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Brendan O’ Neill: Sex addiction? Gross self-indulgence and sordid greed more like it

WITH the new Steve McQueen movie Shame now showing, everyone is banging on about the problem of "sex addiction". Shame tells the story of a high-flying bloke brought low by his insatiable lust for casual sex. And according to the media, there are many such men out there, men who have a weird, possibly chemical instinct to bed every woman they clap eyes on.

Yesterday the BBC introduced us to Jeff Leach, a comedian (no, I've never heard of him either) who tells us that his "attitude to sex is just not normal". He "watches porn regularly" and has slept with 300 women. Naturally he has started seeing a psychotherapist to sort himself out. One newspaper today features a comment piece by a "recovering sex addict" who is on a mission to raise awareness about "the sheer scale of sex addiction", which is apparently so bad that it's leading to "crime and societal breakdown" and heaping an "untold burden on to the NHS, police and social service budgets".

Really? An army of sex addicts is bringing us to the brink of social collapse? I hate to be the one to break it to these self-pitiers and doom-mongers who would have us believe that their saucy conquests are driven by some uncontrollable compulsion, but there is no such thing as sex addiction. It's a myth. It's a fancy, psychobabbling term for what we used to call "promiscuity".

These days, though, no one is willing to take responsibility for their personal behaviour and to face up to the fact that they are acting in an immature, reckless or, in the eyes of the old-fashioned, blue-rinse brigade, sinful fashion. And so they doll up their immaturity as an "addiction", and plead for public pity as they tell us they have a psychological or therapeutic impairment that requires the urgent intervention of an expert.

Ours is an era in which all the old sins have been well and truly psychologised, turned from failings of moral character into brain disorders that apparently only wise men in white coats can fix. So we no longer talk about gluttony but rather "food addiction" and even "chocolate addiction" (there is actually a group called Chocolate Rehab, which offers an Alcoholics Anonymous-style 12-step guide to overcoming addiction to chocolate).

Greed has transmogrified into “shopping addiction” or “affluenza”, a mental disorder diagnosed by academics who believe we are all driving ourselves mad with material lust. And most notably, promiscuity, or just an inability to stay faithful, has been rechristened “sex addiction”. Hollywood stars who cheat on their wives now tend to check in to a rehab clinic for some sex-addiction therapy.

So if you get fat, turn greedy or have sex with people you probably shouldn’t be having sex with, it isn’t because you’re a loser who has failed to grow up and get a grip. It’s because you are being driven by impulses beyond your control, like a Pavlovian puppy of wickedness.

Of course, it wasn’t great when many aspects of human behaviour, from wolfing down chocolate to getting one’s leg over, were branded as “sinful” by the old priestly class. But it’s far worse now that they have been rebranded “addictions” by the new therapeutic class. At least the old pious lobby believed individuals were capable of taking responsibility for their failings and using free will and self-respect to correct them (if they wanted to).

In contrast, today’s peddlers of psychobabble view us all as instinct-driven basket cases incapable of exercising self-control, far less self-determination, and desperately needing the helping hand of a quack with a PhD. Look, if you want to have sex with 300 women, go for it; if you don’t, then don’t. But please don’t bleat about how you (and the rest of us) are slaves to our screwed-up nerve endings.