Is There Such a Thing as a Sex Addict?

They are the subject of jokes and sometimes envy. They have a 12-step recovery programme of their own. They have books and memoirs telling heart-wrenching narratives. But the jury is still out on whether sex addicts are really what they claim to be – individuals with a compulsive need for sexual contact – or if they are simply the victims of a dangerous cultural construct based on arbitrary notions of how, when and where sex is acceptable.

Only in the 1980′s did some mental health professionals begin accepting the idea of sex addiction. Yet many other therapists and researchers of sexuality argue that there is no such thing. Here is a breakdown on the debate thus far:

The Yea! Votes

The addiction to sex is said to be similar to any other addiction, and therefore one that responds to recovery programmes such as the 12-step programme. Sex addicts are said to be commonly cross-addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. Often people’s addiction to sex becomes apparent when they give up another dominant dependence and concentrate on a pleasure that is more accessible to them.

Many sex addiction groups are faith-based and therefore consider adultery, use of pornography or unbridled sexual expression which are outcomes of such sexual addiction to be heinous. The guilt, shame and relationship sabotage that accompany an uncontrolled sexual pattern, are reasons to seek treatment and relief.

There are various proposed underlying psychological and psychiatric disorders at play. Some explain that sex addicts are simply individuals with very low self-esteem, depressives or people with commitment phobia. Some claim that sex addiction tends to grow out of a history of sexual, physical or emotional abuse in childhood. Other proponents believe that this addiction has its roots in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The Nea! Votes

Opponents of the definition of sex addiction believe that it is merely a result of social norms that dictate the place of sex in a given society. Under certain social rules, a person who acts promiscuously and is left feeling dissatisfied might be labeled an addict, when in fact they are not motivated by sexual urges but by social or ideological choices – rebellion, expressing their individuality or being sexually adventurous. This is not to say that their sexual behaviour makes them happy, but therapists in this line would find explanations in their past and current lives other than an addictive personality.

Years ago the pseudo-scientific term “nymphomaniac” was fashionable, usually when describing a woman with a very high sex drive. This term has fallen out of favour as we’ve grown used to the idea that a woman might have a higher sex drive than her male partner, without being abnormal.

The committee for psychosexual dysfunction which updated the DSM-IV, the bible of psychiatric diagnosis, decided not to include sexual addiction / hyperactive sexual disorder / hypersexuality in the DSM, because there was not enough scientific evidence to warrant it. It has also been rejected for inclusion in the DSM-V, which is expected to be released in mid-2013. This means that sexual addiction is not accepted by the formal medical authorities.

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