where you go when your sex life depletes your bank account, infuriates your
partner, or simply whiles away all your waking hours -- sex rehab. Plenty of
celebs check themselves in (oh, Tiger Woods, David Duchovny, Anthony Weiner,
and Jesse James, for starters). But what really happens behind the scenes?
Bad Sex, a new series on Logo premiering tonight
at 9 p.m., lets us tag along for the treatment of 10 sexually-troubled
first episode follows Ryan, a gay 35-year-old with a bad case of sex addiction.
He counts 1,500 sexual partners, and fights urges to "jump over that fence and
run to sex." His lust puts a nice-sized dent in his productivity at work. He's
unable to have romantic relationships, per se, and he even jilted his only
solid friendship after necking with his best friend's boyfriend. But really, he
couldn't help himself: her boyfriend was straight, and straight men are Ryan's
a sexual predator on straight men." Those are the words of Ryan's
self-proclaimed "sex specialist,"
Chris Donaghue. A less sensational title would be registered therapist intern
(he's a social work intern, to be specific, but that tidbit is only found in
the smallest of print at the show's end). Donaghue's in training, and not a
licensed mental health professional, although he may have more experience in
this field than your average licensee. Still, it's odd: Typcially, interns
adhere to ridgid rules set by the state that dictate how they can refer to
themselves -- to call one's self a "sex specialist" while running individual and
group therapy, well, let's just say it's a little creative. Let's hope he
consulted a lawyer before the show airs.
is textbook when it comes to his detached, reserved, "neutral" presence that
certainly screams "therapist." Donaghue's outfit screams something else. He wears skin-tight shirts that reveal
both his nipples and enormous bare biceps, which themselves sport gorgeous
tattoos. It's a great look, and I am a fan. However, it's an unusual choice.
Shrinks make a point of dressing conservatively, not because we don't like
feeling sexy, but because of the theory that clients will inevitably have
sexual feelings for their therapist, as part of the therapy. We shrinks try not
to prematurely evoke those feelings with Lycra and massive muscles.
explains that he's "sex positive" and maybe that's part of why being sexy won
out over any therapist's moral dilemma. In Los Angeles, our two sex addiction
rehab centers are split: Robert Weiss, founder of The Sexual Recovery
Institute, allegedly instructs his therapists to cover up, while Alexandra
Katehakis, director of The Center
for Healthy Sex, is rumored to be of the mind that sex addicts need to buck up
and sweat it out when therapists dress provocatively. Donaghue has logged time
at both places, and by the look of it, he's of the mind of Katehakis -- less is
more, when less is your shirt.
guns aside, the sex addicts (and virgins, non-monogamists, compulsive cheaters,
and internet-porn addicts) steal this show. Ryan in particular is so funny, so
smart that it's hard to remember his charisma is what got him into this mess.
The man chugs booze out of a breast-shaped funnel at his "Sex Addiction Going
Away Party." He trades witty sexual innuendo with a straight friend who
tolerates him. He films himself post-trick and cries the next morning. He
persuades a member of our esteemed Armed Forces to be part of a four-way (risky
behavior, more on that later). Throughout it all, he complains passionately that therapy sucks, and his therapist
doesn't understand him one bit.
an intern therapist myself, watching clients bad-mouth their therapist is a
special pleasure. Therapists know their clients despise them, at least some of
the time. Yes, Ryan, your therapist sucks. Although, technically, all
therapists suck when they tell you to stop fucking horny, wasted straight military dudes. Of course,
your therapist just doesn't want you to end up beaten to death when your
hook-up sobers up. We can all understand that, right? As
Donaghue puts it: "Ryan...you're manipulating...you're getting these men drunk
and aroused...you might be traumatizing that man!"
part of the show is funny -- for a therapist. No, it's not funny that Ryan's
life is in danger, and I agree with Donaghue that it is. But telling an addict
he's flirting with death is about as effective as stuffing one's own ears full
of cotton, maybe less so. If that tactic worked, Ryan wouldn't be a sex addict.
It's not as if friends and family haven't already pointed out his bizarre little
habit of subordinating everyone in his circle and even his own life to his
all-important need to get laid -- they clearly have. That's why it's an
Donaghue has some success, it can be argued, because Ryan makes an effort. He
stops the constant sex, and immediately becomes depressed and moody. He moans
pitiously that therapy has sucked all the joy out of life, and now his days are
"just a waste of time."
Ryan. Welcome to the sad paradox of sanity. Chucking an addiction does not
deliver joy, ecstacy, or other goodies. Addiction covers up some pretty nasty
emotions. Take it away -- whether "it" is going down on straight dudes, red
wine, Internet shopping, gambling, Words With Friends -- and get ready to
meet the unfortunate "You" underneath it all, which is probably depressed, moody, and irritable. Duh.
That's why you need the addiction.
that's where Donaghue gets it wrong. He insists that Ryan cut off the sex, but
doesn't explain that all that nasty depression that emerges is one big positive
in disguise. Now that Ryan is depressed, he can actually grow up. Mature. The
psychological word is develop. And that could be a big deal. He can have a
life he chooses, rather than a life consumed with choosing who to have sex with
next. Instead, Donaghue himself gets worried, and offers to lock Ryan up in an
in-patient facility, an idea that Ryan quickly squashes.
comes to the rescue, thankfully. He asks for an extra session, and, crying,
explains that he's so compulsive because of the untimely death of a friend.
Well, not everyone responds to a friend's death by finding 1,500 BJ-partners,
but Ryan's on to something that Donaghue's not: trauma. If the source isn't
this trauma, there are others to pick from. Ryan mentions that his first sexual
experience was with a married friend of his father's (hmm, could that be
relevant?). The fact that Ryan's toying with death-by-angry-straight-man also
makes me wonder if there's some internalized homophobia operating here that he
could think about. In other words, the issue's not the sex, it's what the sex
helps him handle.
sums this up beautifully, exhorting that over the eight-month treatment he
"wasn't working on the inside. All the work was on the outside, on the shell."
Donaghue's oblivious, and interrupts Ryan with some psycho-babble.
be fair, my position as an armchair therapist is only a trillion times simpler
than trying to shrink heads on national TV. Yet, if Donaghue's dealing with the
deep issues at the core of sex addiction (and other sex-related issues), it's
just not clear. A more experienced therapist might make that clear; she or he
might also come across as more human, more emphatic, and might even be less
likely to ramble when a client makes an insightful criticism (although, I
wouldn't bet on it). Still the clients feel real, and the show is
spectacular. Hey, Donaghue: your show is a success. I can't wait for the next
BREWER is a registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern in the Culver City,
California, who has facilitated group therapy for clients with sex addictions.