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Is Sex Addiction An Excuse?

By Matty Silver, Sex Therapist on September 23, 2014 in Other

Photo: Rachel Uchitel

Photo: Rachel Uchitel

Over the last few years, since ‘sex addicted’ celebrities became a hot topic in the media, I have received calls from clients who either believe they have a sex addiction or that their partner believes they have one.

Stories about celebrity serial womanisers – such as Russell Brand, Tiger Woods, Charlie Sheen and our own Shane Warne – are very popular with the public. Society is fixated because celebrity, sex and infidelity make great headlines and photo opportunities for the covers of gossip magazines. He slept with how many other women? How can he do that when he has such a lovely wife?

The label of ‘sex addict’ has become convenient and used as an excuse for those not taking responsibility for their behaviour. It is easy to seduce women when you are famous and believe you are irresistible – and when you are caught with your pants down, you just go to ‘sex rehab’. I don’t remember Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart being called sex addicts when they bedded lots of women in their younger days. Back then it was cool for girls to be a ‘groupie’ and have sex with as many rock stars as they could.

American psychologist Dr David Ley, the author of The Myth of Sex Addiction, says in his book: “Sex addiction is nothing more than a pop-psychology phenomenon, serving only to demonise sex, enforce moral views of sex and relationships, and excuse irresponsible behaviours.” Ley believes sex addiction is not a medical issue but a moral and social one, and reflects our “sex-negative environment”.

The book explores the morality behind making a disease out of sexual behaviour. It notes a comparison between the diagnosis of ‘nymphomania’, which was once used to describe women who liked sex (more than men thought they should), and the popular belief that homosexuality was a disease.

Sydney sports journalist Jesse Fink wrote a personal book, Laid Bare: One Man’s story of Sex, Love and Other Disorders. In it he tells the story of how his wife of ten years left him for another man, which devastated him.

Afterwards he slept with hundreds of different women, most of whom he met online. The book was marketed as a ‘confessions of a sex addict’ read, but Fink makes it quite clear that he is not and that he views sex addiction as nonsense.

There are two distinct camps when it comes to sex addiction: those who believe it’s a real condition and those who don’t. But it is difficult to ignore the fact that there are people who feel their sexual behaviour has become unmanageable or out of control, which differs from someone with a healthy sex drive.

A person can become so preoccupied with sex that it becomes his or her only goal. It consumes their thoughts and nearly everything they do is geared towards gaining sexual satisfaction. They may spend too much time using pornography, fantasising or masturbating obsessively, sometimes even at work. Or they may have numerous affairs, visit sex workers, or engage in risky sexual behaviour. Their actions hinder day-to-day functioning and their life becomes self-destructive.

Instead of calling this sex addiction, I believe a better label would be ‘compulsive sexual behaviour’. The treatment for this condition is complex and challenging, but manageable with the help of a trained sex therapist or counsellor who specialises in this area.

As for my clients who ask me if they are sex addicts, we usually come to the conclusion that they are not!