So, can sex be a true addiction? I can’t tell you how often people not only ask me this question but also how often I’ll hear people throw the words “Sex Addict” around.
Lately I have seen several articles and been involved in a few conversations with colleagues about Sex Addiction. In my experience people tend to have strong feelings around this topic.
Some people say that sex addiction is just another way to pathologize people and label them. Others say that sex is like a drug and can be used/abused, can be dangerous, and something to be approached with care. I believe both can be and are true.
I personally have worked in the past with people that have been labeled as sex addicts. Some of these individuals I believe were indeed mislabeled and yet others had created severe damage in their lives in the pursuit of sex. I’ve listened to stories from my past clients about going broke, ruining relationships, ending up in jail, and ruining their health in order to find sex.
So to me, the question is not if Sex Addiction (or abuse of sex) is real because I have seen the damage in my clients’ lives. I think the question is what is and what is not sex addiction!
What is Sex Addiction?
Technically there is no such thing as sex addiction in terms of medical terminology. An addiction of any form is simply a laymen’s term for what the medical and psychological community call abuse/dependence. The closest medical term that has been offered for what society considers Sex Addiction is “Hypersexual Disorder” which was not approved for usage in the latest addition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel (DSM 5), which is where all diagnoses of psychological disorders come from. Some also consider withholding sex a form of sex addition (“Sexual Anorexia”), which would fall under the category of Hypo-sexual disorder. Also, medical professionals have been unable to even determine what sex addiction is because it is often used to define any behavior that deviates from societal norms. This includes “excessive” sexual intercourse, masturbation, viewing of pornography, partners, etc.
The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity has defined sexual addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.” Since there is no agreed upon definition of what a sex addiction is, I would like to offer what I use with my clients to determine when someone has entered an unhealthy territory in the way of sexual behaviors.
• Are you able to function in your daily life? (Going to work, taking care of adult responsibilities, taking care of physical health, etc.)
• Are you continuing to engage in behaviors despite intense dangers to your physical health, career, or financial well-being?
• Are you unable to stop the behaviors despite them no longer bringing you pleasure?
If someone says, “Yes,” to the above situation, then they very well might be stuck in an addictive cycle with sex, porn, or masturbation. Thankfully there are many wonderful therapists/coaches that work with sex addiction and can help determine what emotional needs are trying to be met through these behaviors.
What Sex Addiction is NOT!
Often Sex Addiction is used as a scapegoat for Cheating, Lying, Jealousy, and Taboo behaviors. As long as the below behaviors are not stopping normal adult functioning, a sex addiction is not:
• Cheating: Just because a partner is enjoying sex with another person(s) does not mean they are addicted. It means that there is a breakdown somewhere in the communication and the relationship. Often women particularly will struggle emotionally with the thought of a partner cheating and so will label that other person a sex addict. I believe people often see it as a more acceptable/ less embarrassing than having to admit their partner cheated OR the person engaging in the infidelity finds it easier than having to manage the repercussions of infidelity. Cheating can cause emotional turmoil on both sides but that does not make it a sex addiction
• Polyamory/Open Relationships: Just because a person chooses a different lifestyle does not make them have an addiction. Often people are under the impression that people in these types of relationships are “sex crazed” and are constantly engaging in dangerous sexual experiences. Research studies have actually shown the exact opposite, that people in these relationships communicate and take more precautions for safety in sex than single/monogamous couples. However, instead of learning about these lifestyles, it is easier to smack a label on a person or think they are just choosing that lifestyle for the sex.
• Pornography: I do not personally like pornography because I think it can push unhealthy standards but a person does not have an addiction just because they enjoy viewing pornography. Viewing porn can be a healthy part of adult sexual experiences. Many couples pursue pornography to add spice into a relationship and many single people use it to meet their basic human needs in a safe and healthy manner.
• Enjoying Sex/Sex-ploration: Many times I will hear people throw the word sex addict out when they hear about a person engaging in more sex then they deem “appropriate.” Based on religious beliefs, upbringing, and our society, many people have strong ideals on what is and is not okay. The truth is we have no right to tell others when their desires/needs have been met or to limit them according to our personal ideals of sex. A person could have a new sex partner every night for a year and still not be a sex addict!
• Masturbation: Again, masturbation is a super healthy aspect of human sexuality and does not mean a person is a sex addict. Our bodies are meant to be enjoyed and so we don’t get to tell others how often that is okay.
• Taboo Sex: As we expand as a society, more and more people are venturing into new sexual territory. There is a reason why 50 Shades of Grey took the nation by storm! In our ignorance of a sexual preference we often label people as having a “problem.” As adults we have the right to explore whatever we like in the privacy of our own bedroom (outside of illegal preferences such as child abuse or animal abuse). Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it an addiction.
Sex Addiction is serious and can very much ruin a person’s life. If a person truly has a sex addiction then they do need help to put their lives back together. In true sexual addiction, the person needs to explore the pain and patterns that are keeping them stuck in a destructive cycle. There are some amazing therapy and treatment centers out there to help these individuals. Though beware because there are some other treatment centers that turn this addiction into a moral issue and will try to shame the addiction out of a person or suggest taking on habits such as celibacy. These treatments are not effective and will often just drive the addict deeper into the addiction long-term.
Sex Addiction is not a scapegoat phrase or something to be thrown around in order to express your dislike of a person’s sexual behaviors. It’s not an excuse for infidelity and not a rationale for someone having a high sexual appetite.
Original Article on RecovertoLife written by Kelly Martin, LPC, LCDC, Experiential Life Coach