Sex Addiction is a Myth - that's what I'm sayin'

Today I saw another article from Dr. David Ley about the myth of sex addiction. This is the second one I've seen in a couple of months. It's exciting to finally see some public counterpoint to this sex and porn addiction hysteria that's been all over the media for the past several years.

I've always been uncomfortable with the idea of sex addiction for a number of reasons. First, it concerns me when people are labelled sex addicts for simply having a lot of sex. There is absolutely no standard of what is a normal amount of sex or a normal amount of partners or normal things you should be doing with them. There is no objective way to say that this much sex or this many partners is unhealthy. So the decision to consider oneself or to call someone else a sex addict is totally arbitrary and is, unfortunately, usually based on someone's personal morals and values around sex. You could look at one person's behavior and consider it sick and dangerous whereas I might look at exactly the same person and think they have a healthy sex life. Who makes the decision and how?

I see this label thrown at a lot of people simply because they really love to watch porn and they do it a lot. That, in itself, is not a problem. What the real problem might be is society's trouble with porn and quickness to label it as perverse and unhealthy.

The second, and very much related, issue I have with the idea of porn addiction is when we label something natural, normal, and healthy as potentially addictive. Sex is a biological need, just as food and sleep are. When we start talking about these things as addictive, it's dangerous. The most common approach to dealing with addictions, the immediate response of most people, is to advocate complete abstinence. You can do that with cocaine or heroin or even alcohol because you don't need these things to survive. You can do it with sex too, but unless that is your natural inclination, it's not healthy. So where does that leave a sex addict? How are you supposed to live a healthy life and have healthy sexual relationships with yourself and others when you've come to believe that this natural part of you is bad for you? I think this messes people up in a big way.

The other problem I have with it is that is becomes an excuse. When people get caught doing sexual things that others don't approve of, often now they are quick to say that they are sex addicts. It's become commonplace for celebrities to do this - Tiger Woods would be a shining example. It's as if saying that you're a sex addict grants you absolution for all the things you've done that have hurt the people who love you. I'm sorry, but that's just not okay. It's not okay for any kind of addict and it's not okay for anyone who believes them self to be a sex addict. Even if you do have an addiction, you are still responsible for your actions. I do have a little more tolerance and understanding for people who are addicted to substances though because I understand that these are real, physical and psychological addictions that cause actual physical symptoms in those who suffer from them and these are incredibly hard to deal with and to think rationally through. In spite of what some 'scientists' would have you believe, sex addiction is not like that. We all make choices about our sexual behavior (not our thoughts and our desires, but our behavior) and we can choose to do something or not. Doing something that will hurt someone else is a choice, always, every time.

Dr. Ley points out that sex addiction is not acknowledged by the DSM as an actual mental illness and that "there is no evidence whatsoever that sex addiction is a valid psychiatric disorder. And there probably never will be."

Now people in my social work circles say that anything can be addictive and the way to judge that is whether the person is able to carry out regular daily life activities and if their work and home lives are disrupted because of the behavior. For example, if you have 6 beer every day after you get home from work but you make it to work every day and perform well and your home life is stable and healthy and you feel happy, then perhaps, in spite of drinking a lot, you don't have a drinking problem. In this same way, they would say that if you can't have a decent relationship and you miss work or get fired or miss out on other opportunities in life because all you want to do is watch porn and masturbate, then you are addicted to porn. That was a seductive idea to me at first - it's very social worky, isn't it? It's all up to the individual. And I do like that. Except what I would counter is that first of all, we can be pretty sure that even though you're living a good life, the 6 beers a day is probably not healthy for you so you may not be addicted but this behavior isn't good for you, where we cannot say that the porn and masturbation itself is actually unhealthy. Secondly, if you can't carry on a healthy work and family life because of your desire to watch porn and masturbate, I would venture to guess that the problem isn't the porn, it's other issues in your life that make doing this much more comfortable and perhaps comforting, than doing the other things in your life. And that is the issue, not the porn. You could say that about any addiction except that with substance addictions, the substance use itself is unhealthy and does cause physical and psychological problems all on its own. I don't believe that sexual activity does.

Dr. Ley's article in the telegraph is great. It's here:
if you want to give it a read. I am with him on this one. I think it's time to get over this idea and move to a place of acceptance about our sexual desires and behaviors. To me, this obsession with sex addiction has caused a lot more problems than it has ever solved.