Ian Kerner’s SADD Anti-Porn Logic

by Thomas Roche on April 12, 2011

Jennifer Massaux for Perk

A while back, CNN’s resident anti-porn commando Ian Kerner came up with the term SADD, or Sexual Attention Deficit Disorder, to describe what happens when a guy watches too much internet porn and then doesn’t care whether or not his lady-friend gets the attention she deserves.

Though Kerner has annoyed me with his sensitive new age guy anti-porn rhetoric for quite some time, this is where I, personally, have to get involved. What Kerner did in making up SADD is to cheapen and minimize a real disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

Though he’s got “PhD” after his name, Kerner doesn’t appear to be  a clinical psychologist, and his bio is far from specific about what degrees he has in what subjects from where. All I can really say for sure is that Kerner has never claimed to be a clinical psychologist or a marriage and family therapist. But even if he was Freud, he wouldn’t get to revise the DSM willy-nilly. Cataloging new disorders is a serious process. This isn’t something you do just because you feel like it.

Incidentally, this all occurred in the middle of Kerner backpedaling after stating explicitly in his CNN column that female infidelity was more serious than male infidelity. I don’t feel the need to comment on that assertion, since more than 1,200 CNN readers already did so. But when it comes to minimizing a real disorder — there, I start to take things personally.

See…I’m someone with the (real) diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, from one of those nice people with MD after their names. I get cranky when people forget their keys and say things like “OMG, I’m so ADD!” Try saying that around me some time. I may remain polite, but you’ll note a little deepening of my crow’s feet and a widening of my nostrils. That’s the gremlin that lives inside me pounding his sledgehammer on my brain stem. I will not punch you, but you will have lost some of my esteem.

ADHD is a real disorder, and I struggle with it every day. Using it as shorthand for “spacy” or “flaky” is insulting and offensive. Using a barely-altered variation of it as a shorthand for “doesn’t give a damn whether his lady friend enjoys himself” is even more so.

When it comes to SADD, Megan Van Schaick at Cafe Mom’s The Stir said it better than I could, and ripped Kerner a new Wikihole while she was at it:

Men get accustomed to the instant gratification and novelty of porn and then are unable to perform in a real world situation. Poor wittle babies…Get off it. This is just another excuse for guys to be lazy in bed.

…The Internet isn’t what’s turning your guy into a two-pump chump. SADD just gives him a “valid” reason to skip foreplay and make sex all about meeting his own needs….But nothing says he has to take that attitude….He can choose to pay attention. And if he chooses not to, it’s because it was a conscious decision, not because of some stupid disorder made up to get him off the hook.

And Van Schaick managed to do it all, if you read her comments closely, without being porn-negative. She does say that porn is inherently self-centered, but in that I agree with her. That’s both porn’s advantage and, in relationships or in individual cases, its potential disadvantage. If couples choose to share it with each other, its self-centered nature is one of the things that becomes its greatest strength, just like sharing sexual fantasies. Giving each other permission to be totally self-centered, within negotiated boundaries, is perfectly healthy. Being totally self-centered in a way that your partner is uncomfortable with is a relationship problem that goes way beyond “porn addiction.”

Speaking of which, the fact that Kerner has long painted porn as being strictly a male interest is another problem, but I don’t hold that against Van Schaick. Kerner’s the one who’s made up SADD as a strictly male “disorder” with female collateral damage. That means that any discussion of the “disorder” can and must boil down to the exact kind of self-centered bullshit men are often socialized to indulge in — a central ingredient in male privilege. Those of us who grow up past a state of emotional adolescence  have to deal with it one way or the other, regardless of whether we “unlearn our privilege” in some hippy consciousness-raising seminar on the Great Meadow in Santa Cruz, or just grow up enough to give a fuck what happens to people we love, and care how those people are feeling.

I can already hear a chorus of apologists who believe pornography drives men “out of control.” To which I say Talk To The Hand — and yes, I washed it. As someone who suffers from the real Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominantly Inattentive Type, I struggle daily with attentional situations where my focus is not something I control. ADHD is not an excuse, a game, or some way to describe what “everyone’s becoming” in this age of the internet. ADHD is real.

But adopting its name to describe men who compulsively use pornography implies that they as “out of control” or more out of control than I am. Is their “disorder,” then, more serious? Am I “out of control” if I succumb to my ADHD symptoms and eat 60 bon-bons and make myself sick, or stare at YouTube videos of cats slapping pit bulls for 10 hours instead of writing the novel I’m on deadline for? And if so, does it matter — given that no one is going to write that novel for me?

Kerner doesn’t get to “dub” a new disorder just so one set of problematic behaviors falls conveniently in his area of expertise. Brains are big, and the psychiatric profession is big, too. Psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and marriage and family therapists are trained to help guys who jack off too much and/or don’t care whether their lady friends enjoy themselves. Let me say that again: They are trained to help.

If someone you are in a relationship with compulsively uses pornography, I highly recommend relationship therapy with a trained mental health professional. If someone you are in a relationship with is inattentive to you in bed, you have my sympathy — and that person does not have Kerner’s phantom “SADD.” What that person “has” is a tendency to be inattentive to you in bed. Take that at face value, and if it’s because of compulsive pornography use, then that’s what you discuss — not some made-up disorder. You discuss it as what it is — garden-variety disrespect and lack of attentiveness. If your partner refuses to address an issue that bothers you, that’s a very bad sign. But they’ll do it whether or not you wave a diagnosis at them.

Don’t go to a therapist with a pre-diagnosis. Go to a trained mental health professional — again, a licensed marriage and family therapist, a licensed psychiatrist, a licensed clinical social worker, or a licensed clinical psychologist. Go with a list of your grievances or concerns and your goals for the relationship  and your sex life — not the opinion of an Ask Men writer who’s never met you or your partner but feels like generalizing about men.

You know who gets to diagnose mental and behavioral disorders? Psychologists, psychiatrists, qualified marriage and family therapists. You know who gets to define new ones? The same. Not a writer for CNN, and not an advice columnist for Ask Men.

If you’re a human sexuality studies chauvinist, feel free to rail against the slow response of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual all you want — I don’t like it any more than anyone else does. You can bitch about the psychiatric field being “broken.” I’ll agree that psychiatry and clinical psychology are broken in many ways. They’re insufficient for many cases, including some major ones related to sexuality.

But is the DSM really so broken that, rather than using a flawed and frequently insufficient set of clinical guidelines developed by highly-trained professionals, we should let someone outside the American Psychiatric Association hierarchy unilaterally “dub” new disorders without peer review, and put them out there in the general press for self-diagnosis?

Image: Jennifer Massaux by Justin Ridler for Perk

Thomas Roche

Thomas Roche's first novel, The Panama Laugh, is a gonzo military science fiction zombie apocalypse that has been compared to the writings of Jim Thompson and Hunter S. Thompson. He is also a widely published author of sex-positive erotica and the occasional purveyor of horror and crime-noir short stories, and a commentator on sex, crime, culture and politics.

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{ 12 comments }

1 Why April 25, 2011 at 6:44 am

The school where Kerner got his “PhD” in human sexuality (or something along those lines) no longer exists – Maimonides Univ. It was considered a “diploma mill” of sorts, and had people finishing their 50-page dissertations in record time. He’s not the trained expert he and his PR team claim that he is, and he has abused the public pulpit he has paid for.

2 Lady Grinning Soul April 13, 2011 at 10:39 am

Fantastic! So glad you said it. I don’t suffer from ADHD, and I didn’t see the article in question, but I really abhor this trend of applying made up disorders to anyone who has problems in society. Here in England the ones that are most problematic are ADHD and dyslexia. And it is so infuriating that every little problem is attributed to something they can drug you for. But equally I want to thank you for drawing my attention to the opposite problem; that the real sufferers of these disorders are having their issues belittled. It’s really inexcusable on both sides. Thank you again for bringing it up.

3 WildOrchid April 13, 2011 at 12:24 am

Thank you for this! When I first saw Kerner’s article I was quite taken by it. Part of it was because of Kerner’s books that I like a lot (“She comes first” and “He comes next”). Part of it was how I consume porn – never stopping for too long on one scene. This article helped me see the real problem behind the SADD excuse.

4 James April 13, 2011 at 12:03 am

Ms. Violet,

I find Thom Hartmann’s perspective on our conditioning very helpful; we are just hunters in a farmer world. Our brains are just wired differently. This is both a benefit and challenge. Many big-picture creative types are of the hunter tribe. I’m not surprised to find that you too belong to the tribe. Must be fun for your lovers when that ADHD focus kicks in. ;)

5 violet April 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Also, Kerner’s whole “porn breaks your dick” crusade is just wacked.

6 violet April 12, 2011 at 8:47 pm

I think this underscores why some dude with a few books and dubious credentials (Kerner’s “Dr.” is from an online degree mill) should be called out for fraud when they invent a psychological disorder. As should CNN and AskMen for publishing it.

As Thomas and I discussed in conversation today, by “dubbing” (and inventing) sexual “disorders” Kerner is implying to the general public (and those that publish him) that he is a trained clinical psychologist. And publishing this in major sources. There is a lot of harm and being done here. And further, his association with AASECT makes me reconsider AASECT’s credibility.

7 Thomas April 12, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Kate — LOL, thanks! Having the predominantly inattentive type, I resisted the diagnosis for years until a specialist explained it to me. I still think the diagnostic questionnaires are problematic, but that’s why they’re administered by a professional with clinical experience — not as a quiz on Facebook. The diagnosis issue overall is big with ADHD, because I still think it’s hard to get a concrete clinical prognosis. But reading documented management strategies really helps a lot, and normalizes some of the whack-ass shit I find myself needing to do in order to stay productive.

I actually have heard someone with diagnosed ADHD refer to themselves as being “ADD” as an adjective, but I can only think of one instance. I think it’s a bad habit to get into — we are not our disorders (or maybe we are, but that’s not ALL we are). Generally, you’re right that people with ADHD don’t refer to themselves as “I’m so totally ADD!” If you’re far enough through the diagnosis and management process to have a diagnosis and be working with it, I think most people find it feels too flippant to throw it around like that.

As to your point #1, I totally agree — this is a disorder, not a habit or an occasional lapse. There’s a big wide expanse from having trouble concentrating (which everyone does sometimes) to having diagnosed or diagnosable ADHD. And when I hear supposedly qualified commentators suggest that the internet is “making us all ADD,” I roll my eyes.

8 Chrystal April 12, 2011 at 8:08 pm

BRAVO! Well put, Thomas. I hate when people are so flippant about things that are serious and real. Well, I hate when people are so flippant about anything, really. Good reading and thanks for putting such a fine point on this e-hole. (OH and I loved the term “wikihole.)

9 Kate April 12, 2011 at 7:03 pm

It’s reassuring to read something from someone who’s had similar experiences!

For me, “I’m so ADD” often warrants two punches:
1. Occasionally losing one’s focus, train of thought, or drive to complete a task does not ADHD make.
2. I have never heard a person with a real diagnosis refer to themselves AS the disorder.

Maybe I should just respond with “I’m so anger-management problems.”

Ps: I don’t meet too many other people identified as having the PI subtype! So, uh, this is a shout out?

10 Thomas April 12, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Susan, thanks :-) — glad it was helpful. Also, good luck (ADHD solidarity!!) I will hopefully write more about it in the future. Thanks for commenting!!

11 susan April 12, 2011 at 6:30 pm

whoops – I got here from your twitter post and dug into it so quickly I didn’t notice that it was authored by Thomas. My apologies. Thanks, Thomas, for the insights (and thanks Violet for the Twitter post to grab my attention).

12 susan April 12, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Thanks Violet. Just…thanks.
From another woman who has actual ADHD and gets mega-annoyed at what you say – at it being used as shorthand for flaky.

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