If you want to study how sexual addiction pervades the culture of Hollywood and the United States, then you could simply start with a movie called The Gunman, which features the buffed-up actor Sean Penn playing opposite the Italian actress Jasmine Trinca.
The movie is an action-oriented thriller in which Penn plays the hired muscle and hit man working for an international mining company. After he assassinates a high-ranking government official early in the film, he must flee the country. This abruptly ends his romance with Trinca (only to be revisited later in the movie).
Penn’s acting is always attention-getting, but in this role, Penn was also widely acknowledged to have suddenly gained a whole new mass of upper body muscles, which he had not displayed in previous roles.
Penn has been working out, apparently, and a quick look at two birth dates will tell you why. Penn’s birth date is August 17, 1960. Trinca’s birth date is April 24, 1981.
In other words, Penn is 55- years old and playing opposite a women who is 34. And he’s not cashing in on his looks as an older man who is mature and distinguished. Instead, even Penn, who is known as one of the great intellectual actors of our time, is catering to the cultural expectation that young, muscular and virile is the way to go if you are going to land the big action-role contracts in Hollywood.
The movie demonstrates how Hollywood sets the bar for men in the United States, who based their own behavior and expectations on what Hollywood presents as sexual norms. In the past few years, action films have included Red and Red 2, as well as The Expendables and The Expendables 2, all of which show aging action heroes. For example, there seems to be no end to Arnold Schwarzenegger movies in which his growling visage just looks craggier than ever. The actor now makes two action movies a year, is 67-years-old and he was the governor of California for two terms, for crying out loud.
The moral of the story is just what it sounds like: Simply put, a bunch of geezers still having fun challenging bad-guys to a fist fight and grabbing the girl along the way tells the viewing audience that a busy sex life need never come to an end because of age.
This is the age of the ageless Hollywood warrior who was born, it is no coincidence, just as the little blue pill that extends your sex life for as long as you like started showing up in the pharmacies.
This is also the age in which pornography has jumped from that strip joint on the edge of small towns (and in the center of cities) to everyone’s living room. Pornography is a click away from anyone these days and Hollywood applauds a national sense of denial about age while pharmaceutical companies say “damn the pacemaker (and the wrinkles), full speed ahead.”
This leads anyone with common sense to conclude that sexual addictions will growby quantum leaps in the coming years. Sexual boundaries (read: common sense) will continue to fly out the window.
A recent article by Baleigh Scott, reprinted in The New York Post in March 2015, has gotten some attention lately, as the author (a woman) contends that data suggests that 64 percent to 80 percent of men view pornography regularly and that data – anecdotal data – suggests that at least 140,000 men have taken a pledge to not look at pornography or to masturbate, acts that both, theoretically, objectify women.
The number is held up triumphantly: See, the author says, men can exercise restraint when it comes to sexuality. After all, if 140,000 men can do it, so can you.
Personally, it reminds me of the old Firesign Theater comedy group’s skit called The Adventures of Nick Danger, in which one of the characters declares the time machine in the skit works. “I’ve been to ancient Greece,” the character says. “Here. Look at this grape!”
That is to say, 140,000 men isn’t statistically impressive in the slightest. It focuses on what might be called the media-oriented truth, which is a way of taking a human phenomenon and holding it up against a blank white sheet of paper and saying, “what have we got here?” In other words, Scott thinks the goal is to have men refrain from masturbation or from looking at pornography. But that’s not the goal. The goal is to lower or eliminate compulsive or pathological sexual behavior. The goal, from a psychiatric perspective, isn’t to wipe the slate clean.
The goal of sex addiction counseling for men is to have a productive, addiction-free life. But that often doesn’t mean giving up a sexual life entirely in the manner that drug or alcohol dependency means giving up those substances entirely.
On a different level, the late Dr. Albert Ellis would say that humans were prone to addictions of many types – from food to lust to golf to biting one’s fingernails – and that the goal would be to have healthy addictions. In other words, he would encourage an addict to develop an addiction to gardening or jogging in order to steer someone away from an addiction to alcohol, sex or narcotics.
Addictions, whether it is drugs, sex or alcohol follow remarkably similar patterns, allowing each of them to fall into the categorical definition of a disease – if only for descriptive purposes. They each have similar pathologies. While treatment follows similar paths, as well, often the idea for treatment of sexual addiction is to have a patient abstain from sexual behavior of any kind (including masturbation), for a month or two, but then to allow consensual sexual relations.
That differs from drug and alcohol treatment in a fundamental manner, which is that there are few, if any, drug and alcohol treatment programs that would ever allow a patient to drink or use drugs ever again. During treatment for alcoholism, for example, would be irresponsible to say, “after you refrain from drinking for a month or two, you can have one or two drinks at social occasions, but that’s it.”
That said, the media-oriented truth clouds the issue just as much as the famous Seinfeld episode (called The Contest) in which the four principal actors, including one women, all make a bet to see which one can refrain from masturbating the longest – given that none of them had an active sexual relationship at the time.
Certainly, if the culture of sexuality has ground-breaking moments, this was one of them. But even then, when the episode first aired in November 1992, it couldn’t be predicted that the Internet would fling the doors of sexuality wider, saturating the public with easy-to-teach pornography.
The Internet has changed the landscape forever. What was once hidden in relatively tame magazines under mattresses all around the country is now an endless opportunity for instant and addictive sexual entertainment and gratification. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the number of homes with Internet access began to double each year. Sex has been around for a while, but the Internet has changed the nature of the beast forever.