The sex addiction recovery movement not only complements the progress made toward a sex-positive culture, it reinforces it. In the past decade, the public has gradually gained an awareness and careful acceptance of the sex addiction concept – namely that out-of-control sexual behavior for certain people can become an addiction similar to drugs and alcohol. Many therapists now specialize in treating sex addiction, and support groups have sprung up in every corner of the nation. Today there are sex addiction rehabs, as well as a plethora of literature on the topic. This movement affirms that airing not just our greatest sexual joys and discoveries, but our struggles and pain as well, is the path to an integrated and holistic model of sexuality.
A sex addict is generally defined as a person whose sexual behaviors cause serious problems for them, including trouble with the law, dishonesty and the destruction of cherished relationships, avoidance of intimacy, and an overall diminishing of their lives around the areas of work, finances, health and so forth, all of which lead to psychic pain. Sex addicts struggle with severe guilt, shame, remorse and despair, yet feel a compulsion to repeat behaviors that ignite these negative feelings. As with addicts of all stripes, “wanting” overrides “liking” keeping the addict in a vicious cycle.
While support for sex addiction is more available and comprehensive than ever, there are still quite a few critics of the concept itself. Certain psychologists have voiced objections that the sex addiction model is puritanical, encourages repression of natural urges, and prizes traditional, monogamous heterosexual relationships above all other types of sexual expression. However this injurious criticism is not based on hands-on experience as it paints a picture of sex addiction therapy as nothing more than a moral crusade with the goal of dampening a client’s entire sexuality. Of course, the reality of treating problematic sexual behaviors – those which drive clients to reach out for help such as serial infidelity, exhibitionism, compulsive masturbation to the point of self-harm – is that only this healing allows a more authentic and truly satisfying sexuality to emerge.
The problem with the objections of sex addiction deniers is that they present an either/or universe, where the concept of sex addiction cannot comfortably co-exist with sex-positive lifestyles. Those who choose to help sex addicts to recover are not condemning polyamory, sadomasochism or any other alternative lifestyle as negative, but rather affirming that there should be resources for people who suffer from sexual problems, whatever they may be. To deny that people are suffering in this realm is actually more sex-negative than advocating sexual conservatism. Having resources to deal with sexual diseases, erectile dysfunction and pelvic pain are all positive things. It follows that having resources for those expressing distress and psychological pain due to their sexual activity is also innately positive.
The more we can affirm that treatment for sex addiction is not at odds with the celebration of sexuality in all its forms, but rather a complementing factor to the sex-positive movement, the sooner those who suffer over their sexual behaviors can begin to truly heal. To accuse a recovering sex addict or sex addiction counselor of hindering the sex positive movement is ultimately counterproductive and holds us back as a society.
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