The myth of sex addiction

Photo by Flickr user margolove. Click for sourceFinally, a sceptical take on sex addiction. The Times just published an excellent article examining the problem with the concept of being ‘addicted to sex’, something that has almost entirely been an invention of private treatment clinics and the media.

There is virtually no published research on ‘sex addiction’ and it isn’t an officially recognised diagnosis, but it has become fashionable to describe compulsive or non-mainstream sexual tendencies in these terms.

Partly, as the article notes, because addiction has become the 21st century’s label of choice for people who want to medicalise less acceptable sexual behaviours, especially when someone gets ‘caught in the act’.

Dr Philip Hopley, an addiction specialist at the Priory Hospital at Roehampton, southwest London, and a consultant psychiatrist for LPP Consulting, says that public scepticism is ‚Äúunderstandable‚Äù. He says: ‚ÄúThe major concern is where sex-related problem behaviour is labelled an ‚Äòaddiction’ when in fact poor decision-making and/or impulse control lie at the root of the problem. What constitutes normal, average or healthy sex? There is no recommended limit for adults as there is for, say, alcohol – and if there was, would it be different for males and females?‚Äù

Phillip Hodson, a Fellow of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, points out that the whole idea of having an addiction to a natural drive is problematic. ‚ÄúThe excuse, of course, is that nature wants us to have sex to make babies and isn’t bothered about rationing the drive. It’s the same with eating. You cannot really be ‚Äòaddicted’ to normal drives. What’s the cure – to stop procreating or eating?‚Äù Yet perhaps one can’t really blame people for using the term ‚Äúaddiction‚Äù, because compulsivity or mania don’t have quite the same ring. ‚ÄúSex maniac‚Äù sounds like something out of a Carry On film.

The media love sex addiction and go to great lengths to quote media-hungry rent-a-quotes who can make it sound valid.

Unfortunately, the media tends to like people who have already media connections, and so the dissenting voices barely get a byline.

This article is interesting because it is written by Jed Mercurio, a TV drama writer currently researching a book on JFK, so he’s prime ‘get in the papers’ material.

Interestingly though, he used to be a doctor, and knows a fadish medical concept when he sees one. Hence we get a rare sceptical look at a current media obsession.

Link to ‘JFK, Russell Brand and the myth of sex addiction’.

6 thoughts on “The myth of sex addiction”

    1. Really, this is what all ‘addictions’ and ‘mental illnesses’ are. They’re all mythical nonsense. Some people have personalities and lifestyles that make others uncomfortable, so they call it a ‘disaease’. They used to call it ‘demons’. The reality is: it’s called being a human with a mind.

  1. I certainly agree that there’s too much medicalization of bad behavior. And if there’s not much evidence of or research on sex addiction then its certainly being overused in the media. But isn’t it plausible that sex addictions and even food addictions could exist?
    With food especially, I know there are people who eat for emotional reasons rather than physical reasons. Even though its a natural urge couldn’t people be addicted to the emotional comfort they feel when performing certain eating patterns? In fact its hard for me to believe that this doesn’t exist because I feel like I’ve known several people who had just such an addiction. This wouldn’t, of course, be a physical addiction like say nicotine but it could certainly be a psychological condition that could require therapy.

  2. As a clinical psychologist and social neuroscientist specializing in the research, diagnosis and treatment of sexual addiction for the past 3 decades,it saddens me to see that both Dr’s Hopley and Hodson,not unlike many health care professionals unfamiliar with the scientific research, are making a completely inaccurate professional claim to something that science tells us otherwise. A sexual addiction is not about “sex” and should not be confused with someone who has lots of sex. Sex addiction is a neurobiological and neuropsychological disease process that is borne out of early childhood sexual trauma. A Sexually addicted adult is not someone who has too much sex, or too may affairs. It is someone who uses sex to medicate their very troubled and traumatic past. People who have too much sex are simply sexually compulsive – neither a disease nor a disorder. Sexual addicts on the other hand, have serious brain impairment in a part of their brain (called the prefrontal cortex) which is responsible for what we refer to as Executive Function. Executive Function controls aspects of personality such as impulse control, sexual activity, judgment, rationality, decision-making,attention, and much more. Many sex addicts also have co-occuring psychiatric disorders such as ADD/ADHD, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, as the disorders originate from the very same part of the brain. It is my hope that we can begin to educate the public to the true nature of this neurological traumatogenic disease that is a byproduct of childhood sexual abuse. Sex addicts suffer horrible out-of-control lives borne out of horrible abusive pasts through no fault of their own. You may be interested in visiting my blog to learn the truth about this very real neurological condition.

  3. Folks, I wrote an article called The Myth of Sexual Addiction published in Professional Counselor, June 1995, Volume 10,# 3. It appears that some of you did not do a comprehensive research to find it. At the time, I was the only therapist that dared to express my experiences and differences of opinion about this issue. I almost got fired from my counseling position after the submission was published.

    Lewis Hales,M.A.,M.A.

  4. Seriously ……….. I can’t take so much bullshit at once…. I have been suffering of sexual addictions for years. Sexual addiction has nothing to do with simply “liking sex”. It is an addiction, a real addiction. Just like compulsive eating, alcoholism, compulsive gambling and many others. I am addicted because I have an addictive personality because of traumatisms in my childhood. Traumatisms that I have already identified. If it was not an addiction, how come so many people suffer of different addictions, recognized as addictions, like alcoholism or compulsive eating, together with sexual addiction ?? Sexual addiction is not about bad judgement. I have my behavior when I am addicted, I deeply hate it. This book is not exactly what we needed, when millions of people are struggling with this addiction, that completely destroys their lives. I just hope that the author does not believe in what he wrote, and just wrote it to make money on ignorants. this guy tells exactly what people who don’t know sexual addiction like to believe. The exact same thing that makes addicts look like immoral persons, the exact same thing that makes them be misunderstood by society and put them a little deeper in the shit when what they need is understanding, or at least good information to get rid of all that crap that addiction is.

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