Hans Reihling, Ph.D., LMFT
Is Sex Addiction Real? 4 Reasons Why It's Problematic
Updated: Feb 18
Sex can feel addictive, but can it really result in addiction? Although some people talk about ‘sex addiction’ as if it was a scientific fact, it is a controversial topic in the fields of psychotherapy and medicine. It's important to note that not everyone agrees on the validity of the diagnosis, and some experts believe that the label can keep people living with out of control sexual behavior from getting the help they actually need. Here are four reasons why the concept of sex addiction is problematic:
1 - Lack of Scientific Consensus
Despite its widespread use, there is a lack of agreement among experts in the field of psychology and addiction medicine as to whether or not sex addiction is a real and diagnosable condition. According to the American Psychological Association, it is not officially recognized as a mental disorder. The latest edition of the International Classification of Disease (ICD-11) contains the diagnosis of compulsive sexual behavior disorder. However, a compulsion is different from an addiction and requires unique treatment and therapy.
2 - Pathologizing Normal Sexual Behavior
Many experts argue that the construct of sex addiction can be harmful because it tends to pathologize normal and healthy sexual behavior. This can lead to over-diagnosis and can result in feelings of guilt, shame, and self-stigmatization. Moreover, it can also result in reinforcing harmful stereotypes and biases. For instance, certain religious and cultural norms may prohibit the use of pornography and judge it to be abnormal, even if it doesn’t interfere significantly with your functioning.
3 - Underlying Mental Health Issues
Instead of viewing sexual behavior as a manifestation of addiction, many experts believe that it is more likely to be a symptom of underlying mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. A recent study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that individuals who engage in problematic sexual behaviors are more likely to have a history of childhood abuse and neglect and to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders. Moreover, many men with out of control sexual behavior use sex to cope with distress and look for something in sex that they lack in their lives.
4 - Relationship problems
Problem sexual behaviors can be rooted in underlying relationship problems. For instance some people cross boundaries when engaging in behaviors that are not within the relationship agreements. But cheating does not equal addiction. There are many reasons why people don’t honor their relationship agreements, but most commonly it happens when the overall relationship satisfaction is low and needs for intimacy are not met. It is important for both partners to have open and honest communication about their sexual needs and desires in order to prevent this from happening. In some cases, couples therapy may be more effective than individual counseling.
In conclusion, the concept of sex addiction is problematic and controversial because it can be harmful, lacks scientific consensus, and is more likely to be a symptom of underlying mental health and relationship issues. If you are struggling with out of control sexual behaviors, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional who can assess and address the root causes of your difficulties.
The good news is that with the right support and resources, it is possible to overcome problematic sexual behavior and improve your overall well-being. Whether you are feeling addicted or out of control, seeking help is the first step towards a healthier, happier future. This introduction is meant to provide a safe and non-judgmental space for you to explore your experiences and start your journey towards healing. Reach out for a free screening and see if you qualify for a full out of control sexual behavior (OCSB) assessment to get to the bottom of the problem.