REVIEW / Holding a candle to sex addiction

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The Independent Culture
AMONG other things, I Am A Sex Addict (BBC 2) offered some startling evidence of the imperturbability of American therapists. 'What was abnormal for you about your sexual behaviour?' asked an offscreen voice during an analysis session with two sex-crazed soldiers. I blinked a little at this - only a few minutes earlier one of them had as good as confessed to sexually molesting a cockatiel, which, even in the sexual smorgasbord of California, might be expected to raise a few eyebrows - not to speak of feathers.

Another interviewee confided that his initiation into the more ragged fringes of sexual activity had come at the hands of a couple in Gravesend, who had advertised for partners in a pornographic magazine. He responded from his boarding school and soon found himself with his penis encased in gauze bandages and candle wax. The couple lit the wick and he saw the light, entering on an apparently happy life as an exhibitionist (the vocation borne out by his cheerful presence on the screen and a pair of shorts so tight they looked life-threatening). Layla, the gigantic star of Fat Chicks, confessed to sleeping with 33 men in one night, though the uncharitable thought occurred that at least some of those must have been operating the winch.

Vikram Jayanti's film was at pains to point out that, disparate as these experiences were, this was not just a freak show. 'What they all have in common is their compulsion,' noted an admonitory title at the beginning, 'and that they are people just like you and me.' Come again? Shouldn't there should be a comma in there somewhere? 'That they are people, just like you and me,' for instance. I think my sympathies can stretch that far. But no, Jayanti appears to mean exactly what he says - that only an accident of history separates every viewer from the man describing how he ran up dollars 8,000 of debt servicing his S & M habit or the jolly couple who lay back in bed and displayed a stained towel which formed a dessicated record of their sexual tourism.

This is in keeping with the whole idea of sexual addiction; the medicalisation of activity which would conventionally be subject to moral judgement. 'It's a progressive disease - from what we know,' said one 'victim', as if he had caught his compulsive sexual activity off a toilet seat and might end up in intensive care if not treated quickly.

Clearly some of these were damaged people, but I cheered out loud when Layla turned down the absolution on offer - 'I don't think of myself as being a victim because I deliberately did things . . . I had to learn, and education is so expensive.' She was talking about emotional cost but the stack of self-help books which piled up on screen at one point and the existence of specialist sex- addiction clinics revealed that others have found a way to turn that into harder currency.

Under the Sun (BBC 2) exercised the jaw muscles even further with 'Dream Girls', an account of Japan's Takarazuka Revue, an all-women song and dance troupe. Competition to enter the academy is fierce and the training makes the Von Trapp family look like a bunch of ill-disciplined hippies. Dressed in para- military uniform, the new recruits spend an entire year on general self-abasement and cleaning duties (polishing the piano key-hole with Q-tips, that sort of thing). I'd never actually seen cringeing adulation before but that's what the top stars receive from their exclusively female fans - scurrying in to deliver love letters and expensive presents. It was a fascinating study of erotic obsession and, like all good anthropology, reminded you that there are people not just like you and me.