Carnal knowledge

In his new book, Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men, psychotherapist Robert Weiss, MSW, explores why such a disproportionately high number of gay men engage in sexually compulsive behavior and how they can be helped.

BY Neal Broverman

January 27 2006 12:00 AM ET

As a revered
psychotherapist and lecturer, Rob Weiss, MSW, has shared his
extensive knowledge on the subject of sexual addiction with
television viewers of Dateline NBC, 20/20, and
most recently, The Oprah Winfrey Show. In the
following Advocate.com exclusive interview, the gay
44-year old talks about his latest book on the subject,
Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in
Gay Men
(Alyson Books, $15.95). Weiss explains
how sex addiction compares to other compulsions and
offers up some strategies that can help keep the
self-destructive behavior at bay.

Is sex addiction about sex? No, not really. It’s about distraction
and control.

What kind of behavior have you witnessed in your patients?I’m working with this guy right now who ascribes
how alone he feels to being from out of state. He
started cruising the gyms and the steam rooms and came
to me because he specifically wanted to stop doing that.
He realized he feels alone a lot of the time, but he
doesn’t acknowledge it because he will
compulsively masturbate, watch pornography, or go out
a couple nights a week cruising. So he never really sits
with his feeling of loneliness. He doesn’t
allow it—he doesn’t even know the loneliness
is there because he’s anticipating the sexual
excitement and contact.

Is sex addiction simply a variation on other
addictions—akin to food, alcohol, or
drugs—that flare up during stressful times?
Sex addiction belongs in the behavioral category;
it’s most like gambling addiction because
it’s not about arousal. Sex addicts can go long
periods of time looking at images and cruising boulevards
and never get an erection, but they’re totally
aroused because of adrenaline and endorphins.
It’s not about an orgasm, either, because then
it’s over. This is akin to gambling where
you’re playing and playing, but you’re not
necessarily playing to win. Sex addiction also resembles an
eating disorder because the goal is not to stop eating
but to find a healthy way to live.

How entwined is sex addiction with drug use?At this moment in gay culture, there is such an infusion
of crystal meth and other drugs with sexual behavior
that they become mutually supportive. One feeds the
other. There are guys who are crystal addicts, and
they do crystal in combination with acting out sexually.
They may spend three days at a sex club or two days at
a guy’s house doing PNP [party and play, a
slang term describing combining drug use with
intercourse] and having a lot of sex, but they really
don’t have any history of sex addiction, and
without they crystal they wouldn’t be that
rabidly motivated to be that sexually compulsive. There are
other guys who have long histories of sexual addiction
and just add crystal to the mix.

In what ways does the Internet make it easier to indulge
in dangerous sexual behavior?
We’re seeing people who become sex addicts and
don’t have a long history with the problem
prior to going online. The Internet is the crack
cocaine of sex addiction. Internet sex is not like porn
where you have to leave your house and go to the
bookstore. The Internet is accessible and also
never-ending; there’s always another image or person
online—not to mention it’s cheap as
pasta. You don’t need a membership for Craigslist.
And the anonymity of the Internet means if you’re shy
you can still find people, but it also means you
don’t grow because you don’t have to push
yourself.

Do drugs, specifically crystal, have anything to do with
why such a disproportionate amount of gay
men—compared to straight—struggle with sex
addiction? Or is it a reflection of internalized
homophobia and self-hatred?
Methamphetamines were very popular in the
’60s, and it had nothing to do with sex. It was
related to fashion, to clubs, to being extremely thin.
The main reason sex and crystal are now fused [for gay men]
is because of Viagra and drugs that allow us to have
erections for long periods of time while doing
methamphetamines. Crystal will drive whatever obsession
you’re into; a lot of people just use crystal for
work, to lose weight. But gay men often use it for
extended binges.

[The
disproportionate numbers] come from being a repressed
minority. The acting out comes from oppression; you
see it in black men and other minorities. The main way
[gay men] act out is sexually. HIV also contributes to
this. Men in their late 30s or early 40s who lived through
AIDS don’t want to rebuild their social circles. They
say, “Fuck it, all my friends died. I’m
going to join the party.” The young men are
frustrated and angry with condoms and all the messages of
safe sex, when all they want to do is have a good
time. HIV enters into the mix with us in a way that it
doesn’t with straight people. It’s also men
being with men. We have innate characteristics. Men
are visual: We objectify, we compete. Women tend to be
more relationship-oriented and seek out emotional
characteristics rather than physical ones.

We have a variety
of things working against us.

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