There is no addiction. Only a diverse form of sexual behaviour.
Perhaps you are one of these men or have been accused of being one of them, you may even be married to one. You certainly have heard of this man: the man who is addicted to sex. This is the man who is accused of liking sex too much, wanting it too often, with you or with multiple partners and even sex workers. The man who watches porn at every given opportunity with the standard accompanying masturbation. This man is pathologised, shamed and sent off to a 12 step Sex Addicts Anonymous program. His treatment is sexual Abstinence, no sexual fantasies, masturbation or partner play.
After many years of this being the gold standard of treatment, despite little evidence to prove that this method was effective, new ways of thinking have crept further and further into the literature. In fact the Addiction Model also known as the Reparative or Conversion Model, is clinically harmful, and illegal in many jurisdictions. New understandings and interventions are bringing relief to many men and their families.
When this man sits on my therapy couch, he is cloaked in shame as he feels his sexuality is out of control. He usually has other symptoms such as rage, anxiety, out of control alcohol/drug use and often times a history of childhood trauma. His sexuality is the one behaviour he can control… And he does it so well. There is nothing out of control about it. He plans it, thinks about it all day, and then holds his breath in anticipation of the relief he will experience when he gets to be sexual.
It is the one place he can regulate his emotions, quiet his mind and breathe. An escape from the heavy pressure he experiences all day. He knows his triggers, the signs that trigger his uncontrolled emotions and get him to seek out soothing behaviour, such as sexual play of one kind or another. Triggers include feeling mad, bad, sad, bored, hungry and lonely. Because he is unable to talk about or process these feelings, his behaviour is considered to be pathological.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective.
I ask you to consider your own values about sexuality:
- What do you consider to be “healthy sexuality?”
- Are your sexual values based on religion or morality?
- Do you believe that there is a “normal” range of human sexuality? What would that be?
- Do you condemn pornography and/or sex work?
- What do you believe is the average amount that people should masturbate?’
- What do you consider transgressive sexuality?
Your values will determine your definition of this abhorrent term “sex addiction”. I want you to see that it is these values that dictate when you label a man as having out of control sexual behaviour. There is no addiction present. Only a diverse form of sexual behaviour that men use to regulate emotions that are uncomfortable and painful.
A few months ago in New York I attended the SSTAR meeting and was privileged to learn from Michael Aaron and Michael Vigoretti about their clinical management of men with out of control sexual behaviour. How refreshing it is to talk clinically about responsible “sexual health goals,” harm reduction” and not sex addiction language, with the focus on the man doing no further harm to himself and reducing shame whilst encouraging his willpower to change his behaviour.
I invite you to put some of this work into your own sexuality right now by doing this simple but challenging exercise with your partner. The purpose is to get more honest exchange of sexual behaviours you individually enjoy. Secrecy and shame make you feel like a pervert!
Make a list headed RED/NO; GREEN/YES; YELLOW/CURIOUS. Now place your own preferred sexual behaviours under each heading. Your partner will do the same activity. Then bravely bring this list to a difficult conversation with a partner. It neutralises pathologies, it deletes shame and more so getting to really learn what you both enjoy sexually as individuals, it may get to the core of a problem. And that “problem ” may not be a sexually out of control one, and not a “sexual addiction”. Merely that one, or both of you, seeks further connection and intimacy and perhaps go online and even offline to seek this existential connection.
Remove the concept of “sex addiction ” from your lexicon and your mind. Instead consult with an affirmative therapist who will humanistically manage your way out of shame and into a healthy responsible form of sexuality which is well controlled by a rational quiet brain and mind.
Let’s work mindfully to manage your out of control behaviour.