From Tiger Woods to Charlie Sheen to Silvio Berlusconi, the spate of stories about sexual escapades of famous people is raising a central question: Why would these men risk everything to satisfy their urges? When it comes to addiction, the line between morality and disease has always been blurry, says Time. But only in the past 25 years have we come to regard excesses in necessary cravings — hunger for food, lust for sex — as possible disease states.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is debating whether sex addiction should be added to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The addition of what the APA is calling “hypersexual disorder” would legitimize sex addiction in a way that was unthinkable just a few years ago, when Bill Clinton’s philandering was regarded as a moral failing or a joke — but not, in the main, as an illness. But the legitimacy now being granted to sex addiction requires a closer look. In the 20th century, we changed our thinking about alcoholism: what was once a moral weakness came to be understood as an illness resulting in large part from genetics. Sexual acting out seems different, though. Is excessive lust really just another biochemical accident?