By ROBERT WEISS LCSW, CSAT-S
Is Sex Addiction Real?
There will always be controversy – as there should be – when any form of inherently healthy human behavior such as eating, sleeping, or sex is clinically designated as pathological. And while the power to “label” must always be carefully wielded to avoid turning social, religious, or moral judgments into diagnoses (as was homosexuality in the DSM-I and DSM-II), equal care must be taken to not avoid researching and creating diagnostic criteria for healthy behaviors when they go awry due to underlying psychological deficits and trauma.
Pre-Internet sexual addiction research in the 1980s suggested that approximately 3 to 5 percent of the adult population struggled with some form of addictive sexual behavior. Those studied were a self-selected treatment group, mostly male, who complained of being “hooked” on magazine and video porn, multiple affairs, prostitution, old-fashioned phone sex, and similar behaviors.
More recent studies indicate that sexual addiction is both escalating and simultaneously becoming more evenly distributed among men and women. This escalation in problem sexual behavior appears to be directly related to the increasingly high-speed Internet access to both intensely stimulating graphic pornography and anonymous sexual partnering.
Today these connections are furnished not only through the use of home and laptop computers, but also via smart-phones and the related geo-locating mobile devices we now carry in our pockets and briefcases.
Lamentably, at the very same time that sexual addiction disorder began its technology generated escalation, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) backed away from the provision of either a diagnostic indicator or a workable diagnosis. Consequently, the past 25 years have wrought a somewhat anguished and inconsistent history in the attempts of the psychiatric, addiction, and mental health communities to accurately label and distinguish the problem of excessive adult consensual sexual behavior.
Today, American outpatient psychotherapists and addiction counselors are reporting a marked increase in the number of clients seeking help with self-reported crises related to problems like “I find myself disappearing for multiple hours daily into online porn” or “I feel lost on a never-ending treadmill of anonymous sexual hook-ups and affairs,” not to mention the tens of thousands who daily struggle with the dopamine-fueled nightmare combination of stimulant (meth/cocaine) abuse fused with intensely problematic sexual behavior patterns.
It would seem that these clinicians and clients would benefit greatly from the guidance the APA and DSM might offer them, but does not currently provide.