January 26, 2010

“€œTiger Woods in sex rehab clinic”€ seemed to be all that the newspapers of my native land could talk about one day last week. If you managed to miss the more staid US dailies’ coverage of the momentous event it is simply that Tiger is hanging out at a “€œclinic”€ somewhere in Hicksville, The South, getting “€œtreatment”€ for his sex addiction. I say “€œclinic”€ and “€œtreatment”€ as activities seem to include “€œart classes, exercise and fitness regimes, shame reduction work, a spirituality group, a grief group, and yoga”€. Plus sharing a room and having, horror of horrors, to have to clean it himself. This sounds a great deal more like a New Age retreat center than it does treatment for ambitious and wandering gonads”€”but we’ll come to that in a moment.

The next day the same papers were full of pieces about whether sex addiction is in fact an addiction. Details of the treatment do amuse: first, a ban on Tiger pleasuring himself for 90 days. The New Puritanism has gone too far if a sporting god and near billionaire isn’t allowed even to play with himself. Indeed, a complete and total ban on sex of any kind might also not be the way to convince a healthy young man to resist any cocktail waitresses who might throw themselves at him. Finally, the revelation that, unlike the others, Tiger gets maid service also raises a snigger: maid service of what?

The greatest surprise to me was that this clinic seems to be unisex: men and women with any (but obviously voracious) sexual habits are treated together”€”which, again, doesn’t seem likely to lead to a reduction in sexual activity. Perhaps appropriate is a story from a friend who did medical training: one young man was seen trolling for dates amongst those attending the sexual diseases clinic. When asked why, given the obvious probability that they were infectious, the response was that, well, at least the young man did know that they were up for it in theory, even if not right now.

“€œAll this sounds terribly Catholic to me really. Confession, contrition, and penance being the center of that sacrament normally called confession and all those being present in this treatment for “€œsex addiction”€.”€

But I think there’s a more serious observation that can be made about this whole hoopla. Sex addiction, whether it’s a disease or not (I think not), clearly and obviously transgresses the boundaries of what the society thinks is acceptable. Even in this very much less religious age, it is a sin against public expectations. And sins, even if they are simply against public expectations, need to be expiated.

Which is where other details of the treatment come in. Apparently Tiger must recount all his transgressions to his wife Elin, in sordid and excruciating detail. He must, as above, serve a period of abstinence, during which he must exercise and meditate (“€œmens sana in corpore sano”€, no?). Then, if all of this is done successfully, he can be forgiven and welcomed back into the arms of his family and the hearts of the public. All of which sounds terribly Catholic to me really. Confession, contrition, and penance being the center of that sacrament normally called confession and all those being present in this treatment for “€œsex addiction”€.

You might, if a cynic like me, simply assume that both the Church and the clinic have hit on the same psychological dramas that need to be played out before wives or the public will forgive. You might be more cynical and think that the clinic has simply copied a system that has worked well for a millenia or more. Or you might simply look at this and think that while organized religion is direct, the belief in a vengeful and omniscient God has declined the form of religion necessary to carry on.

And as to whether sex addiction actually exists or not we might go along with Chesterton. When people stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. The idea that 90 days of enforced celibacy is the way to induce a man to be faithful on day 91 certainly counts as “€œanything”€.


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