Most sex addicts, no matter what their behaviors consist in (prostitutes, anonymous sex, serial seductions, pornography etc.) will tend to sexualize other people they look at. You might say that sex addicts view the world through sex colored glasses. But this does not mean that they are voyeurs.
Voyeurism is a distinct category of behavior that characterizes certain sex addicts. And although most people who identify as sex addicts have more than one type of behavior, research by Patrick Carnes and others found that there were 10 distinguishable types or clusters of addictive behavior of which voyeurism was one.
Flirting is a normal part of life. Not only is it enjoyable, it is a healthy part of courtship. And yet flirting is problem for a large proportion of the sex addict patients I see, I’m guessing maybe a third or more of them.
Sex addicts and addicts generally are often described as narcissistic, but many non-addicts are narcissists as well. Trying to have a relationship with a true narcissist can be an extremely tortuous and confusing experience.
Nobody survives childhood unwounded. And many kinds of stressful or frightening experiences can become sexualized along the way, leading to problems later on. And yet whether or not there is lasting damage depends on a myriad of factors such as the age of the child, their temperament, the presence or absence of support outside and inside the family, birth order, and the particular traits of the caregivers and many others.
Self destructive behavior is often hard to fathom. A person who habitually cuts him/herself, a person who has risky sex with a stranger in a park at night, a person who eats to the point of being sick; such behaviors make no sense to the average person.
Such behavior can be seen psychologically as an escape, a coping strategy, a survival skill, or a way to restore emotional equilibrium.
Is internet porn addiction related to internet addiction? I don’t know of any data specifically on this point. My colleague Maria Robinson believes that porn addiction is “above all, an internet addiction”. She argues that addiction to internet porn has different properties from addiction to other sexual behaviors.
The standard set of categories currently in use to describe sexually addictive behavior according to three levels of severity is not wrong, but it has limitations. And I would argue that it can be misleading to sex addicts in treatment in a number of ways.
Here is the level system as described by Patrick Carnes in Out of the Shadows:
Currently everyone seems to form some kind of impression about Anthony Weiner’s or Bob Filner’s sexual behavior and what it means. But what do people really know? Clinical evaluation of someone’s sexual behavior involves a thorough interview and testing and consideration of how much or what kind of treatment they might need for the anticipated outcome. The person watching the events play out in the media doesn’t have all the information or expertise.
So how can the average voter know how to evaluate a candidate’s sexual indiscretions?
A diagnostic term is always a provisional construct, a tool for organizing information about phenomena we are trying to understand and work with. A construct will be “correct” as long as it is optimally useful.
Certain concepts get entrenched in popular as well as professional psychology. They remain in common usage long after the field has come to a better or fuller understanding of the phenomenon. It seems to me that in becoming clichés these ideas prevent us from understanding the psychological processes involved and from approaching them in a truly constructive way. Here are some of the concepts that most obviously cause me trouble in sex addiction treatment.