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Hollywood’s Idea of a Sex Addiction Film

Hollywood’s idea of a sex addiction film can border cliche and too sensationalized, but every once in a while, the movie industry gets it right.

Drug addiction is a very serious disease that’s been portrayed in countless films such as Trainspotting, The Basketball Diaries, Permanent Midnight, and Requiem for a Dream to name only a few. In each of these films, talented actors give audiences an idea of the desperation, loneliness, and shame that come with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Moreover, the real-life situations that addicts find themselves in and depths to which they frequently sink provide nearly endless source material from which screenwriters can draw in the hope of evoking a guttural or heart-wrenching reaction and perhaps some empathy from viewers who often harbor misconceptions about what it’s like to live in the throes of active addiction.

While chemical dependency is a serious matter, there are more types of addiction than just alcoholism and drug addiction. In fact, these other, behavioral addictions have frequently been the focus of television shows and films. Although many might roll their eyes at the prospect of sex addiction or merely consider it a plot device for a comedy film, sex addiction is considered to be a real, legitimate form of dependency that can be debilitating and affect individuals’ lives in profound ways.

However, as sex addiction is also frequently explored in film, one might wonder whether Hollywood is portraying sexual addiction accurately or in an exaggerated way for the purpose of selling movie tickets. It’s often said that one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure, but is that what’s happening when it comes to films about sex addiction?

Is Hollywood simply trying to capitalize on a debilitating affliction or are these films actually trying to enlighten audiences about what it’s like to suffer from sex addiction? Is Hollywood’s idea of a sex addiction film more about sex or about addiction?

Navigating Uncontrollable Urges & Desires

In the fall of 2013, two films that explored different facets of sexual addictions were released within a month of each other. The first sex addiction film was called Thanks for Sharing, featuring well-known actors like Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Tim Robbins.

The film focuses on a few individuals who are attending a twelve-step support group for sexual addiction, where they frequently share stories about how they try to overcome the numerous triggers they encounter throughout their day-to-day lives that cause sexual urges. A romantic-comedy, the film takes an overall upbeat approach to what it’s like to live with sex addiction. Each of the characters remain mostly in control throughout the movie, stumbling only occasionally and then getting back on track.

However, the movie overlooked the shame and almost normalized the behavior by making it endearing in a way. Additionally, more than other films, Thanks for Sharing effectively depicts the healing process when many other films overlook it. Specifically, it suggests that overcoming sex addiction is a long, tiresome process that might extend many years.

The other sex addiction film released in the fall of 2013 was Don Jon, which starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, and Julianne Moore. In the film, Gordon-Levitt plays a 20-something, New Jersey gym rat who harbors a major pornography addiction. Despite having carnal relations with attractive females, pornography remains basically the only thing that can satisfy him until he begins an unexpected relationship with Julianne Moore’s character, a significantly older student at the college.

While it seemed a little too perfect for the relationship with Moore to be the solution to Levitt’s character’s pornography addiction, the film was effective in portraying the shame and embarrassment these individuals feel regarding their addictions. Moreover, the film hinted at the irrational or distorted thinking that causes addictions like sex and pornography.

Sex Addiction Film Means Nymphomania on the Big Screen

When it comes to portraying sex addiction in the most extreme, there are three films in particular that have effectively encapsulated this chaotic, disturbed nature of sex addiction.

In 2011, Steve McQueen directed and released Shame, which starred Michael Fassbender as a middle-aged, professional male who suffered from sex addiction. The film itself shocked many audiences who found some of the sex scenes and depictions of sexual scenarios to be unexpectedly graphic, especially compared to how sex is more commonly and tamely portrayed in films.

Where Shame really excelled was in the way that Fassbender personified the extreme loneliness that comes with sex addiction and how unexpectedly and strongly the urge to have sex can manifest. In many instances, it becomes too powerful for an individual to ignore, forcing them to act out on the desire and resulting in both the physical and emotional demoralizing of oneself. In effect, McQueen’s film explores the destructive nature of sex addiction and hints at some of the ways that it can occur, such as in response to childhood trauma.

Returning to the year 2013, two films—actually a single project by Lars Von Trier released in two parts that, when combined, extends to a length of five-and-a-half hours—called Nymphomaniac, Vol I and Nymphomaniac, Vol II offered a rather graphic portrayal of sex addiction from the female perspective. In fact, the Nymphomaniac films have been referred to as the female version of Shame, but with even more graphic sexual depictions.

In these sex addiction films, the main character recounts her life as a self-proclaimed nymphomaniac in the form of a story, beginning when she was a child exploring her own body and continuing to the point of nearly being killed by two former lovers. The Nymphomaniac films are notable for showing both a sex addict in active addiction as well as showing the addict reflecting back on her actions while acknowledging the negative implications and repercussions. In effect, the sex addict herself becomes the audience’s advocate as viewers are confronted by what can be a very depraved lifestyle.

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The journey from active addiction to a place of healing and recovery differs for everyone who suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, or a form of behavioral addiction. As such, it’s important for each addict for identify his or her own recovery needs and then choose the treatments or programming that best address those needs.

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