I had another client this month coming to see me ashamed and frightened because someone told them they were a “sex addict”. I am happy to support these clients, who often tell me about sexual behaviors that have become overwhelming or out of control. I believe that healthy sexuality should feel full of choice, not compulsion. We work together to re-create a sense of their sexuality that is safe and satisfying, and unique to them.
What bothers me is the way the label “sex addict” is being used. First of all, sex addiction is not an accepted psychological diagnosis. It was considered and rejected for the most recent DSM (Diagnostic Manual). So it is a label being used in a non-scientific context, often by people not trained to assess for psychological or sexual issues anyway.
What I have seen is “sex addict” being used as a new form of moralizing. In the past someone might have felt the righteousness of being able to openly accuse someone of being immoral or perverse in general conversation. Nowadays openly making that type of judgment is not as acceptable, but we can call someone an addict. Because we can claim that is not a moral judgment, it is a condition. But defining what is healthy or unhealthy sexual behavior condition is often a judgment call, especially when done by a non-professional.
The current popularity of ascribing all kinds of diagnoses to one another is probably troublesome to most therapists out there, at least those that take assessment seriously. I wish people would simply say, “I am worried about the sexual behaviors you are describing to me. Maybe you could talk to a sex therapist.” This feels honest and cleaner that using a label to scare or shame someone into seeking help.
I want to be clear - there are many people who suffer greatly from damaging sexual patterns and a loss of control over their behavior and choices. And I want those people to be encouraged to seek help. Because there is help for this. I just want us to be careful and responsible about the way we talk about other people’s sexual behaviors. Let’s not turn “sex addict” into the new scarlet letter, applied whenever we feel affronted or offended by someone else’s sexual history. Sexual compulsivity is complex and contains all the subtleties of the human heart and mind. Let’s respect that.
Are you a health professional who wants to know more and support people in healing sexuality that has become harmful? Attend Melissa’s training in January 2015.https://www.eventbrite.com/e/building-sexual-integrity-a-sex-positive-approach-to-treating-compulsive-sexual-behaviors-6ce-hours-tickets-14098371609