By Amanda MacMillan
Is sex addiction real? It depends who you ask: Hollywood stars and industry heads who’ve cited it in defense of reported sexual indiscretions—ranging from infidelity to harassment to rape—may argue that it is. Over the last decade, celebrities including David Duchovny and Tiger Woods have famously sought treatment for sex addictions; more recently, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have made similar announcements after accusations of misconduct.
Among scholars and medical experts, the consensus is less clear. And just this week, three non-profit organizations came out against the notion that sex or pornography can be “addicting,” saying the term can be misleading or even harmful to people seeking help for intimate issues.
The new position statement, drafted by the Center for Positive Sexuality (CPS), the Alternative Sexualities Health Research Alliance (TASHRA), and the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), is published this week in the online Journal of Positive Sexuality. It follows a similar statement last year from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, which also spoke out against the idea of sex or porn addiction.
In their statement, the advocacy groups write that perceptions of sexual “addictions” may have more to do with people’s religious or cultural beliefs than of actual scientific data. The concept of sex addiction “emerged in the 1980s as a socially conservative response to cultural anxieties,” the authors wrote, “and has gained acceptance through its reliance on medicalization and popular culture visibility.”
The idea that people can be addicted to sex (or to porn) implies that people’s sex drives and erotic interests can be grouped into “normal” and “not normal,” the groups say, which could leave those with alternative sexual identities vulnerable to discrimination. It can also suggest that using sex or pornography as a coping mechanism is always a bad thing—when in fact, the statement argues, it may be perfectly healthy way to deal with stress and other problems.
These groups have the medical community at least partially on their side. Sex addiction is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), the reference guide for mental illnesses published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). One reason for that is a lack of evidence that sexual behavior changes the brain the same way other addictive substances—like drugs and alcohol—do. …