Picking A Bone with Dan Savage
(I Said “Bone,” not “Boner,” Beavis…)
Full disclosure: I love Dan Savage. My parasocial relationship with the political commentator and sex advice-giver has deepened as the years have passed. It is a cold and empty week that I don’t hear from him…via the podcasting app on my iPhone. We have never met. But we have lively disagreements nonetheless.
The biggest disagreement, of course, is about the nature — indeed, the very existence — of sex addiction. A Q&A from episode 826 his Savage Lovecast, week of August 23, exemplifies my frustration with his perspective on this issue. I have decided to give myself the last word.
(Note: The question and answer have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity. No facts have been altered.)
Q: 41-year-old cis East Coast person calling. One of my best friends has been dating a man for a year. She shared that he was a recovering sex addict in a 12-step program, working on problems with cheating. She's a monogamist and needs to be in a mono relationship. To me, someone with his history needs to just understand who he is and not fuck up everyone's lives all the time by entering any mono commitments. He relapsed in the winter and they stopped talking for a minute while he got help.
She's been really happy in the relationship since. Fast forward to last night. I opened Facebook saw a photo of an acquaintance of mine with what i was hoping was this guy’s doppelgänger, captioned “My man.” My heart sank and I needed to verify it was him. I texted the acquaintance and of course she gave my friend's mono partner's name. I had to be the person who broke my friend's heart.
She's fucked up about it, of course. Plus, the other person told me that they too were in a supposedly mono partnership, taking trips together this whole past year. Same timeline as my friend! She shared with me verbatim what my friend told me he has said to her: “You are the first person I've ever been with where I don't want to be with anyone else.”
Dan, I don't want to pile on her pain and it's not my place to tell people what to do. But she needs to stop talking with him. I've known her for almost 20 years and am looking out for her, knowing what I think she needs to feel happy. She responded saying she's not yet in a position to make a decision about the dude. How do I tell her that she needs to stop talking to him? Do I share that he was conducting two simultaneous bullshit mono relationships with the same script, even though she doesn’t want to hear what the other person had to say?
A: You should tell your friend: Look, you can *not* listen to the things that I have to tell you, things that I think you should know, or you can complain to me about your relationship. But not both.
This guy in an asshole. I think your friend should stop talking with him, if only because he was so clearly trying to manipulate her. “Oh, I’m the victim. I am a sex addict. Oh, I’m a victim of my very own dick.” No. Sex addiction ain't really a thing. This guy is an asshole and a player, as they used to say, and a scumbag… not that your friend can't be the primary partner or the current partner of a lying manipulative asshole who's attempting to leverage women's sympathies by claiming to be a sex addict, so that you know when he relapses it's not a choice he made to do something with his dick. He was defenseless in the face of this powerful chemical addiction he has to fucking around.
Obviously you're frustrated by this guy, but if your friend wants to be with them, you know she could construct a rationalization or she could change her position on monogamy. She could be in an open or polyamorous relationship with this guy. But he's not interested in an honest, open, ethically non-monogamous relationship. On some level, someone who plays these kinds of games gets off on the deceit and the risk. That he’s risking other people be terribly, terribly hurt as well — that is not a bug, that is a feature.
The pain your friend is in right now was intentionally inflicted. He manipulated her into this position. He threw her into the bathtub full of razor blades, knowingly and on purpose, not because he's an addict, and he's so sorry, and he had an erection relapse that lasted the entirety of the time they've been together in this relationship. But because he is an asshole.
She should stop talking to him, and stop fucking him, and stop dating him and block him on all the social media platforms and block his number. Maybe your friend doesn't want to hear this from you. Maybe she would be open to conversing with your acquaintance who also happens to be dating this guy. Maybe, with her consent, you could share that person's phone number.
ME: So, here’s the bone I’m picking. Yes, this is a lying, manipulative asshole and the caller’s friend should dump his ass immediately. Yes, she should stop talking to him, stop fucking him, unfriend him on all social media and block his number. (Not that she will, of course. If you’re getting involved with a self-identified sex addict because you think somehow this time it will be different… you already proved you don’t listen to reason.)
Also yes, gaslighting two different women by swearing to each that she is your one-and-only does not mean you’re a sex addict. It just means that you are an asshole, a player, as they used to say, and a scumbag.
HOWEVER, none of those things means there’s no such thing as sex addiction. Nor does it even guarantee that the lying manipulative asshole in question isn’t a sex addict for reasons that have nothing to do with his cheating.
Sex addiction — recognized by the World Health Organization, if not the American insurance industry, as an obsessive-compulsive disorder — isn’t having a side piece and running to 12-step program because you got caught. Sex addiction is swearing to yourself, one more time, that you’re absolutely positively going to close the laptop and turn off the porn in 15 minutes, tops, and get some sleep… but you still end up missing work in the morning, one more time.
Sex addiction is promising yourself — swearing on all that’s holy and totally meaning it — that you’re not going to touch the kids’ college fund for massage parlor money, doing it anyway and being so ashamed of yourself you think maybe suicide is your best option.
Sex addiction is getting your arm broken by an angry pimp at Harbor and Third… and as soon as the cast is off going back to Harbor and Third. Sex addiction is beating off so hard and so often you strip the skin on your dick.
Sex addiction is not is having too much fun with your side piece who thinks she’s your number one, and your other side piece who thinks she’s your number one. Sex addiction is not fun at all, and I’m tired of people blaming their abusive asshole behavior on sex addiction. It gives sex addiction a bad name.
But just like an alcoholic will hide empties in the laundry basket, a sex addict will cover up the most extreme and shameful behaviors. So while this dude may have gone into an “S program” to get the last gf off his back, he may also have gotten fired from his last three jobs for jacking it in the bathroom because it felt like he would suffocate if he didn’t get off. Right. Now.
It is possible to be both an asshole and a sex addict. Trust me, I’ve met a few. I’ve also met some kind, well-meaning people who were in thrall to a pattern of behavior they could neither understand nor control.
My lips to Dan’s ears: Once upon a time, your attitude towards drunks was “no one poured the booze down your throat, fuckface.” Then you learned more about the disease of alcoholism and found some empathy. You used to berate fat people something awful: “No one jammed the chocolate cake in your mouth, lady.” Then you learned more about the brain chemistry behind compulsion and obsession and you found empathy there, as well.
Talk to some self-identified sex addicts and see if maybe two things can be true at the same time: This guy is a lying manipulative asshole… and sex addiction really is a thing.
My lips to the caller’s ears: Your friend’s happiness is not your job. You might find Alanon meetings useful. And your friend… well, she’s a love addict. But Dan doesn’t believe in that, either ;-)