April 2011 – On his hit CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, actor Charlie Sheen plays a roguish womanizer who just can’t seem to help himself when it comes to having sex with the ladies.
Sadly, that also seems to be the case with Sheen’s real-life persona. Sexual exploits with porn stars, drunken rages in hotel rooms and charges of domestic violence have tarnished the actor’s once-winsome image.
Sheen’s shenanigans forced producers of the sitcom to take a three-week hiatus last year when the actor was forced into rehab. This year it was a four-week timeout.
Apparently on the verge of losing his third wife to divorce, friends are frightened for the 45-year-old.
“He doesn’t think he’s going to die. He doesn’t want to stop. … He loves the attention, he loves to shock people, he loves that he gets away with all of this. And he can because there are no consequences – that’s the problem,” one friend told People magazine.
Addicted to sex – and porn
Problems with drugs and alcohol almost seem like a rite of passage in Hollywood, but Sheen’s antics also seem driven by something else: a problem controlling his sex drive.
“Maybe at 22, you’re with five hookers, so what?” the friend said. “But when you’re his age and a father, it’s just ridiculous.”
Can a person become addicted to sex like they can alcohol or drugs? Some mental health professionals are beginning to take the idea more seriously.
A survey by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 2008 revealed startling numbers: almost 80% of relationship therapists in the U.K. said sex addiction was not only a real phenomenon but a growing problem.
A BBC article on the survey said those considered addicted to sex frequently hired prostitutes, had casual sex encounters and engaged in risky sexual behavior.
Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, was more specific in comments made to AFA Journal. He said Sheen might have a sexual addiction triggered by pornography.
Sheen does seem to have a porn habit. In an article about his more recent meltdowns, LifeSiteNews revealed court records stemming from 2006 divorce proceedings, when his second wife, Denise Richardson, split from the actor.
Richardson told the court that Sheen had admitted using pornography but told her she had to accept his habit.
“I told him that as a mother, I found this information very disturbing because we had two young daughters and that I believed he had a serious problem,” Richardson testified. “I told [him] that I was very concerned about the children spending the night at his house because of the activities he was involved in with prostitutes … and pornography.”
There’s no doubt porn is ubiquitous and using it is common. According to a 2008 survey of college students by Penn State psychologist Chiara Sabina, 90% of men and 60% of women said they had used Internet porn before they’d even turned 18 years of age.
The problem is that pornography – especially the Internet variety – seems to be inextricably linked to the sex addiction trend. It feeds the addiction and then drives addicts back to the Web for more porn. Therapists told the BBC, “Internet porn is the most frequent vehicle used to act out. Some addicts spend up to eight hours a day on porn Web sites.”
Newsweek editor Susanna Schrobsdorff said in an article that such talk may seem fanciful to some people. “The term ‘sex addict’ has been used as a punch line on television so often that it’s hard to believe that it can actually be a serious addiction, like alcoholism,” she said.
The occasion for writing her story, however, was instructive. Actor David Duchovny, famous for his role as an FBI agent in X Files, had just entered rehab for treatment of a sex addiction.
Ironically, as Schrobsdorff noted, Duchovny was currently starring in the Showtime drama Californication, about a man named Hank Moody, who is obsessed with sex. The tagline for the show: “He can’t help himself.”
A destructive wake
That’s a small consolation for the friends and loved ones left in the destructive wake. As the Charlie Sheen fiasco illustrates, porn-fueled sex addiction takes a tremendous toll on relationships.
The BBC survey noted that 74% of the therapists said it is more and more common to see “excessive use of Internet pornography, and compulsive sexual behavior as issues affecting relationships” of addicts.
When relationships turn sour due to such addictions, it seems as if it is women who receive the brunt of the pain.
In an article for the Scientific American Mind, psychology professors Hal Arkowitz of the University of Arizona and Scott O. Lilienfeld of Emory University said, “Enthusiasm for porn often accompanies callousness toward women, dissatisfaction with a partner’s sexual performance and appearance, and doubts about the value of marriage. Such attitudes are clearly detrimental to relationships with women. …”
Why? On both sides of the relationship porn wreaks havoc. On the one hand, pornography erodes the capacity for a man to relate to his female partner.
Such men “have become so accustomed to the high levels of visual novelty and stimulation that Internet porn provides that they’re unable to focus on real sex with a real woman,” Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor, wrote on his CNN.com blog.
On the other hand, many women who become aware of their partner’s fixation on smut develop questions about their own attractiveness and ability to compete with pornographic images.
Arkowitz and Lilienfeld cite the work of psychologist Ana Bridges of the University of Arkansas, who found that “42% [of women] agreed that their partner’s porn consumption made them feel insecure, 39% that the partner’s porn use had a negative effect on their relationship. …”
Tragically, according to Peters, as younger and younger children are exposed to pornography, the future consequences will worsen.
“Those who get addicted to this material will carry their addictions into their marriages, if they get married at all,” he said. “Many young males now seem to prefer Internet pornography to marriage.”
Damaged relationships aren’t the only negative outcome from porn-induced sex addiction, however. Some experts believe it can be dangerous to women. Arkowitz and Lilienfeld reviewed some of the scientific literature dealing with “heavy consumption of porn, including the Internet variety.” They said the evidence pointed to a link between porn and “sexually aggressive attitudes and behaviors toward women,” even including endorsing coercive sex, and could be linked to crimes against women.
Is sex addiction real?
The concept of sexual addiction, however, is still very controversial. The same is true for using the word “addiction” to describe habitual activity related to other behaviors, such as gambling or shopping.
Arkowitz and Lilienfeld noted that most mental health theories about addiction require that the addict develop a tolerance for the activity and also suffer withdrawals when the behavior is stopped. When it comes to so-called sexual addictions, however, they said these things are rare.
However, those who believe that sexual addiction is a real problem insist that when someone can’t seem to stop a behavior – even when it leads to negative consequences – they’re addicted.
Peters insisted to AFA Journal that denying the reality of sexual addiction relies on a definition that is overly restrictive. “There is no question in my mind that a person can get ‘addicted’ to pornography. … Research now shows that the same part of our brain that is adversely affected when we get addicted to drugs is adversely affected when we get addicted to pornography,” he said.
Addictions, in fact, may be much more complex behaviors than many people think, encompassing different aspects of our nature: mental, chemical, emotional, etc.
For example, Jill W. Bley, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in Cincinnati, told Newsweek that some people get addicted to the adrenaline flow that comes from the particular behavior. “The riskier it gets, the more adrenaline they get. Like all addictions, the more they get, the more they need,” she said. “It may seem stupid from the outside, but that’s not what someone is thinking when they’re caught up in the addiction cycle.”
There may be a spiritual component as well. The obsessions that feed on adrenaline or other pleasure responses might simply be what the Bible calls sensuality – a desire to live for the gratification of the senses.
Thus, at its core, sexual addiction would be a simple and age-old sin: idolatry. When a person lives to serve a desire that begins to take over his or her life, we call it an addiction. In reality it is a god.
This is the way the Apostle Paul seemed to view it in Philippians 3:19, where he refers to those “whose god is their appetite” (NASB).
Most of us can see when a friend’s appetites – such as alcohol, drugs or even sex – are beginning to control and destroy their lives. The cure is the same for Charlie Sheen as it is for everyone else – the gospel. Only through the freedom that Christ brings can an idol be replaced with an even greater love: God Himself.