The Dangers of Sex Addiction
The danger of sex addiction is for society, not individuals.
Posted July 22, 2010
The danger of sex addiction is for society, not individuals. In my recent blog, I got a lot of response, positive and negative, to criticisms I leveled against the concept of addiction to pornography. I've been exploring these ideas a lot, in the project I'm working on currently. The labels of sex addiction, hypersexuality, pornography addiction, sexual compulsion, erotomania, etc., have serious risks and problems. Challenges to these labels reflect much more than just an intellectual argument, but highlight substantial risks and problems that these labels incorporate.
• Excuses, Excuses, Excuses - Labeling problematic behaviors as part of a disease process inherently reduces the responsibility an individual takes for those behaviors. When we label problematic sexual behaviors as an addiction, we get situations like this one, in the current week's Savage Love, where a man defends his use of child pornography by blaming it on the "tolerance" effects of his addiction to pornography. I've worked with sexual offenders for many years, and believe strongly that excuses do not help people behave safely or responsibly. They have enough excuses as it is.
• Ethnocentrism - Sexual labels and diagnoses are inherently based upon, and inseparable from, the current sexual values of the culture. Prior to the American Psychiatric Association's vote in the 1970's, homosexual behavior was labeled a medical diagnosis. Values changed, and it is no longer viewed this way. Over the past few years, multiple Scandinavian countries have removed diagnoses related to sado-masochistic behaviors, determining that the diagnoses pathologize behaviors that are rarely dysfunctional. In many countries and cultures, infidelity is seen as a normal part of a sexual behavior, in contrast to the current view in America. Throughout history, group sexual behaviors have served as culturally significant social and religious rites. Today, outside small subgroups like swingers, group sex is viewed as a sign of sexual and moral disturbance (except for the male desire for a threesome with two women - strangely this desire is viewed as a normal and understandable male desire).
• Social Control - The history of sexual-related diagnoses is clear: society has used these diagnoses to control and pathologize specific groups. Carol Groneman's work Nymphomania, offers an exceptional review of the way this diagnosis was used by society to label female sexuality as unhealthy and disordered, at a time when women were (wrongly) believed to be inherently less sexual than men. Women who expressed their sexuality, often in infidelity, were labeled as ill, and subjected to horrendous "treatments." The comparable diagnosis, satyriasis, has traditionally been used to diagnose the alleged hypersexuality of Black males and males of lower socioeconomic status. I for one am pretty careful about who I let into my bed, and who gets to tell me what to do there (my wife has asserted primary control of this task). I have zero interest or trust in allowing society, medicine, doctors or therapists in there too - it sounds a bit crowded, and remember, group sex is supposedly pathological.
• Medicate Your Problems Away - Pharmaceutical companies are waiting poised and ready, to market their drugs as treatment for these disorders, once they can do so legally. Pharma is prohibited from marketing drugs "off label." The use of psychiatric drugs like SSRI's, naltrexone hydrochloride, and mood stabilizers to treat sexual issues is done, but is all off label. But, if a disorder exists, and pharma can pay their pet doctors and researchers to generate studies showing the meds help that disorder, then we will see ads on television and in our doctor's offices, touting these medications, and making billions for Big Pharma. Think I'm being paranoid? Look up the history of restless leg syndrome, or Christopher Lane's book on how Big Pharma spent $94M to get Shyness labeled a disorder. As a clinician, I think psychiatric medications are a wonderful tool. But we're in danger of the hammer taking control of the carpenter - and remember, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.