You’ve probably heard the term “sex addiction.” A semi-regular occurrence is celebrities explaining dubious behavior by saying they are a “sex addict.” Charlie Sheen, Rob Lowe, and Tiger Woods are just a handful of stars who claim they have a “sex addiction.”
But is sex addiction real? Read on…
Addiction vs Compulsive Behavior
In a previous blog, I myth-busted “porn addiction,” and a lot of the same points apply to “sex addiction.”
“Sex addiction” is not included in the current version of the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) and this is because it does not meet the key factors needed for a behavior or substance to be deemed addictive. Although sex can be a central focus for someone and can result in neglecting functions of daily life, and trying to abstain from sexual behaviors may result in relapse, sex does not qualify as an “addictive” behavior for the following reasons.
There is no scientific evidence that people develop a tolerance to sex leading them to demonstrate more deviant, frequent or intense behaviors. Addiction also has a significant mood modification component, and people engage in the behavior to change their mood. In the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD), compulsive sexual behavior disorder (CSBD) is sometimes used interchangeably with “sex addiction” but the definition for CSBD does not include mood modification, which is an important distinction between addictions and compulsive behaviors.
But Why the Obsession with Addiction?
Although a compulsive behavior can feel like an addiction and can have a significant impact on a person’s life, “sex addiction” is not backed by science. In fact, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), which is the main certifying body for sex therapists in the US, does not endorse the use of the term.
But the fact is that we live in a society that over-emphasizes and maintains a hyper-focus on addiction, and sex is not immune to this. Also, people understand the broad concept of “addiction” better than “compulsion,” so for people to communicate what they are experiencing, “addiction” is understood and treated more seriously.
More worrisome, as I alluded to in the introduction, is the explaining away of sexual behavior, which may be criminal in nature, as being due to “sex addiction.” This is a justification which removes all personal responsibility and excuses unacceptable sexual behavior, which we should be mindful to avoid.
Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder
As I said earlier, CSBD is a disorder recognized by the ICD, however it can be very difficult to diagnose. It has features that overlap with other disorders, so it takes a psychiatrist or psychologist skilled working in the sex therapy field to diagnose and treat. Not only do features of CSBD overlap with other disorders, but sex and associated behaviors are culturally dependent; what may be acceptable in one culture may be deemed pathological in another. This also includes family and community attitudes towards sex, masturbation, and fetishes. With compulsive behaviors, it is the distress it causes, the inability to control and impact it has on a person’s life that determine if it is problematic or not. As I discussed in my post on porn addiction, the distress that applies to the use of porn or sexual behaviors must be separate to any subjective moral attitude for it to be seen as pathological.
Sexual behavior is a sensitive topic for people, therefore if something feels abnormal or someone says it is wrong, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that it is a disorder. Talking with a professional who is experienced in sex therapy and has a sex positive approach to their practice is the best way to work out if you should have cause for concern.
Rem Sequence is an Australian adult content creator, blogger, and internationally published alt model. She has a background in psychology, philosophy and political science and worked in health and sex education, youth work and trauma counselling for almost two decades. Now, she works full time in the adult industry, as well as indulging her passion for arts, writing and music in numerous side projects. You can contact Rem on X, @remsequence.