Sex Obsession and Psychotherapism: The Culprit Is Not the Cure
Immediately after their abusive behavior finally became public, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey rushed off to a sex addiction clinic. Without questioning their motives, one can be justifiably skeptical about the prospect of success for such treatment. Exclusive clinics for sex addiction call to mind similar drug-rehab facilities, with their revolving doors of celebrities and jet-set clientele.
One great reason for skepticism is the fact that the psychotherapy industry itself has contributed considerably to the modern obsession with sex. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to point the finger only at psychotherapists. For a long time, Hollywood has been leading the way with its irresponsible sexual hedonism, a reality Raymond Chandler exposed seventy years ago in mystery novels like The Little Sister. Moreover, many others in the intelligentsia popularized the myth of the sexually repressed, joyless Judeo-Christian West, a concept that became a bulwark of the current widespread endorsement of sexual license.
Among our mandarins, the term "puritanical" was coined to denote an attitude of straight-laced disapproval of unbounded behavior in the sexual realm. However, anyone who thinks the Puritans were cold, inhibited, unaffectionate people ought to read the poetry of Ann Bradstreet, such as "A Letter to Her Husband," or Jonathan Edwards's glowing expressions of affection for his wife Sarah. Such people probably understood more about the wholesome enjoyment of sexuality than many of the creepy denizens of Hollywood and the mass media world, with their exhibitionism and excess.
In the early twentieth century, anthropologists such as Franz Boas expected societies untouched by the corrupting West, such as South Sea islanders, to be abodes of idyllic sexual freedom. Boas sought to transform the older Romantic idea of the "noble savage" into a respectable scientific concept, based on anthropological research. Accordingly, his disciple, Margaret Meade, went to Samoa to discover this kind of sexual Shangri-La, and her 1928 book, Coming of Age in Samoa, depicted Samoa as a haven for uninhibited teenage sexuality. Though Meade famously described the Samoans as happily promiscuous, a more thorough anthropologist, Derek Freeman, subsequently debunked her work, finding that the Samoans actually idealized female virginity and that Samoan society was no free-sex utopia. For example, the Samoans had a serious rape problem.
Humanistic psychologists then took up the mantle of the anthropologists. One admiring disciple of the anthropologist Ruth Benedict (Meade's close associate and sometime sexual partner) was the psychologist Abraham Maslow. Maslow incorporated the same naïve view of sex into his own ideology of self-actualization, as Joyce Milton details in her account The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic Psychology and Our Discontents. Whereas Freud had looked askance at things like promiscuity and homosexuality, both Maslow and Carl Rogers held the view that self-actualized individuals need not subscribe to any sexual mores received from tradition or society. By his own admission, Maslow was reacting against his own strict Jewish upbringing. He envisioned a utopia composed of individuals who had broken free of such restraints, dubbing it "Eupsychia" (meaning "good feelings place"). His panacea echoes the free-love paradise of Boas's and Meade's imagination, and he believed that his own liberating psychology would take the place of traditional religion in that future world.
Immensely influential, humanistic psychologists played a significant role in legitimizing and furthering the sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s. No doubt they did not foresee its attendant scourges – an epidemic of STDs (including a fatal new one, AIDS), a rise in teenage pregnancy, and the entertainment industry's current degradation. After Maslow, one finds psychotherapists beset with multitudes preoccupied with sex. Believing they were missing out on complete sexual fulfillment, many looked to sex therapists to remedy this.
One prominent psychologist and specialist on sexuality, Bernie Zilbergeld, relates his numerous encounters with sexually discontented patients in The Shrinking of America: Myths of Psychological Change. Because self-styled sex experts had spread the idea that there is a right kind and a wrong kind of orgasm, many became dissatisfied when they discovered that they had "the wrong kind." Couples who had previously been sexually contented adopted the attitude that they needed to "keep up with the Joneses" in regard to sexual experiences. This pressure only made things worse. Some experimented with "open marriage" and sought out sexual encounters with other partners, seriously damaging or destroying their conjugal relationships.
In his book The Myth of Neurosis: Overcoming the Illness Excuse, psychiatrist Garth Wood concurred that morally unbounded sexual behavior has probably been one of the main causes of mental instability and broken relationships. On top of that, as the book's title implies, he argued that psychotherapeutic thinking tends to excuse people from assuming moral responsibility for evil behavior. However, progressivism, the ideology of most psychotherapists, provides no consistent moral code about sex – just encouragement for a sense of victimhood. Though he recommended "moral therapy" in place of the therapeutic approaches of his day, Wood could endorse no general moral standard. Instead, his ethical relativism led him to advise against challenging even a terrorist's twisted ethical stance.
Since modern psychotherapy has helped to create much of the sexual anarchy we observe today, relying on psychotherapy to deal with it seems a bit like going to casino owners for help with excessive gambling. Sexual misbehavior is more of a moral issue than a medical one. Recasting sexual misbehavior as simply a cry for mental healing may even supply the guilty with a convenient escape from taking moral responsibility.
Here in Japan, celebrity scandals usually call forth some kind of public confession of culpability to the victims and to society at large. These displays often come to little more than pro forma appeals to remain in the public's favor, but at least the perpetrators acknowledge moral responsibility. Also in the West, sexual sins once led to confessions to God and to the people harmed. Unfortunately, as a consequence of a therapeutic mindset, modern people have often forgotten how to think in those terms.
By escaping the shackles of psychotherapism's view of sexuality, people might learn that some sexual behavior is actually evil. Those who take the route of the Old Testament's King David, who confessed his adultery and other sins in Psalm 51, can find forgiveness for sins, cleansing of conscience, and a real power of moral transformation.
Bruce W. Davidson is a professor at Hokusei Gakuen University in Sapporo, Japan and a contributor to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia.