Does Sex Addiction Exist?

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Although a widely used term in media circles, ‘sex addiction’ remains a highly controversial topic amongst experts on human sexuality. Recently, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists released a statement noting that: (1) it does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support classifying ‘sex addiction’ or ‘porn addiction’ as a mental health disorder; and (2) does not find sex addiction therapies to be adequately informed by knowledge of human sexuality.

That is a pretty damning statement, but is reflected in similar positions by sexual health experts globally.

For proponents of sex addiction, the argument for ‘addictive’ behaviour is purely neurochemical. We know neurological changes that occur during highly pleasurable activities (such as sex or gambling) are very similar to those during drug use, therefore – the argument goes – such activities must be prone to addiction.  For critics, ‘sex addiction’ is actually a term used to criticise behaviours that are culturally taboo such as non-monogamy, paying for sex or controversial sexual fantasies – rather than any abusive or ‘addictive’ behaviour.

It should be noted, the term ‘addiction’ can be controversial even amongst experts in drug addiction. After all, does ‘addiction’ mean an involuntary compulsion or a habit with disastrous results? If someone compulsively uses a drug, but there are no negative repercussions, are they ‘addicted’? In the case of sexual addictions, there is an added layer of controversy as many sex-negative attitudes persist in society and may be impacting how we view sexual behaviour.

For sex therapist Marty Klein, the use of the term ‘sex addiction’ is both sex-negative and politically disastrous. In 2012, Klein wrote that “[s]ex addiction is a special weapon now used by the religious right to combat perceived liberalism, to ignore science, and to ignite fear. It also helps legitimize anti-sex moralism and bigotry. And psychologists, judges, legislators, and the media are buying it.”

For Klein, and many other sex therapists, the term ‘sex addiction’ is being used by individuals to excuse their problematic behaviour such as infidelity. Furthermore, critics of the sex industry have used the term to reframe sex workers and pornographers as peddlers of addictive material.

Ultimately, arguments for sexual addiction don’t stack up given our current understanding of human sexuality. Nevertheless, if you are struggling with sexual thoughts and behaviours still seek help. After all, you don’t have to be an addict to benefit from sex therapy.

Written by guest writer: Jarryd Bartle
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