- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The public divorce of former supermodel Christie Brinkley and her handsome architect husband Peter Cook offers a teachable moment.

Mr. Cook, according to court testimony this month, had a $3,600-a-month online pornography habit and paid a teenage sex partner $300,000 in hush money.

So many questions come to mind. Why would a wealthy husband and father risk everything for a fling with a teenager? How does one spend the equivalent of a middle-class income on online pornography? And why is Peter Cook doing any of these things when he’s married to one of the world’s most desirable women?

The answer: “It’s total insanity. But that’s what addiction is - total insanity,” says psychologist Douglas Weiss, who leads the Heart to Heart Counseling Center for sex addicts in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Insanity is when you have the option of having sex with someone who cares about you, and you choose to have self-sex behavior with pornography, with [images of] someone you don’t know and don’t connect to,” says Mr. Weiss. “You don’t have to be rich, famous or beautiful to have this problem.”

“What surprises me” is that Americans are still surprised to see sex addiction ruining lives, says Michael Leahy, author of “Porn Nation,” a book about sex addiction.

“We just don’t realize that we live in an increasingly pornographic culture, a sex-saturated society where some people get really fixated on it,” said Mr. Leahy. “You can be married to a Christie Brinkley - or a Halle Berry - and it really doesn’t matter because it’s never about your spouse. It’s about your pathological relationship with pornography or other [sexually explicit] material. Everything else becomes irrelevant.”

Both Mr. Weiss and Mr. Leahy speak from personal experience.

Mr. Weiss has been “sober” for more than 20 years, which means he has not looked at pornography, masturbated or had extramarital sex.

Mr. Leahy is in his 10th year of recovery. His addictions to sex and pornography destroyed his 15-year marriage “to a very beautiful woman,” cost him jobs and separated him from his two young sons.

Had Miss Brinkley called him for help with her husband, “the first thing I would have said is, ‘This isn’t about you,’” said Mr. Weiss. “It isn’t about your beauty. It isn’t about your sex. This isn’t about how clean the house is. It’s about his sickness” and something that has probably been going on in his life since he was 14 years old.

“He can heal; he can get better. But it’s going to take work,” says Mr. Weiss, who has written numerous books on the subject and counseled many high-profile people, including politicians.

Pornography addiction “isn’t something that you have to stay stuck with,” he says. “Your marriage doesn’t have to be destroyed; your kids don’t have to have big holes in their souls. And you can live a congruent life.”

The biggest step is deciding you want to get well, says Mr. Leahy. Most guys don’t want to hear “I can’t masturbate to porn” anymore; instead, they get defensive and hide their behavior even more.

“But you cannot recover from this kind of stuff on your own. It’s way too powerful,” adds Mr. Leahy, who remarried in December. The way out, he says, includes detoxification, accountability to others, counseling, support groups and time.

c Cheryl Wetzstein’s column On the Family appears Tuesdays and Sundays. She can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.