Facebook Pixel

Is Sex Addiction A Myth?

By HERWriter
Rate This
sex-addiction-debate Digital Vision/Thinkstock

There has been a recent debate over the actual existence of sex addiction. Many wonder if it is just an excuse for bad behavior, or if it’s an actual addiction that is difficult to control.

David Ley, a clinical psychologist who blogs for Psychology Today, just released his book, “The Myth of Sex Addiction,” making clear his stance on the issue. The response from mental health professionals and people who are familiar with sex addiction is mixed.

Nicole Prause, a research scientist for the Mind Research Network, has been working on research associated with sexual compulsivity in both women and men.

“We have completed first study of tolerance in men and women who report problems with sexual compulsivity using measures of brain activity,” Prause said in an email. “We found no evidence that they actually have developed tolerance to sexual stimuli. Does this mean that sexual addiction doesn't exist? Not necessarily, because it depends what you think the essential parts of addiction are.”

She added that in general there is not enough research to suggest the existence or non-existence of sex addiction. As a clinician, she has seen some cases where the label of sex addiction actually helps a couple move on, but it might not be for the correct reasons.

“I have seen couples for whom the sexual ‘addiction’ label was useful in their being able to move past sexual behaviors of a (male or female) partner,” Prause said. “For example, I have seen couples in whom a male partner who had sex with another woman who was not his wife claimed to be sexually addicted. This gave the wife a way to understand his transgression and, while I did not agree that he needed to be in treatment for sex addiction for infidelity, it gave the couple enough compassion for one another to participate in a couple's therapy, for which there was good scientific evidence to support.”

Prause said in general it seems many clinicians are willing to accept the existence of sex addiction and treat it, even though there is not enough research to support its existence, so Ley is unique with this approach and the book that he released.

Add a Comment2 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Sorry David, but you are engaging in an intellectual sleight-of-hand when you lump porn addiction in with sex addiction. Whether you find the existing evidence of sex addiction persuasive or not, there is ample evidence that novelty-at-a-click causes addiction in some brains - whether it arises in the context of excessive slot machines, videogaming, Facebook or Internet porn use. Perhaps you haven't been keeping up with the latest Internet addiction studies (which include, but are not limited to, porn use). The studies show brain changes that are fundamentally the same as are seen in drug addicts' brains.

Your position that sex addiction is a myth also shows a lack of understanding of the true underpinnings of addiction, which are tied to dopamine dysregulation and related brain changes. It is the presence of these changes that make an addict an addict...not the particular activity engaged in. This is why the American Society of Addiction Medicine publicly stated that both food and sexual behaviors *can* cause addiction in some brains. It's too bad the author of this piece seems unaware of this statement by the leading experts in addiction. Here's a link to their FAQs related to the statement, which discuss the existence of sexual behavior addictions. http://www.asam.org/docs/default-document-library/20110816_defofaddiction-faqs.pdf#search=%22long%20version%22

Incidentally, equating disbelief in sexual behavior addictions with "sex positivity" is particularly unsettling, as those who become addicted to Internet pornography often report sexual dysfunctions (delayed ejaculation, inability to sustain erections with real partners and so forth), which only reverse themselves when they stop using Internet porn for a few months. There's little more "sex negative" than erectile dysfunction.

March 17, 2012 - 5:54am
EmpowHER Guest

Nice article - one editorial note - my book is nonfiction, not a "novel" - I'll offer a couple of comments, in response to some of the points:
1. The inclusion of "distress over a succession of lovers" in the Sexual disorder NOS is a holdover from the days of the Don Juan diagnosis, and does not in fact fit a huge percentage of those individuals allegedly diagnosed as sex addicts - including those with excessive masturbation or pornography use, and does not fit the ideas of the "love addict."
2. Your article illustrates very well one of my main points - sex addiction is very poorly and vaguely defined - each expert you cite has their own pet theory explaining this concept, and their own way of defining it. This leads to incredible subjectivity.
3. The concept of "love" addiction is incredibly gender-biased, in an offensive way. Three are women out there who enjoy anonymous, casual sex, and there are men who cannot get an erection unless they are in love. Love is a powerful, wonderful thing - not a disease or a pathogen.
4. To assert that we should preserve a fictional diagnosis in order to not hurt people is a ludicrous argument - the American Psychiatric Association is responsible to establish and maintain diagnoses based on science and evidence. I assert that it is far more harmful to tell people they have a disorder that doesn't exist - the history the Recovered Memory Syndrome and the controversy around the Sexual Orientation Conversion efforts to make people stop being homosexual are just two examples of the damage that can result from the misuse of unsupported diagnostic categories and treatments. I've seen countless people who were stigmatized and shamed by the label of sex addiction. Where is the voice for them, and their suffering?
5. I agree with you - I am relatively unique in standing up and publishing this book to challenge this concept. Why is that? If, as you assert, most clinicians really don't believe in this disorder, why are they going along with it? I think that's a very interesting story, and reveals the economic conflict of interests of the sex addiction industry, and the way in which this concept has become a moral panic, rather than a medical diagnosis.
My book, The Myth of Sex Addiction, covers all these issues and more, and is available on Amazon.
- cheers, and thanks for writing such a well-done article. Ultimately, my goal is to engage and facilitate the debate.
David Ley PhD.

March 16, 2012 - 9:32am
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Sex Addiction

Get Email Updates

Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!