Membership in the "mile-high" club never used to be seen as a warning sign of a clinical condition.
Yet, following the recent high-altitude antics of 44-year-old British actor Ralph Fiennes, some wonder whether the actor may be exhibiting the signs of compulsive sexual behavior.
Last week, the star of "The English Patient" and "Schindler's List" was caught leaving the same airplane lavatory as a 38-year-old Qantas flight attendant during a long-haul flight, according to a report in the British paper The Sunday Telegraph.
But this naughty behavior is likely a far cry from clinical compulsion. Marian Dunn, director of the Human Sexuality Center of SUNY Downstate Medical Center, says that while certain actions may be seen as deviant, it is hard to tell whether it could be a symptom of sexual compulsion.
"It's a delicate line," she says. "Some of these things, such as having sex in a public place, are kind of bipolar in terms of the excitement factor."
And sexuality expert Don Dyson, a professor at the human sexuality program at Widener University in Chester, Pa., says Fiennes' fame could have much to do with the public's interpretation of his behavior.
"One of the things that is unfortunate when you are dealing with someone in the public eye is that as soon as news of a certain sexual behavior arises, people automatically take their personal value system and apply it to whomever that person may be," Dyson says.
"So, people say to themselves, 'would I do that?' If the answer is no, they automatically judge and say the person is sick, that they need professional help."
Sexual Compulsion Vs. Naughtiness
"Compulsive behaviors are those that generally interrupt or get in the way of daily function or relationships," Dyson says. "Some people practice compulsive eating behavior, gambling or alcohol consumption."
But the line between compulsive behavior and simple naughtiness may be difficult to draw in many cases. Dyson says there are those who may not have a sexual compulsion, but who exhibit "behavior that some might consider naughty."
Further complicating the issue may be the fact that those with sexual compulsions may not feel as if they have a psychological problem.
"There are times when someone recognizes internally that their behaviors or compulsive actions are getting in the way of their lives," Dyson says. "Other times, someone does not recognize this."
Coincidentally, the big-screen's seamier side may go a long way in forming any public interpretation of Fiennes' off-camera escapades. Dyson says media portrayals of intimacy can further blur the lines between socially accepted cheekiness and a full-blown clinical condition.
"In our culture, that's something that occurs in the media frequently," he says. "You see in the movies how people might engage in sexual behavior in an elevator."
A Pattern of Compulsion?
But does the actor's behavior over the past few years point a finger toward a sexually compulsive behavior?
Last year, Fiennes ended his 10-year relationship with actress Francesca Annis after her discovery of his affair with 31-year-old Romanian singer Cornelia Crisan.
Before this, in 2002, Fiennes was caught getting cozy with singer-actress Jennifer Lopez.
But Dyson says the public's judgment of whether or not Fiennes has a clinical problem likely rests more on his stardom than his actions.
When public figures are concerned, he says, "Every behavior is under so much scrutiny. I don't think the threshold for judgment should be any different because they are in the public eye.
"The problem that we have is that in the U.S., we judge sexual behavior harshly," Dyson says.
"We need to really be careful not to judge, from the outside, every single behavior."
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