Is sex addiction real or an excuse?
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25.11.2017

Is sex addiction real or an excuse?

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HOLLYWOOD’S latest scandals have rocked the world and put sex addiction back into the limelight.
Celebrities like Tiger Woods and David Duchovny have famously sought treatment for sex addictions. And now, after the recent revelations concerning Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey — both stars have checked themselves into rehab.
So is sex addiction real? Or, is it just an excuse for bad behaviour?
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This week, three non-profit organisations came out against the notion that sex or pornography can be “addicting”.
“Regarding such behaviour, use of the term “addiction” is not valid and may be misleading
and sometimes harmful to clients,” the Center for Positive Sexuality (CPS), the Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance (TASHRA), and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) wrote in the statement.
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“We recognise that many people may struggle with sexual issues, including issues that occur within their committed relationships, which are valid reasons for seeking professional help.
“We also believe that helping professionals should, as appropriate, seek to support client-initiated behavioural change in healthful ways that are consistent with clients’ moral beliefs and worldviews.
“Existing multidisciplinary scholarship does not warrant the application of an addiction model to frequent sexual behaviour and/or pornography viewing.”
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However, the sex addiction therapy is booming and patients swear by their treatment.
Research suggests that up to 80 per cent of “sex addicts” are men. About 25 per cent of those men have experienced overt sexual traumas like sexual abuse or incest during their childhood, Robert Weiss told health.com.
The licensed clinical social worker and a certified sex addiction therapist founded the Sexual Recovery Institute, an intensive outpatient treatment centre in Los Angeles. About 75 per cent of female sex addicts have had a similar experience, he added.
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But the advocacy groups that wrote this week’s statement said what we think of as of sexual “addictions” may have more to do with people’s religious or cultural beliefs than science.
They said the concept of sex addiction “emerged in the 1980s as a socially conservative response to cultural anxieties and has gained acceptance through its reliance on medicalisation and popular culture visibility”.
The idea that sex addiction is not real is widely accepted. The condition not recognised in the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), the reference guide for mental illnesses published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
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However, several mental-health professionals argue that sex and pornography can be addictive.
Sandra Davis, a psychologist in private practice, told Time she’s treated clients for various sexual issues, including addictions to pornography and compulsions to cheat.
She even believes that repeat sexual offenders can change their ways, with intensive and long-term treatment.
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“We’re talking about the inability to stop a behaviour that brings someone pleasure, despite the significant consequences that can and do occur,” she told the magazine. “And we certainly see that happen with sex.”
People who feel they’re addicted to sex may be unable to resist being unfaithful to their spouse or engaging in risky or inappropriate situations, she says.
When it comes to pornography, there are people (mostly men) who feel they’ve become dependent on watching it, and are unable to perform sexually without watching it.
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Experts such as Dr. Charles O’Brien, chair of the substance-related disorders work group for the APA, say there is not enough evidence to say sexual behaviour changes the brain the same way other addictive substances like drugs and alcohol do.
However, some therapists say their patients use sex as an escape — just like they would with drugs or alcohol.
“Individuals who act out sexually are usually doing so because they do not want to feel their feelings,” says Maureen Canning, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the clinical consultant for sexual disorders at a sexual addiction recovery centre. “They’re using this as a way to get high. They use their sexuality as a means of escape.”
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She says sex is similar to gambling, overexercising, and impulsive spending, which are known as process addictions — where a person is addicted to a set of rituals rather than to a mood-altering substance.
“Neurologically, acting out or thinking about acting out [sexually] releases dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline, creating a chemical cocktail in the brain that is extremely pleasurable,” says Canning. “It creates a euphoria.”
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“Drugs activate [an addict’s] brain’s reward system directly, like getting food or water,” Dr. Charles O’Brien, chair of the substance-related disorders work group for the APA, recently told Health.com. “It could be that there are some similarities in those people who are called ‘sex addicts,’ but it hasn’t been studied or demonstrated.”
The joint statement from the three non-profit organisations agrees with this.
“Existing studies supporting an addiction model lack precise definitions and methodological rigour, and rely on correlational data,” they wrote.
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