This review is a preview of a more formal review which will appear a few months from now in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. I will start by putting this book into context and then I will address the content before going into other aspects of the book, such as structure, quality of writing, etc. The author, Neil Strauss is a Rolling Stone Magazine journalist, and known for co-authoring books by rock stars such as Marilyn Manson, Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction, and Motley Crue. These names will all be familiar to those who were into rock music in the late 80s through the 90s. He then came to more prominence by documenting his rise from a journalist nerd who couldn’t “score” even when traveling with rock stars to a guy who learned to “pick up” women in the The Game. The Truth is marketed as a sequel in which this ladies’ man is now trying to learn how to maintain a great relationship now that he can find willing partners to form one. I happened to get my hands on a copy after a social media discussion I had with the author, in which I stated I was willing to provide an honest review in exchange for a copy of the book.
While The Game has received criticism for its portrayal of attitudes towards women within the “seduction community”, as it is called, I found The Truth to have more broad appeal to a variety of different groups. Off the top of my head, the following individuals would probably find at least something of interest within this book: Individuals who are struggling with infidelity; those who are wondering about or contemplating diagnosing themselves as sex addicts or entering sex addiction treatment; folks who are exploring opening up their relationship; those who are curious about the differences between tantra, polyamory, swinging, and other forms of consensual nonmonogamy; and those individuals who are seeking a multitude of theories and perspectives on human mating and pair bonding. In other words, this book is highly appropriate for most therapists, especially those working with couples, relationships, and human sexuality, as well as the clients of those therapists. Perhaps, this is one reason I found The Truth to be so engaging.
Right away, we learn that Strauss has been caught cheating on his girlfriend, and in an effort to understand his own behavior, he checks himself into a sex addiction rehab clinic. His descriptions of his experiences are emotionally intense and harrowing, as he struggles with the confusion he experiences between his previous attitudes about sex and the addiction model he is exposed to in rehab. As readers of this blog know, I have been a long-time critic of the sex addiction model, so for me this segment of the book was of particular interest. Needless to say, many of Strauss’ experiences were disturbing, but unfortunately not entirely surprising to me, based on what I’ve heard from others who have stayed an inpatient sex addiction facility. Here are a few examples of the kind of nonsense Strauss was exposed to:
- When he comes in, a nurse informs him “… if you’re visiting porn sites, or if you’re masturbating, that’s sex addiction.” p. 15
- A guy in his group therapy said he slept with a “hot girl”, the counselor says “As a therapist, when I hear the word girl, I have to automatically assume that you’re talking about a minor. And I’m obliged to report that.” p. 29
- The therapist informs Strauss he must abstain from all sexual conduct for twelve weeks. That is because, “It takes three months for your brain to return to normal after all the imbalances caused by the constant high of sex.” p. 31
- The same therapist tells Strauss that “Are you aware that undressing someone with your eyes is covert sexualized violence?” p. 36
- A male pt confesses to being attracted to a female pt, the therapist ask, “Go ahead, tell everyone how you pornified her.” p. 36
- Strauss was talking to a female pt during lunch time, another pt ratted on him to the counselor. The counselor asked Strauss, “Do you see women as human beings or do you see them as a collection of body parts?” p. 46
- Strauss confides that his father has a unique fetish, the therapist tells him, “Are you aware that sex addiction has a genetic component?”
There are many more examples, but I think these suffice to provide a sense of Strauss’ experience. He does do some good “chair work” but then leaves prematurely to return home to his girlfriend, still grappling with all of the pathological labels that have been heaped upon him. At this point, he decides to explore the complete opposite end of the spectrum, and the world of free love, casual sex, and consensually nonmonogamous relationship structures of all stripes. I found this section of the book to be particularly amusing, as his descriptions of the characters he encounters and the bumbling mistakes he makes often are hilarious. In addition, what separates Strauss apart from other authors who have written on these subjects is his level of introspection and self-awareness, but especially his razor sharp psychological insight.
As an example, he starts out by consulting with a New Age polyamory guru who beckons him to sit on her bed. Strauss writes, “I wonder what kind of woman would let a stranger, who contacted her off the Internet, into her home and onto her bed within seconds. Then I realized that’s exactly the kind of woman I’ve come here looking for (p.165).” He then explores the world of tantra at the World Polyamory Association Conference, in which a bunch of new-hippies gather together in a clothing optional resort for some naked touch and rolling around.
He is not feeling the vibe, so he separates himself and observes from a far wall, munching on popcorn. At this point Strauss realizes, “… I get what this is all about… There’s a disparity between the masculine desire for sex, which tends to be carnal and ego based, and the feminine desire for sex, which can be more emotional and spiritual. So if swinging is for horny men, then this scene is for sensual women (p.183.)” Strauss ends up being kicked out for eating popcorn and bothering the group with his bad vibes. Shortly after, he meets an expert who confirms, “Because of all the immoral connotations of sex, they make it into something divine and polite instead of physical and passionate. I think this is because a lot of the gurus know that most women need an emotional connection to have sex, and spirituality is the quickest, deepest way there (p.185).” I’m providing these quotes as an example of the level of psychological insight and emotional transparency that is prevalent throughout this book.
Strauss then gets involved with some shady swingers, who take him through a drug-fueled night of orgies in Las Vegas. Here again, Strauss’ perceptiveness cuts through the scene like a knife, as he analyzes the motivations of the men in the swinger scene, “I always thought that, for men, the Lifestyle was about fucking other women. But… it’s also about showing off the woman they love: Look what I’ve got. And she loves me, so I must have value. And if you treat me with enough respect and admiration, I will share her with you– but not too much, because I don’t want to lose control of her. That would cause me to feel pain and question my fragile sense of worth (p. 219–220).” He concludes, “Swapping is the ultimate in male bonding (p.220).”
Strauss then tries to create a pod consisting of himself and three other women, but things quickly fall apart, as he makes every newbie mistake in the book, and loses control of the situation. He tries to understand why he cannot pull off a harem like the man he has been trying to emulate, Father Yod, a commune leader in the 1970s who had eleven wives. Strauss interviews one of Yod’s former wives and begins to “understand that what it takes to enjoy being the fulcrum is a high degree of narcissism and an unwavering certainty that your needs and beliefs are more important and enlightened than those of the rest of your community– and quite possibly the world (p.286-7).” Really, all of the communes from the past were run by narcissists with strict rules, a type of life that Strauss realizes is anathema to his values.
Strauss has many other adventures, in which he is attacked by a jealous boyfriend with an axe, and where one of his girlfriends runs off with some male servant types to Mexico. In the end, he is left feeling empty and alone, craving to be reunited with his first girlfriend, Ingrid, whom he cheated on at the very beginning. I’ll skip all of this, as he goes back into therapy and works on himself, reconnects with his true love, and they get married and live happily ever after. It all comes together like a Hollywood Happy Ending here, and maybe it did happen this way, but it does feel like everything is a little too neatly packaged and tied together with a red ribbon. After going through the entire spectrum of experiences and coming back to where he started, Strauss describes his “commitment today is to neither monogamy nor nonmonogamy. Those are other people’s values and dichotomies (p.419).”
Strauss is a very gifted writer with a keen sense for understanding complex psychological nuances. And he knows it. At 421 pages, some of the material is perhaps overwritten and certain sections do seem to drag. However, in other spots, The Truth is a real page turner and is both informative and entertaining for readers who have their own questions about sex and relationships, or who are simply interested in picking back up from where The Game left off and learning more about the author’s life.
In the end, Strauss’ thesis can be summed up in the epilogue as he reflects back on his journey. “There isn’t just one true and proper way to love, to relate, to bond, to touch. Any style of relationship is the right one, as long as it’s a decision made by the whole person and not the hole in the person (p. 419).” Amen.