Sex brings out the best, and worst, in people. Or I should say, sex brings out people, because there sure have been a lot of jaws flapping about it on social media these days. Sexual harassment, no, I mean sexual assault, no, sexual impropriety, no, I mean sexually deviant. One guy's post I read said, "It's just weird behavior." He was referring to Louis C.K., of course. And he was talking about the actual behavior CK was involved in, not the complex side effects of such behavior.
I hope you know me well enough by now to understand that I get that the women he confronted sexually have every right in the world to respond the way they have. After all, in a reasonable world, a woman should not have to look across the room and witness a sick man plying his illness in front of them the way CK did. And what man asks anyway, "Do you mind if I take my penis out?" Was he that quickly bored with the conversation? No. Louis CK, like Kevin Spacey in my last post, has a sexual disorder that compels him to repeat the same inexplicable by normal standards sexual overture. Why, you ask, would a man who has fathered children and been in a marriage and who has great wealth need to approach women in this way? Why can't he just hire a sex worker or find a friend who might like to participate in some consensual role play? Because that's not what his behavior is about. It's about being eroticized, turned on, by masturbating in front of astonished females, a behavior most likely nourished by a lifetime of finely-tuned fantasy. In spite of what you read as these revelations roll out, one after another so that it seems like the whole male world is erect all the time, this is not normal behavior. It is normal if there is consent involved, and isn't that what we're talking about anyway, whether or not there was consent given? In CK's case, it doesn't look like it was.
But, my oh my, how we do get worked up about sex in this culture. It almost seems like inappropriate sexual behavior is worse than murder or serious assaults. At least, we tend to get more energized about it on social media. It reminds me of the way we used to be about addicts, especially alcoholics. Why don't they just stop drinking? Why don't they just take a look around themselves and see how they're ruining the lives of their loved ones? They can stop; they just don't want to. We've come a ways since then on our views about addiction and compulsive behavior. Alcoholism is an illness, isn't it? Addiction is an illness, isn't it? Compulsive sexual behavior is an illness, isn't it?
I once sat in an Abnormal Psychology class and listened to the instructor talking about mental illness as simply being an exotic extension of normal mentally healthy behavior. The difference, he posited, was a loss of control over his brain function. Is it possible that deviant sexual behavior is an extension of "normal" sexual behavior, with the intervening variable being a loss of self-control over sexual expression? I'm not sure a man like Louis CK would risk his career and future success over masturbating inappropriately, if he felt he actually had control over what he was doing or felt compelled to do. I am fully committed to the idea that there are some men who should be put away and never see the light of day again. There are evil men out there who humiliate and debase, beat and murder in a sexual manner. But like normal sexual behavior, there are also gradients of deviance, some of which can be changed. Shouldn't we treat these individuals as if they have an illness and be encouraging when they take steps toward rehabilitation?
We all fall on a continuum where sex is concerned. If we haven't gotten into any trouble because of our sexual behavior, we can applaud ourselves for our self-control. Just remember, there are still states who can legally prosecute you for deviant behavior if you have consensual oral sex with your partner.
I hope we can continue having conversations about sexuality here. I hope to make it more normal to do so. I mean, if you even say the word over and over enough, it becomes just another word. SEX, SEX, SEX...There, don't you feel better?
Recently, an actor named Anthony Rapp disclosed that the actor, Kevin Spacey, sexually assaulted him when Mr. Rapp was 14 and Mr. Spacey was 26. Since then, other men have disclosed similar behavior on Mr. Spacey's part, although these men ranged in age (at the time) between 17 and "in my twenties." The disclosures have set off a hailstorm of angry tweets, blog posts and conversations about Mr. Spacey's audacity in coming out as gay at the same time he apologized for what sounds like the sexual assault of a minor. The gay community, after years of educating the public that homosexuality and pedophilia are not related, is understandably angry with Mr. Spacey for seeming to blame his behavior on the fact that he is a gay man. Mr. Spacey says, in his apology, that he doesn't remember the incident (I suspect he does), but proceeds to apologize in one of those post-modern quasi-apologies that seem to benefit the perpetrator more than the victim. I am a fan of Mr. Spacey's acting, but I am not a fan of his seemingly predatory behavior.
Having worked for nearly forty years in the field of sexual deviancy, I have encountered many men of Mr. Spacey's ilk, men both confused and acutely aware of their sexual behavior, but unwilling to step forward and stop it before trouble comes knocking. But I am not here to offer conjecture on Mr. Spacey's sexuality. What I am most concerned with is how some have responded with his assault of Mr. Rapp by calling Mr. Spacey a pedophile. I have so far seen no evidence of that being true.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - V (DSM-V) describes a pedophilic disorder as intense and persistent sexual fantasies or behavior involving prepubescent children occurring over at least a six-month period (I'm paraphrasing here). I have always described to men in treatment with me that my definition of pedophilia is a person whose primary erotic interest is in prepubescent children. A true pedophile represents an absolute danger to young children and indeed is most eroticized by them.
While it's easy to crowd men who sexually assault minors all under one umbrella, it serves no gallant purpose to do so. There are other descriptors which work better and, in Mr. Spacey's case, may actually describe his behavior better. For example, ephebophilia, while not described as a disorder, is a sexual attraction to mid to late adolescents (those 15-19 years of age). In other words, not prepubescents, but those decidedly past puberty. Hebephilia, while also not described as a disorder, is a sexual interest in pubescent minors, or those who are going through or who have recently gone through puberty (those under 15). Anthony Rapp may very well fit into this category. Neither of these classifications describes pedophilia.
It is important that we make this distinction as we discuss the issues emerging in the news on a daily basis. Let's not call sexual assault sexual harassment. It diminishes sexual assault to do that. Let's not call ephebophilia pedophilia. It diminishes pedophilia to do that. And let's not take a "boys will be boys" attitude with any brand of inappropriate sexual behavior as it diminishes our newly emerging societal integrity to do so. What Anthony Rapp talks about is sexual assault, pure and simple. It is an adult male taking indecent liberties with a minor male. This does not, by definition, make Mr. Spacey a pedophile. Instead, it makes him a jerk with a very real sexual problem.
A writer living on two continents with a penchant for sex and murder and good hearts.