A Better Understanding of Sex Addiction

Posted on May 6th, 2014

A Better Understanding of Sex AddictionSometimes understanding something best occurs by defining not only what it is, but what it is not. This often proves to be the case with sexual addiction. To that end, this blog looks at both sides of the sexual addiction coin.

Essentially, the criteria for sexual addiction are similar to the criteria for any other addiction, meaning sex addicts, like all other addicts, experience:

  1. Ongoing obsession/preoccupation
  2. Loss of control
  3. Directly related negative life consequences

Nevertheless, diagnosing sexual addiction is never as easy as diagnosing a chemical (substance) addiction. Sometimes it helps to look at why an individual is engaging in addictive sexual behaviors. Basically, if a person is compulsively abusing sex as a way of self-soothing and dissociating from intolerable emotions and/or the pain of an underlying psychological condition such as depression, anxiety, childhood or severe adult trauma, or an attachment deficit disorder, that is usually an indicator of sexual addiction. Short of that, the individual’s behavior may be causing problems but not equate to sex addiction.

Unfortunately, some people (including clinicians) use the term “sex addiction” to define virtually any type of sexual behavior that doesn’t meet their values (religious, cultural, etc.) Other people use sex addiction as an excuse for various forms of sexual misconduct. In other words, people caught up in inappropriate or even illegal sexual behavior will sometimes blame their actions on sexual addiction, hoping to avoid or minimize the judgment and/or punishment they experience. Occasionally these individuals really are sex addicts, but just as often they are not. Either way, a diagnosis of sexual addiction is never intended to justify bad behavior or to let people off the hook for what they’ve done.

Furthermore, plenty of well-meaning but under-informed therapists are willing to label all sorts of things as sexual addiction. Frankly, the mental health profession provides minimal training in terms of what constitutes healthy (and unhealthy) human sexual behavior. Because of this, some therapists mistakenly believe that any form of sex-driven dysphoria equates to sexual addiction. This is simply not the case. The fact that an individual feels badly about his or her sexualized thoughts, feelings, desires, or actions does not mean that he or she is a sex addict. That individual might be a sex addict, but only if the above-stated criteria (obsession, loss of control, and negative consequences) are met.

There are a number of “potential rule outs” when diagnosing sexual addiction. They include:

  • Sexual Orientation: Being gay, lesbian, or bisexual does not make you a sex addict any more than being straight makes you a sex addict.
  • Concurrent Drug Use: Certain drug addicts, especially those who abuse cocaine, meth, and other stimulants, can become hypersexual while high. This does not, however, make these people sex addicts.
  • Fetishes: Fetishes may cause a person to keep sexual secrets, to feel shame or distress, and even to feel out of control, but they are not indicators of sexual addiction, per se.
  • Mania: Hypersexuality that occurs in conjunction with mania is not an indicator of sexual addiction. In such cases hypersexuality is usually a symptom of the mania rather than being indicative of addiction.
  • Sexual Offending: Some sex offenders are also sex addicts, but many are not. As such, sexual offending is not, per se, indicative of sexual addiction.

It is important to state here that the above factors are only potential rule-outs. In other words, people can be both gay and sexually addicted, people can be both drug addicted and sex addicted, people can have fetishes and be sex addicted, etc. The point is that things like being gay, being drug addicted, and having a fetish are not indicators of sexual addiction. In fact, they are unrelated to the diagnosis of sexual addiction.

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