Is sex addiction a real thing?

Anna Kelberg

Sex addiction is a complex and controversial topic that has been debated since the emersion of the concept in 1980ies. Many people are quick to label someone with compulsive sexual behavior as a sex addict, but is it accurate? Silva Neves, Europe's leading expert in compulsive sexual behavior and one of my teachers, argues that the concept of sex addiction is reductive and outdated. Moreover, neither DSM-5 or ICD-11, the therapists’ bibles, recognize it as an addiction either.

So, why the idea of sex addiction is so prevalent in popular culture? The term "sex addiction" has mostly been popularized in the media to sensationalize stories of celebrities or politicians who have been caught engaging in inappropriate behavior. However, there is a lack of empirical evidence to support the idea that sex addiction exists as a discrete and diagnosable disorder.

Instead, Neves argues that compulsive sexual behavior should be treated as a psycho-sexual issue that requires a holistic and sex-positive approach. As a complex issue, compulsive sexual behavior can be caused by a variety of factors, including trauma, shame, and attachment issues. It is not simply a matter of an individual having a high sex drive or being addicted to pleasure. Therefore, treatment should focus on the underlying causes of compulsive sexual behavior, rather than simply addressing the behavior itself. Oftentimes, therapists who see the issue through addiction prism, prescribe treatments that are similar to AA approach and are focused on abstinence or avoidance of certain sexual behaviors. I challenge that approach. I believe the issue of sexual compulsivity requires a more nuanced approach to treatment that is non-judgmental and empathetic. Shame and stigma surrounding sex already can make it difficult for individuals to seek help, and labeling someone as a sex addict can exacerbate these feelings. So, rather than focusing solely on behavior modification, it is important to address the underlying emotional and psychological factors that contribute to compulsive sexual behavior. By uncovering these contributing factors, I help my clients to explore their sexuality in a healthy and positive way. Compulsive sexual behavior is like a tangled knot that needs to be carefully untied in order to be understood and managed.

In conclusion, while the concept of compulsive sexual behavior is a controversial topic and might be addressed in several ways, never it should not be left without attention. Seeking help through therapy and support groups can have a major impact of person’s quality of life and overall well-being. At the end, there are few things that impact the quality of our lives as much as our sex lives.