Senator Larry Craig and the Defenses of Sexual Addiction

Aaron Alan, M.A., Sex Addiciton Specialist at the CENTER FOR HEALTHY SEX writes:

It has recently come to light that uber-conservative U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge stemming from a Jun 11th arrest in a men’s restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for engaging in lewd conduct with an undercover police officer. The officer stated in his report that Craig appeared versed in the subtle signs used to identify willing sex partners in public places. As part of his plea agreement, Craig was fined $1000 and sentenced to ten days in jail, which was deferred to one year’s probation.

Craig now declares he did nothing wrong, that his actions in the airport men’s restroom were misconstrued and he was set up by the police. He’s even gone so far as to bash the “liberal gay agenda” for smearing him. Interestingly, though, the Senator has asked the people of Idaho, his constituency, to forgive him. This is a curious tack as he maintains he is innocent and did nothing wrong or untoward. Why ask for forgiveness if no crime or misstep occurred? This is perplexing and seems contradictory.

If Senator Craig’s behavior is applied to a sexual addiction framework, then contradictions become much clearer and even understandable. I am not diagnosing Craig as a sexual addict, but his actions and subsequent claims about his actions align quite well with what is known about sexual addiction and sexual compulsivity. Whatever his actual clinical diagnosis, his actions point to, at the very least, problematic sexual behavior.

In all likelihood, covert sexual activity in some form has been present for quite some time in Craig’s life. While the actual behavior may have evolved over the years, the function it serves in his life has probably remained constant, which is to tolerate his mood, feelings and emotions as well as to feel connected to another person without risking emotional abandonment. These are the functions served by sexual addiction.

All problematic and addictive activities, whether chemical or behavioral, require defenses in order to continue to operate in one’s life. Senator Craig’s defenses have caught my attention because they are remarkably well developed, if not transparent to a trained eye or even a casual observer. A defense doesn’t have to make sense to be regarded as well developed; it just needs to be strong.

Sexual addiction thrives in contradiction and requires a significant ability for denial. As the addict engages in increasingly risky sexual behavior, this ability to deny needs to increase as well, or the addict’s construct will crumble. This construct, called splitting, enables the addict to operate and tolerate, via compartmentalization, any guilt and shame associated with the sexual behavior. For the Senator to acknowledge his behavior in the restroom, he would have to confront his guilt and shame. At this time, he apparently is not ready to commit to such an undertaking.

Craig is claiming the airport police set him up. The Senator employs another common tool of the sexual addict, victimization. By assuming the role of victim, the sexual addict can alleviate themselves of responsibility for their harmful actions. True remorse and guilt cannot be experienced from this stance because that would require honesty and a breakdown of the wall of denial. Victimization has a symbiotic relationship with denial, each relying on the other for support and continuation.

While in congress, Craig has voted against same sex marriage, voted against including sexual orientation as a protected status from employment discrimination, as well as other outwardly hostile actions toward the gay community. From a Freudian perspective, this defense would be regarded as reaction formation, where unacceptable emotions or feelings are replaced by their direct opposite. While I am not claiming Craig to be gay, his voting record in Congress, when applied against his sexual behavior in the airport restroom, would allow himself to feel distance from his own unacceptable homosexual behavior and/or desires. He may very well be having sex with men for a variety of possible reasons, such as ease of accessibility, increased risk (producing a greater high), as well as having an attraction to men. All could be true and no one reason is mutually exclusive of another. Regardless of his reason for having sex with men, if he did have sex with men, then voting hostilely in Congress toward the gay community would provide him a certain degree of cover against being or feeling gay-identified.

All of these defenses are, in part, very adaptive for the active sexual addict. This is how the sex addict operates and integrates their behavior into their life, allowing them to maintain their level of functioning. The problem starts to become evident as containment is breached and compromised, as with Craig becoming arrested and publicly humiliated. He has lost containment and an opening has been created. This opening, however painful for the Senator now, can ultimately be a blessing for him, if he chooses to avail himself of the opportunity for growth.

As a clinician who specializes in treatment of sexual addiction and compulsivity, I have heard many stories similar to Senator Craig’s. I can only imagine the pain he and his family are experiencing; it is a pain all too familiar to the sexual addict. Hopefully, eventually, he will realize that the pain of staying on his current path is greater than the pain of change…and that is the growth path. But for that to happen, he must first be willing to set aside his much-developed defenses and look honestly at himself and his behavior.

For more information about sexual addiction treatment contact Aaron Alan at   Click the comment button below and let us know what you think.


The Center for Healthy Sex (CHS) treats a broad spectrum of sexual disorders including; sex addiction, low sexual desire and sexual dysfunction. The experienced, highly skilled clinical staff of CHS offers intensive individual and group psychotherapy.

For more information visit or call 310.335.0997
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