Is Sex Addiction a Real Thing?
People frequently question whether sex addiction or porn addiction is a real thing or if therapists have gone to far with wanting to label almost everything as addiction.
How is Addiction Defined?
You can find many, somewhat varied definitions of addiction by looking in dictionaries or doing a Google Search. Most are true in their characterizations but can be narrow in scope.
I think it best to explore addiction from the standpoint of its characteristics.
Three of the key indicators of any addiction are Obsession, Compulsion and Inability to Stop despite the harmful consequences.
Obsession is defined as: “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind”
Compulsion is defined as: “an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one’s conscious wishes”
Inability to Stop ties closely to compulsion. Here is an example: someone decides they are going to watch some porn and also decides that they are just going to take a break from something else for 15 minutes to do that. An hour or two later, they look at the time and can’t how much time has passed. So, despite their conscious wishes, that person has been unable to stop.
Similar to the person who heads to the bar for a drink or two after work and sits there through the supper hour, keeping their family waiting and arrives several hours after their family expects them to be home.
Is Sexually Compulsive Behavior an Addiction?
You will find it just creeping its way into the ICD 11 (International Classification of Diseases) published by the World Health Organization as Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder (CSBD)
Some people argue that it isn’t an addiction because it hasn’t found its way into the DSM (Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Just because something isn’t recognized by one of these organizations, doesn’t mean it isn’t a disease.
It should be noted that the American Medical Association did not classify alcoholism as a disease until 1956, 21 years after the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous first recognized it as such.
Similarly, gambling was not recognized as an addiction by the American Psychiatric Association until the release of the DSM III in 1980. This is the same association which regarded homosexuality as a disease until the 1970’s.
Just because something is not widely embraced as an addiction does not mean that it isn’t one. It just means that the medical and psychiatric professions are taking a while to catch up with what the people who are experiencing the addiction already know.
Who Are the Experts?
In an October 30, 2019 airing of “The Doctors”, Dr. Judy Ho expressed her concern that people might use porn or sex addiction as a way to avoid criminal prosecution by claiming that their addiction made them do it. Her concern is fundamentally flawed as the courts have not allowed addictions such as alcoholism or drug addiction to be used to avoid accountability for breaking the law. I’m not quite sure how classifying porn use as an addiction would suddenly make it the only addiction that would allow people to avoid prosecution.
She then went on to argue that she didn’t think sexually compulsive behaviors such as porn addiction qualified as addictions because they were symptoms of underlying issues.
She may have just been taking the opposing position in the debate because anybody who knows anything about addictions of any type, understand that they are all related to underlying issues of trauma, abuse, depression, or anxiety just to name a few examples. However, she did seem to be very passionate when she expressed this position, so maybe she actually believes it.
She then seemed to suggest that if the underlying issues were dealt with, the addiction, or whatever she would prefer to call it, may no longer be present.
As a practitioner who deals with addiction every day – both substance abuse and sex addiction – that is not typically how people who work in the field, approach the problem. We usually try to get our clients to address the addictive behavior and gain some measure of self-esteem by managing the addictive behavior and getting some measure of sustainable recovery happening.
Often, if you dive directly into the trauma, the experiences and self-beliefs are so painful that they can trigger relapses into the substance or behavioral addiction. For that reason, addiction specialists try to establish some alternate coping mechanisms and build some resilience before delving into underlying issues.
The opposing viewpoint to Dr. Ho was given by Dr. Robert Weiss who works directly in the field of addiction and has several books dealing with the topic of sexually compulsive behavior. He is a sought-after speaker in the field of addiction and is in the trenches, day in and day out, specializing in this area.
Dr. Weiss was given minimal time to speak in this forum with Dr. Ho, due her celebrity status dominating the discussion. Researching her accomplishments, I found an abundance of academic qualifications television shows and awards with a sprinkling of addiction related work.
I bring this up because I was never fully aware of the nature of what I believe to be the disease of sex/porn addiction until I started sitting face to face with people who struggle with this disorder.
Prior to becoming accredited as a sex addiction therapist, I really didn’t give it much thought and I might have argued that people are just making excuses for bad behavior. Looking into the eyes of sex and porn addicts, hearing their stories of multiple failures when trying to stop, learning about how it was devastating their families, other relationships, jobs and finances, I came to understand that it is as real as alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling addiction and any other addiction recognized by the World Health Organization or the American Psychiatric Association.
In fact, you can look at the criteria for diagnosing those recognized addictions and substitute “porn” or “sexually compulsive behavior”, where appropriate and likely reach the same conclusion, or at very least question why it isn’t recognized in the same way. You can click here to take a free, confidential online assessment.
Who are the experts? First, the people who live with the disorder and battle to stay sober every day. Second, therapists who walk with them through their pain and challenges seeing the devastating effects in their lives and who understand that people would not intentionally inflict this amount of suffering on themselves and those they love.
This is a topic which will be hotly debated for years to come and there is a small, but growing, amount of credible scientific research to support compulsive sexual behavior as an addiction.
Just as with alcoholism, and gambling addiction before they were recognized as addictions, we need to look to those who deal with this on a daily basis as the experts in the field.