'Days of Our Lives' episode sparks backlash about mental disorders and sexual consent

A “Days of Our Lives” episode has drawn backlash over the concept of sexual consent. (Photo: NBC)
A “Days of Our Lives” episode has drawn backlash over the concept of sexual consent. (Photo: NBC)

A Days of Our Lives storyline has sparked a heated debate about sexual consent.

In a preview of an episode that aired Tuesday, a character named Abigail Deveraux develops Dissociative identity disorder — and as a result, a second personality known as Gabby Hernandez. In the controversial scene, Abigail’s husband, Chad DiMera, catches her in the act of having sex with his half-brother Stefan — after she switches to her Gabby persona. 

On Monday, after NBC tweeted the preview clip, many people condemned the notion of a man having sex with a woman suffering from Dissociative identity disorder while she had become a different personality, due to her not truly being able to give her consent. The hashtag #JusticeForAbby also made the rounds, ushering the 53-year-old soap firmly into the #MeToo era. 

A representative from NBC did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Dissociative identity disorder (also known as multiple personality disorder) is a mental disorder that involves the person “switching” to different identities, and even feeling the presence of multiple people talking or living inside their head. Other times, the person may feel “possessed” by different identities. According to Mayo, identities can have distinctive names, personal histories, and personality characteristics, including variations of their voice, gender, or physical qualities — such as the need for eyeglasses. The disorder is rare, and people usually develop it as a coping mechanism to deal with trauma. 

But according to Gail Saltz, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different: The Difference Between Disorder and GeniusDissociative identity disorder (DID) is more complicated than it seems to be on the daytime soap. “This is a debatable diagnosis in the form it’s presented on the show — there’s evidence of it as an individual disorder; others say it’s a variant of others such as bipolar disorder, or that it develops under the influence of a therapist,” Saltz tells Yahoo Lifestyle. 

Saltz says that the way DID is presented on Days isn’t exactly realistic, explaining, “Dissociative identity disorder doesn’t really exist in this form — the concept that you’re one person today and a completely and totally different person tomorrow. And the show specifies the issue nearly to the point of nonexistence.” 

Acknowledging that public reaction is focused on the legitimate issue of sexual consent, Saltz says, “If a person presents with so serious a psychiatric illness that they lack compacity to understand their actions because they’re having delusions or hallucinations, they cannot consent.”

However, whether that argument would hold up in court is another matter, she says. “For example, if someone didn’t pay their taxes under one identity and claimed innocence under another, the IRS would still impose a punishment. On the other hand, if a person with a serious psychiatric disorder commits a crime, they may plead guilty by reason of insanity,” Saltz explained.

Boiling down a psychiatric illness to a sexy plot line in a daytime soap is too simplistic, says Saltz, adding, “People probably don’t need to worry about this situation playing out in real life.”

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