Is Clinton a Sex Addict?

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March 22 1998 3:30 AM

Is Clinton a Sex Addict?

The therapeutic president gets hoist on his own couch.

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F or people who are not immersed in recovery but are receptive to the notion of sex addiction, the president's dysfunction simply means that, like Ken Starr, he is "out of control." Nobody wants an out of control president. Meanwhile, people hostile to popular notions of addiction will dismiss the characterization of Clinton as a sex addict as an evasion of personal responsibility. (And, indeed, some of his supporters may prefer seeing him as the victim of a disease rather than as an intentional sexual predator.)

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But let's get clinical: Does the diagnosis of sex addiction make sense? Outside the world of pop psychology, it is likely to engender skepticism. The American Psychiatric Association does not formally recognize sex addiction as a mental disorder. Among experts who treat and study compulsive behaviors and chemical dependencies, there is controversy over the meaning of the term "addiction" and the efficacy of the disease model for a range of supposed addictions, from alcoholism to compulsive gambling.

Even if sex addiction exists, and even if Clinton qualifies, he is unlikely to claim the banner. Politically, it's a loser. Or is it? It did work for Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry, a self-professed sex addict who rehabilitated himself politically after a drug conviction by declaring his powerlessness over drugs and sex, repenting, and entering a program. "Most people are recovering from something," he explained to the Washington Post. Barry won back the mayor's office by embracing his own dysfunctions--but Washington is a dysfunctional city.

Wendy Kaminer is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions.

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