6 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Sex Addiction
Sadly, some people (even therapists) choose to use the term "sex addiction" to judge, label, and pathologize any and all sexual behaviors that don't mesh with their personal standards (religious, cultural, moral, etc.). They think:
He's been having sex with men. Clearly he's a sex addict.
She's had two affairs, so she must be a sex addict.
He has looked at porn three different times, even though that's a sin in our religion, so obviously he's a sex addict.
Meanwhile, other people try to use "sex addiction" as a catchall excuse for their sexual misconduct. After they've been caught cheating, breaking the law, or engaging in embarrassing or upsetting (to them) sexual activity, they blame their behavior on sexual addiction, hoping to avoid or minimize the judgment and/or punishment they experience.
Below, I discuss six primary factors that lead to both clinical and self-generated misdiagnoses of sexual addiction"
1. Being caught red-handed
As stated above, many people will use sexual addiction as an excuse for their bad behavior. Without a doubt, some of these folks really are sex addicts, but just as often, they aren't. Either way, a diagnosis of sexual addiction is not now, nor was it ever, intended to be used as an excuse for bad behavior. In fact, rather than serving as an excuse, a proper sex addiction diagnosis provides an obligation to recognize the issue, to accept responsibility, and to behave differently in the future.
2. Breaking the law
Sexual offending is unrelated to sexual addiction. Sexual offending involves either illegal or nonconsensual sexual behaviors. This has no bearing on the identification of sexual addiction. It's certainly possible to be both a sex offender and a sex addict, but offending behaviors are not a defining factor. As an analogy, think about a petty thief who might or might not be a drug addict. We would not use his thievery as a factor in the identification of his possible addiction (because plenty of thieves are not drug addicts).
3. Being gay or bisexual
Being gay, lesbian, or bisexual does not make you a sex addict any more than being straight makes you a sex addict. Sexual addiction is not in any way defined by who or what it is that turns a person on. Sometimes self-loathing people will seek out sex addiction treatment hoping that it will change their sexual orientation. However, changing one's arousal template is not possible. If you're attracted to men, that's the way it is; if you're attracted to women, same story; and if you like both genders, you'd better get used to it, because that's not going to change no matter how much analysis you have or how many 12-step meetings you attend.
4. Having kinks or fetishes
As stated above, sexual addiction is unrelated to who or what it is that turns a person on. Yes, some sexual attractions (BDSM, feet, rubber, cigars, etc.) may cause a person to keep sexual secrets and feel emotional distress, but this is not an indicator of sexual addiction.
5. Drug use
Some drug addicts, particularly stimulant drug abusers (cocaine, meth, and the like), become hypersexual when high. This does not, however, make these people sex addicts. If their hypersexual behavior ends when the drug use ends, then a diagnosis of sexual addiction is likely not appropriate.
6. Certain psychiatric conditions
Before making a sex addiction diagnosis, clinicians must consider mental health disorders that may include hypersexuality and/or impulsive sexual behavior as a symptom—such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. As with drug use, if the hypersexual behavior ends when the disorder is controlled, a diagnosis of sexual addiction is likely not appropriate.
If you would like to learn more about the various facets of sexual addiction, check out my recently published book, Sex Addiction 101, and the accompanying workbook. If you think you may need clinical assistance with sex, porn, or love addiction, therapist and treatment referrals can be found here and here.