National Edition

Popular movies explore sex addiction

Published: Thursday, Oct. 24 2013 4:00 a.m. MDT

Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow in THANKS FOR SHARING

Anne Joyce

Within a month of each other this fall, two films exploring the habits and repercussions of pornography and sexual addition were released in theaters. Both have received some critical acclaim. The first, "Thanks for Sharing," shows recovering sex addicts attempting to navigate a world where everything has sex appeal. The second, "Don Jon," is the story of a man who loves pornography — but his new girlfriend doesn't.

"These movies offer quite a bit of insight into the craziness that goes along with addiction, and just the insanity of the behavior and the impaired thinking,” said Andrew Pipanne, who has written about his recovery in “Sitting in a Rowboat Throwing Marbles at a Battleship,” in an interview. “So I think it's helping people become aware of the fact that sexual addiction is a real thing."

According to Fight The New Drug, a California-based site dedicated to education about and recovery from pornography addiction, pornography use is widespread. A study by Top Ten Reviews from 2006 estimated that 80 percent of boys age 15-17 regularly view hard-core pornography. With numbers like that, pornography addiction is no longer a subject that the mainstream media can ignore.

Out of the dark

Bringing a complicated and unsavory issue to large audiences on the big screen is a challenge. The reality and usefulness of these cinematic portrayals is a subject of debate among experts who deal regularly with real challenges of pornography addiction.

"From really being a dirty, dark secret, now you've got A-list actors in two major motion pictures," said Craig Perra, a recovering pornography addict who is now a life coach and motivational speaker for Feed The Right Wolf, a website dedicated to getting help for pornography addicts. "It's absolutely amazing bringing attention to this issue, which is plaguing men, women, couples all over the planet."

Perra said his clients connect with characters in the films, and appreciate the comedic tone of the stories.

"I think it is a positive depiction because when people come to me, they are alone," Perra said. "They are shocked — they're embarrassed. I've had clients who've seen the trailer say, ‘Oh my gosh, that's me.’ And that is creating a community and a community of people who are recognizing that they're not alone. So I am supportive of the lighthearted nature and how it's being addressed. You have to laugh at yourself."

Although the tone is light, the issues in sex addiction are very real.

Speaking about “Thanks For Sharing” — which is rated R for sexual content and language — certified New York City sex addiction therapist Brad Salzman said, "I think there are plenty of scenes in that movie that could be right out of the lives of my real-life clients. I think it accurately depicts the different stages that addicts in recovery go through, meaning there are times when they feel completely desperate, like they have things under control, there are times where people sort of get surprised and wind up relapsing when they've been sober for a long time."

The writer, director and star of "Don Jon," Joseph Gordon-Levitt, told the Washington Times that he is often shocked by the sexualized content that is available everywhere you go. He specifically mentions Carl's Jr. ads, which sell hamburgers using bikini-clad models.

"It is shocking. But that’s a real ad, and there are plenty more like it," Gordon-Levitt said. "It’s been a big part of our culture for as long as you can find history. That people, especially women, are often pigeonholed and reduced to things. That’s kind of the crux of what the movie is about: how some people treat people more like things than people."

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