Carnal knowledge

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com 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.

What’s the best way to cope with sexual addiction?Keeping as much structure as you can. If you go to the
gym Tuesdays and Thursdays, stick with that. Also, not
isolating yourself is important. Even if you go out to
the movies or shopping by yourself, you’re not
really by yourself. Being at home alone with hours to spare
and nothing to do is bad news.

Cruise Control focuses on gay male sex addiction,
but are women susceptible too?
There are female sex addicts out there. Again, women
tend to be more relationship-oriented. What women tend
to do in their search for love is addictively have a
lot of sex. The addicts have delusions and denial
about what brings love. This obviously applies to lesbians
too.

Who faces more stigma and shame for admitting a problem
with sexual compulsion: gay or straight men?
I think straight men do because the cultural
expectations of monogamy for straight men are greater.
For gay men to say, “I’ve had hundreds of
partners,” it’s like,
“Whatever.”

You’ve been making the rounds on TV talk shows
talking about sex addiction. Have you experienced
uncomfortable moments with straight audiences?
A staff member from one of the shows was sort of tapping
his foot and, I believe, making obscene gestures
behind the camera because others were laughing. After
I was done he told me, “Porn built the
Internet.” I said, “Listen, porn
isn’t the problem. Like alcohol, with most people it
isn’t an issue, but for a portion of the population,
alcohol is a problem, and they have to deal with it
differently than the other 92% of the population who
can drink [reasonably].” It’s the same with
sex addiction. That kind of setting doesn’t
afford a full explanation, though, and those objecting
to the material quite often have a sexual issue
themselves.

How did you get into this field of study, and why did you
want to write Cruise Control?
I went to UCLA for my graduate work and I was fortunate
enough to work with Dr. Patrick Carnes (who wrote the
seminal book on sex addiction, Out of the
Shadows,
as well as the foreword to Cruise
Control
) at one of the first inpatient sex-addiction
centers. At that time it was groundbreaking to do inpatient
treatment for people with behavioral problems. I spent
four years with the guy who coined the phrase
“sex addiction”—Carnes is a pioneer in
the field. After that time I realized there was no
place in L.A. I could refer someone to and say,
“Go there when you get out.” That
didn’t seem right to me, so I took the steps
necessary to create that by starting an outpatient program
for sex addicts.

The book came
about because the primary material on the field, Out of
the Shadows,
is great, and Carnes is a mentor, but
he doesn’t know what it’s like to be
gay. He’s heard “bathhouse,”
“sex club,” or “glory
hole” a million times, but he doesn’t really
understand those things. You can’t really
include those things in a book intended for heterosexual
men. They would reject it out of hand. I wanted a book about
which gay men would say, “That’s
me.”