Examining Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew

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The premiere of Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew ventured into territory that was uncharted not just for VH1′s Rehab franchise, but for TV, period. Below, Drew helps us sort out some of our questions regarding sex rehab in general and the show’s premiere, specifically. Along the way, he talks about the trouble with our culture’s blase attitude about sex, his thoughts on the sex industry and the plan Jennie (aka Penny Flame) arrived with to sabotage the production of this show.


I think this show is going to make a lot of people wonder if they’re sex addicts.

Yes. But I think it’s not so much sexual addiction that people are going to think about. They’re going to think about love addiction. Or they’re going to see periods of their life where they had sexual addiction or compulsion. And when it comes to sexual addiction, really you have to look at how deeply embedded in trauma that frequently is. Not everybody has trauma. People have periods of their lives where these things come up, and they might get carried away, let’s say. That does not an addict make. That’s just like when someone binge drinks for a while and then stops. I certainly hope it will make people think about their behavior a little bit, [and learn] that it comes from a place that’s maybe not so healthy and not as cool as our culture makes it seem. And then the love addiction angle everybody can relate to. Everybody has had manifestations of something like that at periods in their lives. Every sixteen- or seventeen-year-old has had those feelings. Most people outgrow them, but we can look at that and go, “Oooh, wait a minute. I’ve done some of those things. Where did that come from?” And maybe this thing that we value and call “romantic love” is not necessarily steeped in health. We’ve sort of adopted it as a sort of ideal, when in fact it’s not. And we have to really look at these things and get a good look at ourselves. The issues of intrusiveness, abandonment, abuse and neglect are so common in our culture, and they’re manifestations in our adult interpersonal lives.

Sex addiction seems like a slippery slope, because, as I said to Jill, a healthy lifestyle typically includes sex, as opposed to drugs or alcohol or the other addictions we hear about more often on TV.

Yeah, it’s a more difficult treatment course. It’s more treacherous, fraught with ups and downs and pitfalls. It’s not so easy to measure success. In treatment, use this idea of the “bottom line” and circle plan. A circle plan means there are certain behaviors for a certain time they must remain clearly abstinent on. And it allows them to start developing the emotional machinery to manage the emotions that were motivating the behavior.

Was that like when you told them, “No masturbation?”

Yes, that’s one of the inner circle activities. Their computer use goes in the circle, their touching goes in the circle. Thoughts and fantasies and toys and all of these other things are going in the inner circle, and you are not to do those things. And if you slip, then you talk about it and process it, and go to your sponsor and do some 12-step work on it, and then you go back to putting it back where it belongs.

No masturbation seems like the hardest rule to contend with.

Yeah, it’s tough on them. It’s not forever. I take lead of experts like Jill on when to bring this all back. Like everything in addiction, my interaction with them is in the acute phases, when we’re trying to get them to stop everything. How you add it back is more Jill’s domain.

Do you think that pornography is the root of this evil?

No I don’t. I think we don’t know the full impact of early exposure the stuff. It certainly can wire in some problems. I think the fact that we are so casual about these things means that we don’t really look at the difficulties in regard to our relationships. I mean, Internet porn addiction is one of the most rapidly increasing diagnostic categories in the country. And it’s a significant and serious issue for some people. Is it the root of everything? No. The root is how we’re raising out children. We’re abusing children, exploiting children, intruding on children, abandoning children. That’s the main root of all this. That’s the issue.

But between Mary Carey, Penny Flame and the Internet porn-addiction outbreak, do you think the sex industry is fundamentally destructive?

I know that trauma survivors gravitate there. Whether it’s prostitution, or stripping, or pornography, that’s where they go. If you talked to Penny Flame years ago, she’d say that it was the greatest thing in the world, and how dare you [imply otherwise]. It’s like talking to a heroin addict or an opium addict when it’s working for them. When they believe it’s working for them, you can’t assail it. Nor would I try to. My thing is to help you when it falls apart, which it will. And that’s all. I’m not inclined to lay blame.

It just seems that from the Rehab shows, we see nothing good coming from porn.

You should talk to Mary. It’s a very complicated thing for her. She doesn’t see it as all bad. Even as destructive as it’s been for her, she still feels like, “Well, it worked for me at the time, and that’s that.” She doesn’t feel bad for her choices. She understands them as deeply affected by her experience. And such is life. If I really have to cast judgment, the indictment is on our culture at large for not being more realistic about our behavior and what the implications are. This last 30 years of, “Hey, whatever you’re into!” is meaningless if what you’re into is simply wrong. People are entitled to do whatever they want. That’s fine. But to say it doesn’t have meaning is a huge mistake.

Regarding the show, I was curious about the idea that comes up with Amber: sex addiction is often diagnosed after drug addiction.

That’s very common. One of two things happen when the drug addiction is treated: either they throw themselves into recovery, in which case all of these issues double down, including the sexual compulsion. Or the sex or the gambling, whatever the behavioral addictions, kind of seep through and keep going and they need primary treatment of their own.

Was this show particularly more difficult to do than Celebrity Rehab?

More intense. The most intense show we’ve ever done. I can’t even tell you. I was in an altered state the whole three weeks. It was deeply deeply moving. And we need to acknowledge the courage of these people for doing this. This is another first-time experience. It’s never been done before.

It’s kind of a quieter show – at the beginning of Celebrity Rehab seasons, people show up drunk or high or just sort of wearing their addiction on their sleeves. But this is a lot more introspective in that respect. It’s a lot more internal. They’re obviously not having sex while they’re checking.

You’re right, the withdrawal kicks in later, and the emotions unveil themselves slowly. It’s very different and very difficult work. But when you see people do it, it’s so impressive when they throw themselves into it.

Can we go through the cast members, and hear your first impressions of them?

Sure.

So, James?

Initially, it’s not clear what’s going on with James. Clearly it’s sex addiction, but I have a feeling that there’s something psychiatrically going on with him too. I wasn’t sure if it was some developmental problem. There seemed to be more going on. On top of that, when I did his initial physical, I found this tumor on the back of his throat. It was clear to me that he was going to need an operation.

How about Jennifer?

It’s funny, I found her super entertaining and charming during our first interview. After having what I thought was an interesting and fun interaction with her, which I thought was fairly honest, Jill pokes me and goes, “Oh yeah. You see what she did to you?” And I said, “What? What happened? I missed it!” And Jill said, “Oh, she was very manipulative, and very charming.” And I thought, “Oh, well this is why I have somebody else in the room with me.” That’s always why I have somebody there: because the addict sucked me in. But I did sense a willingness and enthusiasm that was at least interesting.

Her personality sticks out immediately.

Yeah. But she had come in with the intent to sabotage us. I mean, she’ll tell you. She brought 12 tubes of toothpaste, and her plan was just to screw up our production. She was going to put obscene pictures on the wall. Her thing was, “Hey, I’m a porn star. This is how I make my living, and screw you guys.” She had no intention of doing treatment. And she was shocked at how fast she got into it.

Phil?

Phil immediately was a likable guy. I felt immediately that there was much more to be revealed. We heard his story, and he kept telling us that there were, “No problems, no problems, nothing in my childhood.” And Jill and I just looked at each other and went, “That’s not possible.” Not with this story, it just doesn’t add up. So we know more is to come.

Nicole?

Nicole seemed resistant. I don’t want to say that she was hostile, because she was nice and pleasant to deal with, but there was a deep resistance that I wasn’t sure I was going to get through. She had trouble identifying as an addict, and had trouble being open and honest. She does eventually open up, but still…she seemed really ambivalent about doing the work, let’s put it that way.

Kendra?

Kendra jumped in right away, and clearly had just tremendous trauma stuff going on. I knew immediately that this would be important for her. I was shocked at how quickly all of them jumped into the trauma issues. I mean, these people sat through a couple of hours of lecture a day. A couple of just pure informational lectures. Drug addicts will not do that. They will not sit there for two hours a day. And by the same token, if you get too quickly into trauma stuff, they just go out and use. They run away. But this team puts them through those paces all the time.

And Kendra’s also unique because she’s in a serious committed relationship.

Right. But again, we were going to have to unpack that relationship a bit, because clearly there was trouble. I mean, given just how badly Kendra was traumatized, we knew that the husband had to have issues too. And we had to look at that.

How about Kari Ann? Talk about hostile! That was the most negative first interview I have ever seen you do.

Yeah. And it gets a lot worse. Oh my god, it gets so much worse! I long for those early days! Yeah: hostile, aggressive, uninterested, defensive, unwilling, all that good stuff. But the problem is her behavior. The behavior starts to jeopardize the integrity of the unit. But if we’re going to get into trauma stuff, we have to be delicate, gentle, and give them room to get with it. In substance treatment it’s, “Hey, you either want to get with it, or you don’t. If you don’t, get out of here.” In sex addiction, you try to give them a little more space and that’s why we were sort of trying to cooperate with her.

Why would Kari Ann show up, then? Just to be on TV?

Oh, just to be on TV, yeah. She actually had a whole other thing: she was going to show women how to be empowered through their sexuality and be like her. It was such a distorted and bizarre way of looking at things. She finally does come around, but at the beginning it was very distorted.

It’s so weird that people are showing up with their agendas.

There are agendas, but it’s like always. My thing is that, whatever their motivation, I don’t care. If we can get them in, we can work with them. If it’s just to be on TV, if it’s just to get paid, I don’t care. We’re ready to go. We’re ready to roll. And this was a great example of that. We had a lot of people deeply changed, with limited motivation.

How about Duncan?

Duncan’s great. I knew he was going to be very challenging. I knew that he was going to be extremely difficult for me. But he intrigued me, and he’s such a bright guy and such a talented man, that I was hell bent on forging a relationship with him. And I’m happy to say that I really have a great relationship with him now. I mean, he really knew the condition.

And then finally there’s Amber.

She was more of the love addiction. In reality, she was sexually anorexic, which is sort of the flip side of sexual addiction. But this whole story about her father emerges, and we got none of that before. That’s really her big thing. I mean, the mom, obviously was a challenge. But the thing with the dad was completely buried. And that’s very painful material.

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