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Addicted to sex? Read this book – A review of ‘Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men’ by Robert Weiss, MSW, CAS

By |2018-01-15T22:01:24-05:00August 4th, 2005|Entertainment|

Review by Joe Kort, MSW
No, this book isn’t about how to control Tom Cruise – although he needs some, given his ignorant advice that no one should take prescribed medication for depression. “Cruise Control” is a long-awaited and much-anticipated book for gay male sex addicts.
After specializing in sexual addiction for over 20 years, I finally have a resource to give to my gay male clients who are struggling with sexual compulsivity. Twenty-five years ago, Patrick Carnes wrote his book “Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction” through a heterosexual male lens. Following that came a book by Charlotte Kasl for sexually addicted women. And now, Robert Weiss, MSW – author, psychotherapist and a colleague of mine in the field of sexual addiction – does a fine job illustrating how this addiction manifests among gay men.
Sensitive to how the gay male community will receive this book, Weiss makes it known quickly in chapter one that he is not pathologizing gay sex and that “sexual addiction is not really about sex at all.” This is important because as a sexual addiction specialist myself, I often hear gay men dismiss the whole idea of sexual addiction as simply a bigoted ploy to further marginalize gay men and their sexual behavior.
Weiss defines sexual addiction in terms of what healthy sexuality is not about, namely obsession, compulsion, trance-like-states, and repeated poor judgment for one’s physical, emotional and legal safety. Sexual addiction leaves the sufferer feeling lonely and ashamed, disconnected and isolated – the exact reverse of what healthy sexual expression will provide.
As Weiss explains, “Anyone can experience negative consequences that relate to sex; bad things sometimes just happen. But sex addicts are risk-takers. The law of probability dictates that the more frequently you take risks, the more likely it is that you will reap severe consequences as a result of your sexual behavior.”
“Cruise Control” helps gay readers determine whether or not they are sexually addicted, why some gay men are at risk to become sex addicts, and what the compulsion is really all about. The second half of his book is about the recovery process, individually and with a partner. The partner needs to recover from his feelings of betrayal and deceit at his partner’s behavior; his recovery process includes rebuilding trust.
Weiss’ book also addresses love addiction, which was being used in the 1980s as a label for those jumping from one new relationship to another. Both personally and professionally, I thought Addictionologists had gone too far and that the term addiction was losing its meaning.
But today, I understand exactly why behavioral problems involving sex, love and gambling are described as addictions. Individuals can become addicted to the internal chemicals that exist within us all, which are released when acting out certain behaviors. These internal mood-enhancers, which include adrenaline, phenylethylamine, and dopamine, provoke feelings of being high and euphoric. You literally are in an altered state, because you have released a host of internalized drugs into your bloodstream. In all too many cases, the release of these natural drugs becomes associated with the specific behaviors that triggered them. The more risk, fear, and danger people experience, the stronger some of these chemicals become.
To this chemical high, add negative beliefs and shame about one’s self based on internalized homophobia, low self-esteem and poor body image (gay men do tend to strive for the perfect body) and you become vulnerable to a sexual addiction. Sex becomes the means for coping with (and distracting from) stress, so daily life is viewed through a testosterone screen.
Weiss addresses gay men’s increasingly widespread use of methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth or “Tina,” and how the highly addictive substance can accelerate or even provoke sexually compulsive behavior. This is a crucial part of his book for me, since I witness crystal meth’s negative effects every day in my practice. Gay men come to me after having risked HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, ruining their lives, losing their partners, their jobs, often their families and even themselves.
Weiss argues that while individual psychological issues and a neurological predisposition to addiction contribute to sexual compulsivity, there are also cultural risks contributing to the gay sex addict’s continuous acting out. He states it is not homosexuality itself, or how we behave sexually as gay men. Instead he writes “with a cultural background of dramatically greater sexual freedoms than those usually enjoyed by his heterosexual peers … the urban gay man is in some ways a prisoner of his own freedoms.”
I recommend this book to every gay man who wants to rule out the possibility that he – or a potential partner – might be sexually compulsive. I also recommend it for partners of sexual addicts to learn about their own recovery process, knowing that they, themselves, have issues as well. “Cruise Control” should be on the bookshelf of every gay man as well as any therapist who works with gay men.

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.