Marilyn Monroe Biography: A GoodTherapy.org Review

A woman's legs are shown with knees pressed together and toes curled into a scarlet-red rug.A biography of Marilyn Monroe by Lois Banner, professor of history and gender studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, reveals a complicated woman determined to be the best at everything. Published around the fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death (August 5, 1962), Marilyn: The Passion and Paradox also reveals Marilyn Monroe’s troubled psyche and tragic childhood, including her childhood experience with sexual abuse, which led to a life-long struggle with sexual addiction. In an act that continues to strike us for its bravery—especially in a society like ours that is obsessed with objectifying women—Marilyn Monroe acknowledged and spoke publicly about her struggle with the consequences of childhood sexual abuse.

Banner builds on Monroe’s own statements to create a picture of a woman battling sex addiction and seeing herself as an object to be possessed by men and women. In one particular interview she gave to the British press, she stated “I sometimes felt I was hooked on sex. I could not stop having sex with almost every man I met.” Her persona as America’s “sex symbol” speaks loudly to America’s twisted relationship to sexuality, which takes tragic self-objectification and makes it something desirable rather than identifying it as a defense to trauma that causes suffering and requires treatment.

Aside from celebrities having affairs and sometimes excusing this behavior under the guise of “sexual addiction,” our society does not talk about the topic, and therefore we do not fully understand sexual addictions. The first thing to note is, oddly enough, sex addiction is never about sex. It is about a repetition of trauma and a craving for intimacy. Sex becomes the tool a person uses in order to find love and acceptance. Of course, the aim is never satisfied because the intimacy created through frequent sexual encounters is never really intimate or loving.

Sex addiction is a byproduct of trauma coupled with loneliness, pain, and the need to be loved and accepted. It is a substitute for these needs, a counterfeit way to meet real desires. However, it always fails to meet those needs and desires and subsequently creates a greater need for more sex in order to mask what one is truly missing. In Marilyn Monroe’s case, this craving for affection probably developed early on in life as she was moved around from foster parent to foster parent. In addition, having been sexually abused by men as a child, she would likely have equated sex with attention, and attention with love.

Studies show a high correlation between childhood abuse and sex addiction in adulthood. “Sixty percent of sexual addicts were abused by someone in their childhood” (Book, 1997, p 52). If your caretakers failed to protect you, or worse, inflicted the pain, you end up repeating what you know; you are attracted to the kinds of people who will fail to protect you or cause you harm. Having been sexually abused early on in life, a child grows up emotionally starved for love and mistakenly comes to equate love with sex. To bear the pain, one begins creating a fantasy where love means sex. And so, slowly, sex becomes a tool to satisfy any kind of need, whether that be loneliness, fear, anxiety, or shame. Worse, contemporary society constantly sexualizes us, especially young women, by teaching them how to become an object for someone else’s pleasure, not a participating subject. From the TV shows that we watch to the magazines that we read, we learn about sex as a performance and, for women in particular, we are taught that our bodies are a tool to be used in order to attract people. This further prevents survivors from seeking out treatment, as our society rewards unhealthy behavior and seldom teaches us how to view sexuality in a healthy way.

Sexual addiction has many different forms: compulsive masturbation, sex with people who are prostituted, anonymous and often unsafe sex with multiple partners, multiple affairs outside a committed relationship, habitual exhibitionism, habitual voyeurism, inappropriate sexual touching, repeated sexual abuse of children, abstaining from having sex altogether, or episodes of rape (Book, 1997). Addictions are quick fixes in order not to experience pain. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse often find it hard to trust another, to create real intimacy, to overcome feelings of shame and rejection, and to be present in intimate relationships. Sex, then, becomes a way to create a fantasy world, to tell oneself that you are sharing with another, that you are intimate and therefore present in the relationship. But, since sex addicts don’t necessarily enjoy sex with other people, and the need for intimacy is never fulfilled, one is then compelled to act out sexually—hence the addiction.

Most people who experience sex addiction do not understand why they are acting out sexually or why they have constant thoughts of either having sex with someone or masturbating. Sometimes they associate these thoughts with being in love, when love is far from the relationship. Each new sexual encounter brings relief and the promise of a new beginning. It also brings an unconscious desire to understand the pain of childhood sexual abuse. Yet as each encounter ends, and the need is not satisfied, the person feels more helpless, more alone, more ashamed. Slowly, a preoccupation with a new sexual encounter develops, and its promise for a new beginning gives rise to fantasies of intimacy, love, and affection. Perhaps the worst pain inflicted by childhood sexual abuse, which can be easily seen in the powerful and disruptive negative thoughts of someone who is addicted to sex, is the person’s lack of self-esteem, the idea of being damaged. Thus, rather than experiencing sex as a self-affirming, pleasurable activity, it is a source of pain, shame, and suffering.

Sexual addiction is a symptom of a bigger problem, and treating the symptom does not solve the problem. Underneath the symptom, one finds a codependent, wounded soul. As a young girl, Marilyn Monroe was treated as a sexual object and like many adult survivors, she became addicted to sex, suffering in silence. In treating sexual addiction, one needs to move beyond the symptoms and work with the survivor on issues regarding shame, self-esteem, and trauma. Yet therapy also needs to go a step further: In analyzing our culture’s view of women, sexuality, and relationships, we can begin to understand how ideology contributes to negative views of sexuality and women. Perhaps the greatest task for both the client and the therapist is to explore what it means to be a subject rather than an object in a relationship—to begin creating spaces where both women and men value each other and celebrate sexuality, not as a means to an end, but rather as a ground for pleasure.

By slowly peeling away the layers, Banner’s book reveals the complexity of a human being. Through Marilyn Monroe’s tragic story, we are reminded of the painful scars created by childhood sexual abuse that, when left untreated, continue to bleed throughout one’s life.

References

  1. Banner, L. (2012). Marilyn: The passion and the paradox. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  2. Book, P. (1997). Sex & love addiction, treatment & recovery. New York: Lucerne Publishing.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Silvia M. Dutchevici, MA, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • hunter

    hunter

    August 21st, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    Being a victim as a child does not mean that you automatically mean that you have to stay a victim as an adult or that you will become an addict to sex. I can see how this could cause you to crave attention, to always be looking for that special something that you have always wanted but never quite had. But I have always kind of thought that as an adult you do have some control over this, and sadly Monroe was never able to over come that. I in no way believe that she was responsible for the fate that befell her, because for some people they are not able to move past that past for lack of a better phrase, and she wasn’t. But there are plenty of others who have made that difficult journey and I truly think that they are to be applauded for that hard work.

  • Anna Rush

    Anna Rush

    August 21st, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    For the life of me I have never quite understood all the fascination with Marilyn Monroe. She was a beautiful woman who had a tragic life and wasn’t a very good actress who made it as far as she did on looks alone. Why make her some kind fo saint when really, what did she ever do to deserve all of that?

  • Alan Beck

    Alan Beck

    August 28th, 2012 at 2:25 AM

    MM was a sociocultural phenomenon, the male American’s American Dream. Thus she was objectified, almost as a cypher. That’s the victim part. MM became a star because she exploited male idealization of her. That’s the empowered part. We are talking about a Hollywood star to whom norms of psychoanalysis do not apply. For a time, Marilyn was Mrs Arthur Miller. In American society, she was connected and powerful.

  • g88

    g88

    August 21st, 2012 at 6:33 PM

    I loved the article and the entire analysis. I found it very helpful.

    Still, I have one small personal observation to make, based on my own personal life experiences: it is not just the idea of being damaged. The surviving adult is indeed damaged.

    The damage is not an illusion or impression, it’s real and tangible. Huge essential parts of the surviving adult were fractured and even broken. At first by the childhood abusers and then again by lovers / partners / other people. Yes, following the circuit described in the article among other circuits and next to personal choices.

    The adult had been extremely violently hit right into his/her core.

    Like when one breaks the leg and the doctor can’t say “the leg broke only in your head, it’s the idea of breaking which hurts you so badly”, also in the case of emotional fractures we can’t say that – only because they aren’t visible with the naked eye.

    Emotional fractures are very painful and dealing with them every day is very exhausting.

    I don’t believe in healing at this deep core level, but I believe in learning to master the pain. But mastering the pain doesn’t cancel the pain existence.

    What it was taken from you can’t be replaced and substituted with anything else, the new self construction is done with and based on the remained pieces.

  • Doug

    Doug

    August 21st, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    Thanks for this analysis.Not too many people know why some are addicted to sex and just dismiss it as something only perverts would do.The people addicted are not to be blamed,as they are often victims,as this article has rightly pointed out.

    But let us look at the things PROMOTING this victimization-media.Most often it is the media that is portraying women as objects and then this in turn causes more pain and suffering to former victims and in fact pushes them towards sexual addiction rather than on a path to recovery. Just how can we CUT OFF from something that is all around us? This is only causing harm to us and will continue to do so to the generations to come!

  • Les

    Les

    August 22nd, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    How long can someone go around blaming the past for all of their current behaviors?
    I really do not mean to seem insensitive, because I have never experienced this myself, and I know that the scars go deep.
    But I frimly believe that there are times when you have to leave all of that behind.
    Seek counseling, seek help, and gat to a better place in your life, a place that will allow you to live again without constantly focusing on the past.
    I find it sad that throughout her life even with all of the strong people who apparently loved her, there was never one who was strong enough or willing enough to get her the serious care that she needed to overcome this.
    Is this because they really didn’t love the woman at all but instead just loved the fame that she represented?

  • Stephanie

    Stephanie

    August 22nd, 2012 at 5:32 AM

    I just hope people see this as one example. Not all survivors of childhood sexual assault develop sex addiction.

  • Harold.P

    Harold.P

    August 22nd, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    What is it that can turn a traumatic incident into something the victim craves for later on?Is this an attribute of childhood abuse where the mind is not matured enough to understand it,or is it something that has to do with the developmental years?or is it something totally different altogether?it seems bizarre that something that troubled you can become an addiction.

  • corinne

    corinne

    August 22nd, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    I guess for me, I see Marilyn as a little bit of both. When she needed to she certainly had no problem with using her blatant sexuality to her advantage. She yused it to get her first big breaks, and really, it served her pretty well getting her name out there and helping her land her first movie roles. But when she was vulnerable you could see that really throughout it all she certainly was a victim too, and that she just wanted to be recognized for her talents and not that sexuality that she could often so casually flaunt. It was very much a double edged sword, because I think that she realized that she would have gotten nowhere without that overt sexuality that she put out there, but that maybe life would have been easier if she had just been allowed to be Norma Jean and recover from that past of abuse and shame.

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