Until recently, the upscale seaside enclave of Kennebunk, Maine was known primarily as the summer home of former president George H.W. Bush. The idyllic setting was viewed as a great place to kick back, dig some clams, eat lobster, and forget about the world at large. Of course, that was before we found out the local Zumba gym was offering, in addition to buttocks tightening dance classes, private “horizontal mambo” lessons – leading to the arrest of 29-year-old fitness instructor Alexis Wright and her business partner, 57-year-old Mark Strong, Sr.
Wright is charged with 106 counts of prostitution, violation of privacy (for videotaping the sessions), tax evasion, and other infractions. Strong is charged with 59 counts of promotion of prostitution and violation of privacy. Police have also begun the process of issuing summons to the prostitution ring’s purportedly high-end clientele – doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officials, a television personality, etc.
As often happens in sex-related scandals that become incredibly public, we are now hearing the phrase “sexual addiction” in connection with the behavior involved. We can expect some of the men enmeshed in the mess to use this as an excuse for their actions. And perhaps these men really are sex addicts. But even if they are, a diagnosis of sexual addiction does not “take off the hook” or “give excuses” to them for the harm they have caused to their wives, families, businesses, and the Kennebunk community. The simple fact is sex addicts are fully responsible for the hurt and loss caused by their sexual acting out. Sexual addiction is NOT a “get out of jail free” card.
Frankly, at this point we have no way of knowing how many – if any – of the men (and women) involved in the Kennebunk imbroglio are sexually addicted. It is quite possible to engage in illegal, ill-advised sexual activity (prostitution, in this case) without qualifying as a sex addict. In fact, it is likely that most of the “johns” in Kennebunk fall into this non-addicted category. Certainly these men are callous, unthinking, self-centered, self-entitled, narcissistic, and a whole lot of other unflattering things, but that doesn’t mean they are sex addicts. It is important for clinicians, the media, and the public to recognize this fact. Universally labeling the individuals involved as sexually addicted is a disservice not only to them, but to their families and the therapeutic community.
Of course, it does seem likely that at least a few of the men caught up in the scandal are indeed sexually addicted. These are people for whom sexual fantasy and behavior has become the main focus in life, leading them cast aside concerns about their spouses, their children, their friends, their work, their health, their finances, and their standing in the community. These individuals have learned to use sex as a way of meeting emotional needs and dissociating from uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, depression, and stress. They now fantasize about and search for sexual encounters to the exclusion of all other activity. For these unfortunate souls, the negative consequences directly related to their sexual behavior (arrest, relationship trouble, public humiliation, loss of standing in the community, etc.) were inevitable.
Addicted or not, the men and women involved in the Kennebunk prostitution scandal need compassion, understanding, empathy, and emotional support if they are to healthfully move forward. Their loved ones need and deserve similar care. Marital and couples counseling can, for some of these people, turn a relationship crisis into a growth opportunity. Unfortunately, even when experienced therapists are extensively involved with people committed to healing, some couples are unable to ever regain the necessary sense of trust and emotional safety required to make it together. For these couples, therapy can help the people involved to process a long overdue goodbye. For the individuals who are sexually addicted, specialized individual treatment is needed – perhaps in an inpatient setting such as The Ranch or an intensive outpatient setting as offered by the Sexual Recovery Institute. This treatment should include and/or be followed by group therapy and 12-step recovery.