The Myth of Sex Addiction

I just finished “The Myth of Sex Addiction” by David J. Ley. The book was pretty good and I recommend it if you have an interest in sexuality or psychology. As you can probably tell from the title Ley does not believe sex addiction is a real thing. Though, like a good scientist, he is skeptical and more of a sex addiction agnostic than atheist. His main complaint is that the people who treat sexual behavior as an addiction have not done anything to prove that is an appropriate label, or that their treatments work.

The definition(s) of sex addiction are numerous and they often include conflicting definitions or definitions so broad and arbitrary that it tells you nothing. For example, seven orgasms a week is considered a sex addiction. Well, that is just a normal week for some men who masturbate daily (particularly during the teen years) and can be one sexual session for some women I’ve been with. Placing an arbitrary number, absent any other factors and without any peer-reviewed data, in order to make money off of the diagnoses is not medicine, it is fraud.

The truth is, there have not been any research done to properly determine if sex can be addictive, much less what that would look like or how to properly treatment. “Sex addiction” is mostly an unholy alliance between people who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions, a “medical” industry that is mostly religious but makes millions of dollars annually, and a modern media that cares more about sensation than journalism. It is sexy and good for ratings to focus on the sexual exploits of the rich and powerful, and the rich and powerful (particularly white) are the ones diagnosed as sex addicts. Sex addiction is a privileged diagnoses for those that can afford it.

Ley’s criticism about the sex addiction industry and lack of scientific rigor was spot-on to me and made a lot of sense. He didn’t try to prove that sex addiction didn’t exist, but that isn’t his responsibility. As he said in the book,

In the realm of scientific investigation, it is the responsibility of the believers to evaluate the validity of their hypothesis. If they cannot then the null hypothesis, that the believers are wrong, is assumed to be true. Despite the challenges I have received in writing this book, it is not my burden to prove that sex addiction doesn’t exist. Instead, the field of sex addiction must proves scientifically that it does exist. And to date, that proof is not forthcoming. Telling men with problems that they have a sex addiction and then having them become evangelists for sex addiction does not constitute proof. It is possible that investigations of hypersexual disorder may demonstrate that there is some kernel of truth here, but even that will not prove that the addictive process at work. Until then, the scientific answer is that sex addiction most likely does not exist if it cannot be scientifically demonstrated.

The problems and harm from “sex addiction”, like cheating on your spouse or spending large amounts of money on pornography or prostitutes, are symptoms of other problems in a person’s life or society. Sex is not like a drug and can’t meet the necessary requirements to be classified as an addictive drug. Ley hypothesis that the real thing that sex addiction therapy is supposed to “cure” is normal male sexuality. Men and women are sexually different on a physiological and psychological level. Evolution has made the genders pursue different priorities when it comes to sex, and for men things like variety are evolutionarily important. By stigmatizing this you force men underground and unable to discuss their feelings and desires, and by making it an illness you take away their personal responsibility.

Sex, like many urges, are strong, but we are not slaves to our urges. By allowing for an open and honest conversation about what men tend to want out of sexual partners and finding a middle ground without religious judgement can allow for greater mental health.

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