As a sex therapist with a blog, I can't NOT weigh in on the Wiener debacle. Today Wiener announced he is going to resign. Really? Didn't we all see that coming? How could he be so stupid?
I have a somewhat different take than what I've read online thus far. Wiener, like Wood, Clinton, and other men who have disappointed us, may have been under quite a bit of duress. All at once, Wiener is married and about to become a father. These are normal transitions, but when you pile on top of it one a stressful, high powered position in the public eye, you've got the potential for a crackup.
What about men who aren't in the public eye but are doing the same crummy behaviors behind their partner's back? Same thing: They haven't learned good ways of coping with things that bother them, from work strain to relationships. Let's not forget, also, that health can cause stress, too. When men don't take care of themselves physically (and as a culture we seem to be much more forgiving of an extra 20-30 lbs. on a guy), that also contributes to feeling down.
Many men have a hard time saying when they've had enough. (Of course, there are also slacker men, but that's a different story! They seem to be saying they've had enough before they've even gotten out of the gate.) I've had men show up in my office with dark circles under their eyes, shoulders sagging, sitting on the edge of the seat–and telling me that everything is pretty good. Sometimes it takes several sessions before they let their guard down and discuss what's really on their mind.
Besides stress, men generally have a tough time expressing their feelings. Anger, rage, and frustration must be expressed somehow, though, and so it is sometimes transformed into sexual energy that is often directed at an anonymous person or someone who isn't completely aware that they are being used as an outlet. The press has it wrong when they see acts like Wiener's as being about sex. Wiener's behavior is not so much indicative of an "addiction," but of an inability to cope in an effective way.
The thing about sex as an outlet for stress or negative emotions is that it works so powerfully well. Like food, cigarettes, or liquor, sex is a very rewarding activity. Through chemicals released with orgasm, strong associations are made quickly between the maladaptive behavior and symptom relief. "Sexting," visiting prostitutes, flings, and so forth can be a way of making oneself feel better.
What if a man is single? Are these activities okay? I would say that each man would need to decide for himself. Is he really having fun, using porn or sexual adventures as an occasional release for pent-up sexual energy? Or is there something desperate about his behavior? Is he happy or satisfied after sexual activity, or does it feel like there is something missing? If the latter, is it a lack of resolution of negative feelings? A sense that maybe a different kind of "medicine" is needed, such as talking it out, exercising, or simply relaxing and taking care of one's self?
The problem with the media is that "sex sells." This isn't about sex. It's about feeling out of control, needing to feel powerful, and failing to connect and deal with what's really going on. It isn't Wiener's fault that he is yet another unfortunate male who is caught up in myths of what it means to demonstrate one's strength. It occurs to me that it is rare that once men leave treatment for so-called sex addiction that they still don't really talk about their feelings to the media. They apologize for bad behavior. How much better it would be if they could open up and let us in just a little bit on what kinds of stress, anger, and frustration drove them to cope in such a self-destructive manner.