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Sex Addiction: Misnomer?

Written By Dr. Tony Clark |

“Calling sex an addiction has an unmistakable tendency to instigate or escalate fighting with one’s sexuality. This I can say for certain: If you go to war with your sexuality, you will lose, and end up in more trouble than before you started.” Jack Morin (excerpt from The Erotic Mind)

Tiger Woods, Jesse James, and David Duchovny probably come to mind when the words “sex addiction” come up in conversation. Our media had a field day with these celebrity stories and the public served as the judge and jury without a clear understanding of the term sex addiction; therefore, a few points stand to be addressed.

First, the term “addiction” should not be tossed around so freely. People with addictions to alcohol or heroin, have tolerance and withdrawal symptoms; their body and brain undergo major physical and neurological changes. For example, Delirium Tremens (DTs) is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal causing body tremors. Sex addiction does not foster symptoms such as these, and if they are present, as psychologist Michael Bader states, “They don’t govern the addict’s life in the same way that, say, opiates do. Sex addicts get anxious when they can’t get their “fix”–they don’t go into DTs.” Sex addiction is really a compulsive behavior. Activities such as shopping, gambling, eating and yes, sex, are behaviors that one can become compulsive over. Essentially, they are searching for something to “fix” their psychological pain through repetitive compulsive acts. Feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness are temporarily relieved through a sexual high.

Secondly, how can we label someone as a “sex addict,” when clear scientific criteria does not exist as to what constitutes “normal” levels of sexual behavior? Unfortunately, our society equates sex as sin; which makes the criteria moralistic, not scientific. Pathologizing and exploiting one’s sexuality through labeling them as a sex addict should be handled with caution. Sexual behavior that is normal for one person may be completely abnormal through another’s eyes. For example, if one partner likes to masturbate to erotic images and their partner considers it abnormal behavior, they may be labeled as a sex addict.

Ultimately, if a person’s sexual behavior is causing a breakdown of meaningful relationships, the loss of job opportunities, sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancies, they may need to seek professional help. Exploring why the compulsive behaviour developed, and how it can be changed is essential; which, is a process of learning about and understanding your behaviour, and how to implement healthier changes.

References:

1. Baur, K., & Crooks, R. (2011). Our Sexuality. Belmont, CA: Wadworth, Cengage Learning.

2. Braveman, S. (2011, January 27).  Telephone Interview.

3. Carnes, P. (2001). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. Hazelden.

4. Klein, M. Why There’s No Such Thing as Sexual Addiction — And Why It Really Matters. In Dr. Marty Klein. Retrieved January 31, 2011, from http://www.sexed.org/archive/article08.html.

5. Morin, J. (1995). The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Sexual Passion and Fulfillment. Harper Perennial.

For more info, contact Dr. Tory Clark at (775) 843-9593.