are life and relationship affirming. Yes, compulsive and problematic sexual behaviors must be eliminated, but the remainder of the wide-open sexual universe remains in play. Sexual recovery is not a death-knell for sex, just as recovery from compulsive eating does not involve starving oneself to death.

Andrew Schenker, Slant: “The film shrewdly expands its scope by linking sex addiction with other forms of addiction, understanding the addictive personality to be not easily compartmentalized into a single category. Thus Mike is also an alcoholic, Neil a compulsive eater, and Dede is simultaneously attending a meeting for drug addicts.”

Dec 16

“Shame” Movie Validates Sex Addiction

The new Shame movie helps legitimize sex addiction. It lies in the camp of those who see this disorder as a growing “epidemic”; not in the camp that isn’t sure it even exists.

Writer Tracy Clark-Flory‘s recent article in Salon, “Don’t Believe the Sex Addiction Hype,” is in that latter camp. 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?

Actor Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a sex addict, in Shame; Carey Mulligan portrays 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 dealing with the titular emotion of the movie, 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.”

Considering this, you may be sorely disappointed if you see Shame expecting sexual thrills, then. In fact, be prepared to experience the opposite, say reviewers.

Back to 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.”