Is Sex Addiction Real?
Sex addiction has stirred a lot of debate and interest. Does it or doesn't it exist? The origin of sex addiction in literature dates back to 1983 where it was introduced by Dr. Patrick Carnes, who is presently the executive director of the Gentle Path program in Mississippi and the author of several books on sexual addiction and recovery. Yet, despite being nearly 3 decades since its introduction, we still do not have any solid diagnostic criterion that exists with regard to sex addiction or, for that matter, sexual compulsivity. In fact, sex addiction is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders which is the main reasons there is so much debate on its existence.
What do we know?
We do know that people can become consumed with certain behaviours, sex being one of a countless number of them. Sex is pleasurable, therefore sexual encounters are naturally sought out -- we accept this -- however, what some professionals have done is created an idea that if you seek out too much sexual pleasure you are doing something unhealthy or even wrong, which may not be the case as the whole person needs to be considered -- not just the behaviour. This coupled with the high profile celebrity scandals and public overuse of the word 'addiction' has depreciated the true meaning and familiarized most of us with the term.
The problem with the label
One of the main problems with the conceptualization of sex addiction is that the label doesn't examine the person as a whole but rather solely looks at their behaviour. To illustrate the problem with this approach you could consider the following example: if you eat four donuts a day meanwhile getting all the proper nutrition from other healthy foods you eat, exercise regularly, and feel good, are you are addicted to donuts? Probably not. The point being is it needs to be understood that there is a multifaceted approach to looking at a human being. That being said, if you have sex four times a day (hold down a steady job, may or may not be in a relationship, are generally a happy person who likes life but also likes sex) are you a sex addict? These are common questions that are asked when it comes to the 'diagnosis' of sex addiction. The interesting thing is, there are many different answers depending on who is answering the question and what their background, beliefs, values, and overall cognitive perceptions actually are. The concept of having too much sex, masturbation, risky sexual behaviour (risky is defined differently for all people) or cheating while in committed relationships are all independent of the concept of sex addiction. Someone may cheat on their partner consistently but not be addicted to sex. There are several factors to look at such as the health of the relationship, each person's definition of what being in a relationship actually means, and needs being met within the relationship; sexual or otherwise.
What is clear is that behaviours that are clearly destructive in a person's life are behaviours that need some modification. Whenever there is an issue with functioning (i.e. can't keep a job because you get caught watching porn at every job) there is good reason to be concerned. If a person cannot function without preforming a specific behaviour and that causes a problem for the individual, then a label like 'sex addiction' can be helpful in aiding the identification of the problem and provide some direction for learning new behaviours. Unlike drug and alcohol addictions where there is complete sobriety is necessary, people labelled as sex addicts learn how to function sexually in a way that will work positively for their lives.
There certainly are individuals with compulsive sexual behaviour problems which may or may not be true clinical addictions. While sex addiction may not currently exist as a recognized clinical condition, it has value in its use to identify problematic behaviours. The key point to remember is that it is not a problem if it is not causing problems.
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