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Debunking Myths About Sexual Addiction

 

At the age of 20, Steven came out as gay to his highly religious parents. As members of a very conservative sect, they struggled to accept his “choice” as “normal,” and they decided to seek advice from their pastor. Unfortunately, their pastor, a trained and licensed pastoral counselor, suggested “sex addiction treatment” with another therapist in their religious community. In this treatment, Steven was given a variety of highly homophobic tasks to complete—participating in sports, which he hated, mimicking the way that “normal” men move and talk, which felt unnatural to him, becoming more assertive with women, which caused distress to not only him but his female friends, etc. Unsurprisingly, this therapist’s attempts to change Steven’s “sexually addictive behavior” failed miserably. Even worse, this failure disheartened Steven and created within him a significant amount of shame and self-loathing.

Unfortunately, without an official criteria-based diagnosis for sexual addiction, it’s easy misuse the label “sex addiction,” preying on personal and societal fears and biases. Because of this, plenty of confused individuals, plus the media and even a few misguided clinicians will, at times, attempt to address any form of sexual desire or behavior that does not mesh with their religious, personal, or societal standards as sexual addiction. These individuals often say or hear things like:

  • “A woman who works for Ed accused him of harassment. He must be a sex addict.”
  • “Marie sleeps around. Obviously, she’s a sex addict.”
  • “In our church, viewing porn once is a mistake, viewing it more than once is a pathological sin.”
  • “Jack loves his wife and he’s got two kids, so his interest in men must be sex addiction.”
  • “Roberta is really nice, except she likes to dress up like a dominatrix and spank her boyfriends. She should probably start going to 12-step meetings for sex addicts.”

Happily, the World Health Organization’s forthcoming update to its International Classification of Diseases (the ICD-11), scheduled for publication later this year, will list compulsive sexual behavior disorder as an official diagnosis, delineating the parameters by which we do (and don’t) define sexual addiction (also referred to as hypersexuality, hypersexual disorder, sexual compulsivity, and compulsive sexual behavior disorder). It seems likely the APA will follow suit with its next revision of the DSM, and that should further clarify the situation.

In the interim, I will use this space to debunk some of the more painful mythology around compulsive sexual behavior.

  • Sex addiction is NOT fun. When you say the words sex addiction, the kneejerk response is usually something like, “Hey, sounds fun. Sign me up.” In reality, sex addiction is the opposite of fun. It is a compulsion that leads to shame, depression, anxiety, and a wide variety of negative consequences—just like every other form of addiction. Sex addiction is not about having a good time any more than alcoholism is about having a good time.
  • Sex addiction is NOT an excuse for problematic behavior. Some people use the sex addiction label as a catch-all excuse for infidelity, sexual misconduct, and other consequence-causing sexual behavior. They get caught up in inappropriate, maybe even illegal sexual behavior—harassment, voyeurism, illegal porn, etc.—and blame their actions on an addiction, usually hoping to avoid or at least minimize the judgment and/or punishment they receive. Sometimes these individuals really are sex addicts, but just as often they are not. Either way, a diagnosis of sexual addiction never justifies bad behavior. Under no circumstances are sex addicts absolved of responsibility for the problems their choices have caused.
  • Sex addiction is NOT related to sexual orientation. Neither homosexual nor bisexual arousal patterns are factors in the diagnosis of sexual addiction, even if those arousal patterns are ego-dystonic (unwanted). Being gay, lesbian, or bisexual does not make you a sex addict any more than being straight makes you a sex addict. Sometimes self-loathing, closeted homosexuals or bisexuals will seek out sex addiction treatment, hoping to change their sexual orientation. Occasionally they do this at the behest of a misguided clinician, clergy member, or family members, as occurred with Steven in the example above. However, changing one’s arousal template is not possible. If you’re attracted to men, that’s the way it is; if you’re attracted to women, same story; and if you like both genders, you’d better get used to it, because that’s not going change.
  • Sex addiction is NOT related to fetishes or paraphilias. Fetishes and paraphilias are recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, urges, and behaviors involving nonhuman objects, specific body parts, the abasement of oneself or one’s sexual partner, nonconsensual sex (in appearance or actuality), and the like. We’re talking about BDSM, foot worship, chubby chasing, etc. Fetishes and paraphilias may cause a person to keep sexual secrets, to feel shame and distress, and even to feel out of control at times, but they are not indicators of sexual addiction. Sexual addiction is not in any way defined by who or what it is that turns a person on.
  • Sex addiction treatment is NOT sex negative. In some quarters, there is a fear that sex addiction therapists are trying to be the new sex police, imposing moral, cultural, or religious values on sexuality. This fear is not ungrounded; there are at least a few misinformed, moralistic, and/or highly religious therapists who willingly misapply the sex addiction label as a way of marginalizing and pathologizing sexual behaviors that don’t mesh with their belief systems. Homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, recreational porn use, casual sex, polyamory, and kink and fetishes—all of which fall well within the spectrum of healthy adult sexuality—have at times been pathologized in this way. (The forthcoming ICD-11 diagnosis should eliminate the bulk of these misdiagnoses.)
  • Sex addiction is NOT just a guy (or a gay) thing. The common perception is that only a man can be a sex addict. While it is true that about 70% of the people we see in sex addiction treatment are men, the remainder are women, most often with deep sexual abuse histories. That said, men are usually easier to diagnose because they are generally more open about the purely sexual nature of what they are doing. Women tend to talk about the issue in terms of relationships, even when they’re having just as much sex, and the same types of sex, as their male counterparts.
  • Sexual addiction should NOT be conflated with substance use disorder, bipolar disorder, or any other psychiatric diagnosis. To accurately diagnose sexual addiction, we must first rule out any number of major mental health disorders that can include hypersexuality as a symptom. Some of these include substance use disorder, the manic phase of bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. So, not everyone who is compulsively sexual has a problem driven by sexual addiction. Other disorders can also be the cause of hypersexual behavior. That said, it is possible to have any of these other conditions and to also be sexually addicted (or alcoholic, drug addicted, etc.).
Debunking Myths About Sexual Addiction

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is a digital-age intimacy and relationships expert specializing in infidelity and addictions—most notably sex, porn, and love addiction. An internationally acknowledged clinician, he frequently serves as a subject expert on human sexuality for multiple media outlets including CNN, HLN, MSNBC, The Oprah Winfrey Network, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR, among others. He is the author of several highly regarded books, including “Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating,” “Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction,” “Sex Addiction 101: The Workbook,” and “Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men.” He blogs regularly for Psychology Today, Huffington Post, and Psych Central. A skilled clinical educator, he routinely provides training to therapists, the US military, hospitals, and psychiatric centers in the US and abroad. Over the years, he has created and overseen more than a dozen high-end addiction and mental health treatment facilities. Currently, he is CEO of Seeking Integrity, LLC, being developed as an online resource for recovery from infidelity and sexual addiction. For more information or to reach Mr. Weiss, please visit his website, robertweissmsw.com, or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.


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APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2018). Debunking Myths About Sexual Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 18, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2018/01/debunking-myths-about-sexual-addiction/

 

Last updated: 29 Jan 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Jan 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.