Don't Call Harvey Weinstein a Sex Addict

What we label things matters.

Posted Oct 18, 2017

With all the recent media attention on the Harvey Weinstein scandal—numerous revelations by movie stars about the powerful Hollywood film producer’s sexual harassment and assault habits—we’re seeing many references to his behavior as “sex addiction.” Cleverly, Weinstein has taken the easy path—rehab instead of prison—checking himself into expensive “sex-addiction rehab” programs for the foreseeable future.

Morality and justice aside, I have long ago abandoned the “sex-addiction” terminology. It is nothing more than an oversimplified and misleading term like “nervous breakdown,” a pop-culture catchall that does nothing to get to the important issues of out-of-control behaviors. I say this as a therapist who years ago was in the sex-addiction industry trained with therapy concepts and practices. However, when I discovered the concept of healthy sexuality and trained with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), I abandoned the term and treatment of “sex addiction,” as well as the methods I was taught to deal with it. I now use treatment methods which are strength-based and more helpful for those struggling with sexual behaviors.  

All too often everything from having extramarital affairs to watching porn to desiring different sexual experiences with a reluctant spouse or partner is lumped together under the umbrella of “sex addiction.” In the sex addiction industry, they are even trying to include sex-offending behaviors under this umbrella, but someone who is experiencing out-of-control behaviors is not necessarily a sex offender.

People like Weinstein who sexually offend and perpetrate others have a much different pathology going on than people who struggle with conflict around sexual behaviors such as too much masturbation or pornography use. And, in a broader sense, calling someone who acts on an unwilling victim a sex addict rather than a predator blurs the line between predation and what may even be normal—if misunderstood—sexual interests that don't cross a line of harming others.

Labels and words matter.

In a previous comment I posted on Facebook, one commenter said that by my saying the term “sex addiction” is meaningless, I was diminishing the pain. Actually, no. I’m saying that calling something “sex addiction” or “nervous breakdown” is what diminishes the pain. We need to call a nervous breakdown what it is: depression, or anxiety, or obsessive compulsion, clinically relevant terminology so that we can offer the right help. Saying someone is a sex addict could even mean that someone’s behavior is being pathologized even though the behavior may not be unhealthy, and that they are simply being judged, by themselves or others. If someone is bothered by their porn viewing habits, it doesn’t mean they are a sex addict. It means we need to find out why they are watching porn, and determine what is wrong, if anything, with that.

Many of us in the sex therapy field have known for years that we are witnessing a slow cultural change in how sexual activity is viewed. We are beginning to understand what healthy sex is as opposed to determining this by cultural standards.

For instance, Nicole Prause, an American neuroscientist researching human sexual behavior, addiction, and the physiology of sexual response, cites research findings that people who consider themselves porn addicts don't report watching more pornography than people who don't. They just feel worse about it. The best predictor of people who self-identify as sex or porn addicts, she says, is a socially conservative upbringing. These findings suggest that cultural shame is more often the source of distress than overuse of sex or porn itself.

This cultural shame and morality are behind far too much of the use of the terminology “sex addiction.”

Harvey Weinstein is not a sex addict, he is someone engaging in non-consensual and exploitive behavior resulting in violating basic human and sexual rights of another person.

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Source: IStock