What The Wild Things Are

Understandings of Self, Awareness, and Mental Health in an Ever-Changing World

Sex addiction and sex offending: a growing and dangerous relationship

With the internet, sex addiction can lead to sex offending.

Before the Internet, people were forced to great lengths to commit a sex offense.  Sex offenders were typically either compelled by a paraphilia or didn't give a damn about the laws of society.  People who suffered from a sexual addiction, on the other hand, typically acted-out through legal means, such as having affairs or casual sexual encounters; the most common illegal means being the hiring of prostitutes.

Subsequent to the Internet, there has been an explosion of out-of-control and illegal sexual behavior.  Activities such as viewing child pornography, soliciting sex with minors through chat rooms, and others are much more common.  Some of this has to do with the obvious fact that the Internet makes these activities much more available and easy.  However, there are other factors as well, such as an illusion of privacy while doing it, lack of immediate consequences for these actions, an idea that others are doing it to (that makes it feel less taboo), and that the need for new stimulation often leads to widening exploration.

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Of course, some people committing sex offenses might have otherwise anyway, and there are still those driven by paraphilias or who are highly antisocial.  But some sex offenders are more aroused to the illicit and forbidden nature of the material or acts than to the actual material or act - it is the taboo that is exciting.  Many people committing sex offenses today are otherwise law-abiding citizens who may not have ever crossed the line to commit illegal sexual acts if it weren't so easy and if they couldn't do it from the privacy of their own home, and are truly shocked when they are discovered and/or arrested. 

Does all of this make it okay or excusable to commit a sexual offense?  Absolutely not.  A sex offense is a sex offense because there is a potential victim involved - and the possibility that someone is harmed.  However, it may be information that is important for us to think about when it comes to sentencing and (ideally) treating an individual who has committed a sexual offense.  Now more than ever we should be thinking about the possibility of a sexual addiction as the driving force of a sex offense, and that the standard treatment models for sex offending may not be a complete model.  Likewise, the sex addiction specialist who is working with a sex offender may not have all of the tools that he or she needs for a comprehensive treatment.

These two areas - sex addiction and sex offending - are increasingly entwined in a growing and dangerous relationship.  And yet the fields of sex offender treatment and sex addiction treatment remain fairly isolated from one another.  Many sex addicts who get caught up in illegal activities and prosecuted end up in sex offender treatment with their addiction untreated.  And many sex offenders who have not yet been caught end up in sex addiction treatment with a provider who has little or no training regarding work with sex offenders.  It would behoove us to create as much dialogue as possible between these fields, so that we may grow to meet the needs of this ever-increasing population of people who need our help - within a society that needs us to help them.

 

Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

 

Samantha Smithstein, Psy.D., is a clinical and forensic psychologist and co-founder of the Pathways Institute for Impulse Control in San Francisco.

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