Top critical review
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interesting but dogmatic
on 3 January 2011
Until the latter end of the 20th century it was a given among the American psychiatric community that homosexuality was pathological, and that all gays were, in fact, miserable. One therapist began to re-think his position when someone pointed out to him that of course the homosexuals who came to him were unhappy - only unhappy people would come to him.
We have a similar situation today with inter-generational sexual relationships: because most of the people who experience these do so in an abusive context, it is taken as read that all such relationships are abusive.
So when Patrick Carnes writes that the fourteen-year-old boy who has an affair with a thirty-year-old woman is the victim of abuse, even though the boy thinks of it as just another score, the author, in my opinion, is probably wrong.
And that is one problem with this book: its dogmatism. To suggest, for instance, that all or nearly all sex addicts have been victims of childhood abuse is 1. unproven and 2. dangerous. Carnes may have a compassionate understanding of abusers, but, as he is well aware, the media and the general public do not.
Another problem arises when we are into the territory of the Twelve Steps, and God and one's relationship to God suddenly appear as central to the agenda, in a book which up to now has been resolutely secular.
I felt a similar discomfort when an ex-alcoholic described to me the programme for AA. The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous latched on to a group of extremely vulnerable people, and said: "We can help you out of your situation, but first you have to accept our theistic point of view."
This, I should have thought, runs counter to everything the psychotherapeutic community believes in.
But there were some stimulating insights in this book, and a range of true-life stories which aroused one's compassion, amazed fascination, and sometimes (sorry Patrick) amusement.