Sexual Purity Posts

Sex Addiction Deniers: What Makes Them So Mad?

Sex Addiction Deniers: What Makes Them So Mad?

August 14, 2012

Author:  Linda Hatch, Ph.D. 

Original Article

The mere idea of “sex addiction” gets a lot of people angry.  I’m talking here about the writers who rail about the “myth” of sexual addiction and who argue that the whole idea of sex addiction is just a cop-out for the addict and a money making scam for the professionals.

The anatomy of a sex addiction denier

I prefer to see these “deniers,” as I call them, as a part of a larger societal pattern and one that is worthy of study in its own right.

Currently the opposition to the concept of sex addiction comes in two main flavors.

1.  Sex addiction is really just normal behavior.

These men and women have a defensive reaction to the whole field of sex addiction treatment as an attempt to restrain normal sexual freedoms.  Sometimes their blogs and online commentary seem to be jokingly, (nervously?) defending behavior around which they have some unacknowledged shame.  The message is “we all do it and you just think it is ‘sick’ because you are so uptight!”  This is an uninformed bias that seems to resist logic.

2.  Sex addiction is really just irresponsible behavior.

This argument comes from all quarters including some in the scientific community.  It minimizes the seriousness of the problem and the suffering it can cause, and the message is often “you so-called addicts are just behaving badly and you need to take responsibility and shape up!”

This second argument sometimes takes the form that “if sex can be an addiction then anything can,” or “if we let people off by calling it a disease then there’s a slippery slope which will lead to nobody ever taking any responsibility for anything.” (OMG!)

Both of these arguments have the net effect of saying that we shouldn’t medicalize the issue of sexually compulsive behavior and therefore that we shouldn’t actually do anything about it.  See the New York Times Op-Ed for an excellent discussion.

We need to understand the deniers, not condemn them

“Deniers” have always existed in relation to almost every unwelcome phenomenon that has emerged throughout history.  Sometimes they have taken a socially acceptable position which conforms to religious or other dogma and have acted accordingly, as in burning heretics or imprisoning the mentally ill.  In other cases they have simply veered off into crazy-sounding conspiracy theories such as that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were really a government plot or that the holocaust never happened.

These are elaborate attempts to explain or deal with something that is experienced as incomprehensible or intolerable. In this regard they are all defense mechanisms and nowhere more obviously so than in the area of sexual addiction.

Sex addiction deniers are trudging a road well traveled in earlier eras by those who wished to defend themselves against a trend or theory that they found very threatening.  This is especially true in recent history in the evolution of the disease model of mental health. It has been very gradually that the “deadly sins” have been recast as very human psychological afflictions.

Fear and loathing as a developmental phase

Because I believe sex addiction deniers are genuinely reacting to some unconscious fear, I think professionals cannot dismiss them but rather need to understand them.  If we don’t they won’t go away and will keep confusing the public and getting in the way in much the same way that global warming deniers get in the way of protecting the biosphere.

As the superstitions and fears surrounding a social ill begin to dissipate, the issue moves through a predictable sequence in public awareness from demonization to criminalization to medicalizationto reintegration.  First the problem, say alcoholism, is a moral failing, then it’s a legal problem, then a medical disease, and finally a larger societal or public health issue.

Leaving aside the issue of illegal sexual behavior, this mans that society’s current approach to sexual addiction is moving beyond demonization and criminalization but has not yet reached medicalization.  This transition to full medicalization will mean the evolution of awareness. This involves dispelling fears, confronting judgmental attitudes, and persuading people to suspend those judgments.  It is up to us to patiently explain.

The information contained in this post is the intellectual property of Dr. Linda Hatch, Ph.D.

3 thoughts on “Sex Addiction Deniers: What Makes Them So Mad?”

  1. I definitely believe it is a public health issue. I believe we need to make a lot of changes on a societal level to keep the problem from growing even larger than it is. I absolutely believe sexaholism is a result of our culture and the way that we raise our young boys especially (although I know some women also are sex addicts). However, I am on the fence about the medical relevance of calling sexaholism a “disease.”

    One large factor in that for me is that sex addiction (or sexaholism or pornography addiction or any number of things that fall into this category of sexual acting out) is not in the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Who am I to disagree when they say is not an actual disease? They are the experts, after all. They devote their lives to researching and addressing mental disorders and diseases.

    Does that mean I think seeing a psychologist can’t help? Absolutely not. I am not in the camp of those who said it shouldn’t be treated. Lots of things require the help of a psychologist – from low self-esteem to molestation to over-spending to irresponsible behavior to overeating to you-name-it. Do I think all of those people have a “disease?” No. I believe there are grey areas between “healthy” and having a “disease.”

    I also have to say that a lot of this does come down to taking responsibility for poor choices. No one is born a sexaholic. You can be born an alcoholic or drug dependent if your mother was using while you were in-utero. But for the most part, people who are addicts got that way from making poor decisions. When it starts at a young age there is certainly blame to be placed on the parents who didn’t create a loving, nurturing, healthy environment for their children. However, plenty of people are exposed to pornography as children and do NOT turn into sexaholics. That means personal choice and responsibility has to play a part. I don’t buy the “I’m an addict, so I never had a choice” crap. You don’t get addicted to something without first making the choice to engage in that behavior.

    So, as for the “if we let people off by calling it a disease then there’s a slippery slope which will lead to nobody ever taking any responsibility for anything.” I can see it. Lots of things can be addicting – from coffee to television to shopping to anything under the sun you can think of that someone would use as stress relief. Does that mean everyone walking this planet has a disease? Maybe – it’s called the human condition. I have already seen people try to use music or video games or TV as an excuse for murder and other horrendous crimes. If we start calling sex addiction a “disease” then next thing you know every rapist or child molestor who has ever watched porn will play the “disease/ mental illness” card to get off. I’m not okay with that.

    1. One must understand a core concept of sexual addiction in order to understand why it is an “addiction” and also why the DSM does not categorize it (yet).

      Sex addiction has nothing to do with an addiction to sexual activity. Sexual addiction IS a chemical addiction. The chemicals we are addicted to are in a cocktail that contains adrenaline, dopamine, seratonin, and other neurotransmitters produced by the brain. Sexually acting out is the “needle” that allows us to access the chemical cocktail to which we are addicted. This is very much like the heroin addict that uses a needle to inject the drug into his body, so the sex addict uses pornography, compulsive sexual behavior, etc… to inject the neurotransmitter “drugs” into their body/brain. The reason the DSM does not categorize it (yet) is because there is too broad of a scope on what constitutes compulsive sexual behavior and the neurotransmitter addiction components. Sexual behavior that gives one sex addict their high can be completely different for another addict. Some addicts can get their high solely by voyeurism, others would need to fulfill a rape fantasy (or reality). There is too broad a spectrum for a current classification. This is why lying is NOT a bottom line behavior for any addict. It is an inner circle behavior, but not a bottom line. The addict does not get his “high” from lying, but he does fuel his shame and guilt with the lie which then turns to medicating the shame and guilt by sexually acting out – the neverending sex addiction cycle. The lying MUST stop for the sex addict to achieve sobriety – rigorous honesty is the key.

      Another point is that not all men who have affairs or view pornography are categorized as “sex addicts.” Sexual addiction classification actually takes certain aspects of abuse and neglect into account as well as frequency and intensity of the sexual acting out. Addicts are going to be addicts and they will become addicted to one thing or another, whether it be drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, etc… One CAN be born with an addictive personality that seeks these escape mechanisms. The key to combating this is creating a safe childhood environment where the potential addict does not feel abandonment or rejection due to emotional or physical neglect. Most addicts, in general, grew up in dysfunctional homes, either an emotionally or physically absent parent (most likely the father) or overbearing, overly bonded mother. Addicts learned at an early age to escape through fantasies they dreamed up. Adding alcohol, drugs, sex, etc… allows the fantasy to become reality as an adult.

      A 4 year old child does not make a choice on whether to view pornography that is openly accessible and available to them. The rush of neurotransmitters at first exposure makes the choice for them. Hopefully, in non-dysfunctional homes, this is discussed and dealt with and the child does not go back. In dysfunctional homes, the father (or mother) are the ones that had the pornography in the house not understanding the effect this would have on the child. Furthermore, these sexual issues are kept secret and problems are not openly discussed or solved; they are simply “swept under the rug.” The child then goes back to the pornography in futile attempt to receive the same level of neurotransmitter high that he felt at first exposure. Typically, this will not happen, thus escalation ensues where over a period of time, more and more pornography, masturbation, sex is needed to get the same chemical high as before. Before he realizes it, 30 years have passed, the child is now an adult having unprotected sex with pornstars, prostitutes, strippers, anonymous sex partners, etc… trying to fill the void created in him 30 years prior by the dysfunctional parents.

      The final point is that sex addiction IS a disease, but with almost every disease, there is a cure. Keep in mind that a diagnosis of “sex addiction” does not excuse an addict from acting out, it only helps the addict understand why they did the things they did and now gives the addict a program to follow that will allow them to stop the destructive behaviors and take responsibility for those behaviors. Just because someone is diagnosed a sex addict does not excuse the behavior nor does it (nor should it) lessen the consequences. A sex addict that openly acts out sexually because they are a sex addict and that’s “what I do”, is one that is not in recovery and not on a path towards mental health. Instead, they choose to live at the bottom and repeat the destructive patterns and activities that have placed them at the bottom. An addict that is trying to get better, occationally slips up, but is still in recovery AND takes responsibility for the slip up (including the consequences) is one that is in recovery and on a path towards mental health.

      Progress, not perfection!

Leave a Reply