National Edition

Popular movies explore sex addiction

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

To Salzman, the movie “Don Jon” helps to reinforce the message that sexual addiction is a real psychological disorder — whether or not mainstream therapists agree.

Not the whole story

But not everyone believes that “Don Jon” strikes the right balance. Hollywood films that explore pornography addiction frequently show sexually explicit content.

Jessica Mockett, who is in the process of filing a documentary about sex and pornography addicts, said she laughed at Gordon-Levitt’s treatment of pornography. “He made some comments about how he wanted to bring awareness to sex addiction,” she said. Then, as if addressing Gordon-Levitt, “yet you are showing vast amounts of pornography in your film. Anyone struggling with pornography is going to be massively triggered by the imagery in your film."

Mockett stumbled across the subject of her documentary when she began to talk with friends and co-workers about the problems of pornography. “I quickly found that as I was talking about it in this open, nonjudgmental forum, people would respond and tell me a little bit about what they were going through," Mockett said. " I quickly found that I did know people who had or were struggling with pornography addiction.”

“And as soon as you educate yourself, you realize how many people around you are struggling with this addiction," Mockett said. Her film, tentatively titled “The Heart of the Matter,” aims to explain the nature and recovery of pornography addiction.

Todd Blaquiere, Marketing Director at Fight the New Drug, criticizes the false parallelism in “Don Jon” of comparing pornography addiction to other habits. For example, obsessing over love of romance and romantic movies is likened to pornography, as Don Jon compares his new girlfriend’s love of romance to his relationship with pornography.

"It comes down to the neurology of it," Blaquiere said. "If you look at what recent studies on how pornography affects the dopamine system, pornography becomes addictive because it actually hijacks your dopamine system. It brings you back. You know the substance is harmful and you don't want to be a part of it, but you keep coming back. It also increases in severity over time. My wife likes romantic movies but she doesn't seem to want to watch 50 of them a day, so I don't see any escalation there. This is not the same thing: it doesn't affect the brain the same way."

Sex addiction is real

The over-sexualization of entertainment and media in general rarely presents the audience with the truth about addiction. But these latest films did get a couple things right. Characters may not always be labeled “addict” in fictionalized portrayals of pornography and sex addiction, and that is also a reflection of their real-world counterparts.

“A lot of people have this assumption that when somebody actually becomes addicted, all these red flares go off and all these signs pop up saying this guy is now addicted, he's now crossed the line and he's addicted,” Pipanne said. “Addicts assume that, at some point I will know that I'm addicted. And it's the same thing with the people that surround the addict, that at some point, we'll realize he's addicted, but now he's just on a course towards danger.”

Signs of addiction are present in the films, if not specifically called out.

"There's a part in the movie where … she comes back to his place, they're intimate, she's sleeping and he goes into another room where there's a computer and starts looking at pornography," Pipanne said. "And that, I think, is a realistic portrayal of a sex addict, where the relationship with the real person is right there and yet he still goes back to the pornography.”

Perra said there is no profile of a typical addict. Anyone can be affected.

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