In David J. Ley’s recently published book, The Myth of Sex Addiction, Dr. Ley argues that the concept of sexual addiction is based on questionable research and subjective moral judgments. He believes that labeling problematic sexual behavior as addiction undermines the individual’s personal responsibility for that behavior.
He also believes that the sexual addiction treatment “industry” is driven by economic greed.
Sadly, sexual addiction is not a myth and the treatment “industry” is barely in its infancy. As a licensed sexual addiction specialist with over 20 years experience in the field of sex and intimacy, I have seen thousands of individuals whose sexual behaviors satisfy every criteria of addiction.
These individuals—both men and women—act on those sexual behaviors repeatedly and, once headed down that path, without the ability to stop. They also develop a tolerance to their sexual activities, most often causing them to engage in those behaviors for longer periods of time or to seek out more intensely arousing situations, images, etc.
To say that these people are not suffering from an addiction is to deny reality.
What is “Hypersexual Disorder”?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA), recognizing the increasing public and clinical acceptance of the concept of sexual addiction, has requested and received extensive Tier 1, peer reviewed research data, along with an exhaustive literature review (Shout out to Dr. Marty Kafka of Harvard!) toward its consideration of a potential DSM-5 Hypsersexuality Disorder diagnosis.
While “Hypersexual Disorder” may not be the ideal term for a problem that more accurately involves the lengthy search and pursuit of sexual and romantic intensity rather than just the sex act itself, the proposed criteria as written do point to problem patterns of excessive fantasy and urges that mirror most aspects of what we have come to know more commonly as “sexual addiction.”
There will always be controversy – as there should be – when any form of inherently healthy human behavior such as eating, sleeping, or sex is clinically designated as pathological. And while the power to “label” must always be carefully wielded to avoid turning social, religious, or moral judgments into diagnoses (as was homosexuality in the DSM-I and DSM-II), equal care must be taken to not avoid researching and creating diagnostic criteria for healthy behaviors when they go awry due to underlying psychological deficits and trauma.
Pre-Internet sexual addiction research in the 1980s suggested that approximately 3 to 5 percent of the adult population struggled with some form of addictive sexual behavior. Those studied were a self-selected treatment group, mostly male, who complained of being “hooked” on magazine and video porn, multiple affairs, prostitution, old-fashioned phone sex, and similar behaviors.
More recent studies indicate that sexual addiction is both escalating and simultaneously becoming more evenly distributed among men and women. This escalation in problem sexual behavior appears to be directly related to the increasingly high-speed Internet access to both intensely stimulating graphic pornography and anonymous sexual partnering.
Today these connections are furnished not only through the use of home and laptop computers, but also via smart-phones and the related geo-locating mobile devices we now carry in our pockets and briefcases.
These days, virtually everyone owns a computer, smart-phone, or mobile device. Digital interaction is an integral part of our everyday routine. We check emails and texts, update our Facebook page, fire off a tweet or two, and then finish our morning coffee. Digital interconnectivity provides endless new opportunities to support our very human need for community and social interaction.
Innovations like Facebook, with over 500 million users, and Twitter, with over 300 million users, now allow real-time interactions with an increasingly wider and more diverse group of people. Best of all, friends and family too distant for regular contact just a few years ago can now be intimately folded into our lives. We make friends, we share our experiences, we celebrate, and we commiserate – one world, a growing interactive community.
For partners, spouses, and families separated for long periods of time by work or military service, the tech-connect boom is a godsend. Couples, children, and parents are now able to bond long-distance in real time, sharing a growing child’s latest milestone, and even engaging in visual intimacy via the webcams now routinely incorporated into computers and smart-phones.
And those not yet in a committed relationship can put technology to good use when home or traveling via e-dating, establishing and growing budding relationships with less of a focus on who lives where.