One of my favorite radio memories from my teenage years is listening to Dr. Drew Pinsky and Adam Carolla on Loveline. Some poor girl would call in asking if she should leave her boyfriend (whom she professed to love very much) because his penis was too small, and the co-hosts would offer wildly different advice. Carolla, the comedic every-man, would say something like, “You’ve stayed with shorty too long already!”, to which Pinsky would offer some sober counterpoint that there is more to a relationship than a huge penis. Then they would move on to the next caller, a panicked teenage boy wanting to know if watching gay porn every night necessarily made him gay.
I’ve always liked Dr. Drew, even as he branched out from radio to reality television. He strikes me as a guy who genuinely cares about addiction, who has, as The New York Times put it, done a commendable job navigating a “precarious balance of professionalism and salaciousness.” I was especially interested in his newest venture, the VH1 show Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew, because I know a thing or two about inpatient treatment for sex addiction.
I’ve watched the first five episodes, and to Pinsky’s credit, he’s not out to make fun of sex addiction, nor does he misrepresent what the addiction is about. This is an achievement in itself. The vast majority of television shows and movies that depict recovering sex addicts get just about everything wrong. The most annoying of these let’s-make-shit-up-so-we-can-get-a-cheap-laugh is the common depiction of a 12 Step sex addiction meeting as an orgy waiting to happen. Sex addiction 12 Step meetings are actually the least flirtatious of all recovery fellowships, precisely because everyone is there to work on that issue. (If you want to see flirtation and “13th Stepping,” the practice of a more experiences person in recovery hitting on a newcomer, check out an AA meeting.)
Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew also gets other things right: Most of the addicts (musician Phil Marone, model and reality TV star Amber Smith, gay film director and producer Duncan Roy, ex-porn star Kendra Jad Rossi, beauty queen Kari Ann Peniche, model Nicole Narain, surfer James Lovett, and porn actress Jennifer Ketcham) go through the emotional upheaval and confusion common to sex addicts in inpatient treatment. Phil Marone struggles with a common question—How did I become this way?—facing many sex addicts. While many of the other addicts could point to childhood trauma (sexual abuse, emotional neglect) as a possible explanation for their sexual compulsivity, he said he wasn’t molested and claimed to have had a perfect childhood.
The show also accurately depicts the fact that not everyone in sex addiction treatment wants to be there. Kari Ann Peniche, who has managed to date both Nick Carter and his younger brother, Aaron, comes off on the show as the sex addict from hell—selfish, delusional, clueless, pampered, and lazy. She sleeps in most morning and demands that juice be delivered to her bedside. When others call her on her behavior, she lashes out, calls her agent, and demands that he pick her up.
In an actual treatment center, Kari Anne would have gotten the boot. But this is reality television, after all, and I suppose she makes for entertaining television (although she made me want to throw things at my TV). So she stays on the show, even as it’s pretty clear that she’s using drugs. This is confirmed in a recent article by Duncan Roy, one of several likable addicts on the show who appear to genuinely want to get better. (Roy also claims that Dr. Drew, while an expert in drug addiction, knows very little about sex addiction.)
I’m eager to catch up on the last few episodes and will write an update in the next couple of weeks. I’ve also emailed Dr. Drew, who I’ve interviewed for several of my articles over the years, to get a comment on Roy’s claim. I’ll let you know what I hear. UPDATE: Just talked with Dr. Drew. I will update this tonight with his take on Duncan’s criticisms.