In between watching Wimbledon matches, I ran across a movie on the Lifetime Channel called ‘Sex, Lies and Obsession’ starring Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna. It’s a very old movie and I remembered hearing about it or watching it years ago, maybe 15 years ago, WAY before dday, but didn’t remember any of the details. I decided to tape it and see exactly how the movie treated sex addiction in 2001. I figured the acting might be decent since Harry and Lisa are married. I don’t know why I thought that, but I thought it might seem more real. In the movie they have two teenage sons. I read a couple reviews to make sure it wasn’t going to be a horrible waste of time (it’s not generally well rated, but has some decent reviews that applied to the reason I was watching) and then I asked Blue Eyes if he wanted to watch it with me. He said he would like to.
For Blue Eyes it is difficult to grasp the fact that people were talking about, and there was a movie about, sex addiction way back in 2000 because he never actually thought of sex addiction as being real, and he certainly did not think he was a sex addict. I don’t think he ever thought much about the reasons he did what he did, but he did believe he was just generally a bad person who did bad things, negative self talk that goes back as far as he can remember and, of course, that he would… NEVER DO IT AGAIN. At the time the movie came out, Blue Eyes had cheated with three separate women, but was four years away from the Craigslist Ad. The movie addresses sex addiction behavior, and then therapy and 12-step as forms of recovery. Honestly, the script (written by Patricia Resnick of The Expendables and 9 to 5 fame) seems ahead of its time. Of course sex addiction has been around and recognized for awhile, as far back as the 1970’s, and Patrick Carnes wrote his ‘Don’t Call it Love: Recovery From Sexual Addiction’ book back in 1991, but it was still a much hidden phenomena. It kind of still is. The diagnosis has always been controversial and there are still quite a few naysayers, but keeping the legitimacy of the diagnosis in question, and constantly belittling and degrading people who identify with sexual compulsivity doesn’t really help the thousands and thousands of people who suffer every day. Not hearing about it or hearing only negative remarks about it hinders people getting real help.
The movie does not address any negative feedback from friends, family, nor does it address a negative reputation of ‘sex addiction’ in the media. What the movie does do, and pretty well in my opinion, realizing they are shoving probably at least a year’s worth of sexual behaviors, discovery, trauma, and recovery into a 90-minute movie, is it addresses the addict’s denial and fear around being labeled an addict. They ALL think they can control their behavior. For a lot of addicts, anger about living in reality feeds their desire to act out and so the cycle continues even after they have acknowledged they may have a problem. Before Harry is technically “caught” the movie also plays out how the addict is in a sort of trance while seeking his sexual hit. At one point Lisa is following Harry in her car, honking at him, and she pulls up in a parking lot as he is entering his secret lair with a prostitute wrapped around him. He doesn’t hear his wife, he doesn’t see her, he is oblivious to reality, he only seeks his high.
They give Lisa Rinna about two or three scenes to play out her devastation and trauma, that was lame, and in one scene the way you know she is in trauma is because she is distracted and her hair is mussed up. Both Blue Eyes and I laughed out loud at that, because she’s still so adorable (I’m not going to mention the lips, I’m not going to mention the lips–OOPS!), but you know, in reality she would be doubled over on the floor, crying out in pain like a wounded animal, and dissociating from her new and horrid reality. At least that was my reality. One of the other silly points in the movie is that Lisa first hears about sex addiction from a TEENAGER in a clinic where she is having her STI/STD tests done because she is too embarrassed to go to her regular doctor. Well, they had to fit it in somewhere!
For a while during the movie I kept thinking… when is Harry going to hit rock bottom? I mean this guy is something else. He picks up flight attendants on trips to medical conferences (we know this is common, men behaving badly while out of town) and of course that is where they start in the movie, but not where they end. Harry has a whole secret apartment with porn in both print and video form. He has a regular prostitute who visits him there. Harry gets massages with happy endings. Harry is very ANGRY when he runs out of coins during a peep show. Harry regularly cruises the streets for hookers. Harry calls 1-900 numbers. Harry is a very busy man. Of course they wanted to show just how out of control Harry is. Not all sex addicts have quite so many outlets for their addiction, but this was a movie. Harry was a lot more confident and self assured than Blue Eyes (thus most likely the reason he had four partners instead of 50+ like Harry), but Blue Eyes admits there are guys like Harry in his meetings. A false sense of who they are, when who they are is completely broken.
There is also the portrayal of Harry’s married life. Two successful careers, two adorable children, an active sex life (when Harry is actually home) and lots of excuses and lies on Harry’s part. Old cliches about men getting something different or better from a working girl. Lisa is not suspicious, she happens upon the truth because Harry is so out of control he is no longer hiding things well. There is nothing wrong with their marriage other than the fact that Harry is so distracted by his addiction that he is fucking falling apart. This felt real to me.
So, my thoughts are no undiagnosed sex addict watching the movie is going to go… HEY, THAT’S ME. But I do believe it is a decent (albeit very truncated) version of what a sex addict is, what a sex addict does, how devastating it is on the partner and the family when the truth is revealed, and that there are avenues to recovery. And Harry and Lisa are handsome people who make a cute couple. The focus was definitely on the sex addict, and not on the trauma of the wife, but you know what, that’s okay because what was represented seemed pretty real, in a Lifetime movie kind of way. Is that an oxymoron? I used to think so, but not so much anymore.