My curious paradox about sexual addiction

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I’m finding myself in a curious paradox regarding ‘sexual addiction’ and it’s one that I feel the time has come to speak out about.  I’m increasingly frustrated at seeing people claim expertise in something which most mental health professionals dispute exists.

How does one claim to be a sex addiction expert when even the expert psychiatrists of the American Psychiatric Association recently revised DSM V were not persuaded to include Hypersexual Desire Disorder, let alone recognise sexual addiction as a diagnosis eligible for treatment?

I’ve been working as a therapist with gay and bisexual men for over 30 years and I would say I have never met anyone I considered to be a “sex addict.”  I’ve met many men who have found themselves out of control with sex, or who have used sex compulsively, or even recklessly, but I wouldn’t call them “addicted.”  I’m also not happy to collude with their self pathologising and self diagnosing.  It just feels unethical to agree to treat someone for something that I don’t believe exists.  If the client is sure they are addicted, then I tend to refer them to others who are happy to collude with this belief.  I readily acknowledge many people feel their lives have been saved by 12 Step Programmes and Sex Addicts Anonymous and I don’t want to stand in the way of someone seeking that kind of help if they feel it’s going to fit their world view better.  However, I feel I have a different view and wish to reflect on the meaning and circumstances of someone’s behaviour through a less pathologising and more personally responsible lens.

For about a decade, I’ve been co-facilitating a workshop for therapists which reframes ‘sexual addiction’ in a variety of other less shaming and more sex positive ways and offers ways of working with this.  I think sexual shame is often at the heart of presentations from gay and bisexual men who present for help thinking they are sexually addicted.  In fact  shame is often at the heart of many presentations for gay men, and since we’re men who choose to love other men, then often this gets focussed around sexual behaviour.  But it’s not the sexual behaviour that needs treating – this is only symptom of other things.  Sex is NOT an addiction. It is a natural biological drive, which is as natural as breathing or eating.

Many years ago I was heartened to come across Marty Klein’s article and we made this core reading for our workshop.  More recently the excellent The Myth of Sex Addiction by David Ley makes a cogent argument and debunks the hype and faux science and covert religious dogma which has been responsible for compounding the shame and guilt of many gay and bisexual men.

Heterosexual men are of course also affected by the myth of ‘sex addiction’ but I think there are some unique features that mark heterosexual men and men who love other men as different that I am choosing to focus my energy and objections to tarring gay and bisexual men with this spurious diagnostic brush.  Both Klein and Ley dismantle ‘sex addiction’ as a concept for everyone anyway and I think they are extremely persuasive.  I just think at Pink Therapy we have some new paradigms to offer and some interesting ways to understand and work with people who are using sex compulsively and so it’s worth focussing on just that group in our training workshop.

So here I am claiming expertise and experience in working with something which I don’t really believe exists!  I too am a sex addiction expert!

Dominic Davies – Founder – Pink Therapy

Addendum 26 Jan 2016
One of the contributors to the discussion below requested their comments be withdrawn.  I hope this doesn’t detract from your making sense of all the other contributions who respond to her.