Dr. Drew Pinsky

Dr. Drew Pinsky (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

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According to its own news release, the point of VH1's new "Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew" is "to examine one of society's most taboo topics, sex addiction." I don't like to quibble over a news release, but is sex addiction truly a taboo topic, i.e., forbidden by social law? Or is it just something best discussed in the privacy of a therapist's office or a 12-step program?

That is, of course, the larger philosophical question that plagues our time: Just because something can be put on television, should it be put on television? In a world in which Mackenzie Phillips announces, via "The Oprah Winfrey Show," that she had sex with her father, it's honestly hard to tell. Television, with its inevitable Internet follow-ups, is still the fastest way to disseminate information, but there is an entertainment factor that often leads to questions of intent. The state of the Gosselin marriage is actually important to a small percentage of the universe; for the rest of us, it's just gossip.

Likewise, while it is important that the eight people participating in "Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew" come to grips with their disease, how necessary is it for a wider audience to watch? Very necessary, at least to Dr. Drew, who has shamelessly constructed the show for the highest voyeuristic value.

Consider the demographics of the patients. The female-to-male ratio is 5 to 3, with almost all of the women being highly attractive, provocatively dressed adult performers. "What are they thinking, putting us here with these hot chicks?" asks James Lovett, a haggard pro surfer who quickly casts himself as the bad-boy truth teller of the group, and frankly, it's a question that begs an answer.

As does the producers' decision to shoot an opener explaining the disease while music throbs and clips from porn movies fly by. The whole point of sexual addiction is that it isn't fun or sexy; it's an obsession. And though Lovett and one or two of the other patients seem genuinely beset by demons, most of the others are too busy showing off their sex toys on their "audition" tapes to even consider what overcoming sexual addiction means.

Of course, it's just the first episode, and Dr. Drew may well lead these eight people through voyages of self-discovery that will resonate with millions of Americans. But any show that opens with the discovery and confiscation of a sex toy named after famous porn star Ron Jeremy seems content with being part of the problem rather than the solution.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com