Sex addiction, while not yet formally recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders as a diagnosis, is receiving an increasing amount of attention. With mounting reports of high profile personalities (most of whom are male) who site sex addiction as the reason for their extramarital affairs, the controversy surrounding sex addiction has gained currency, and the public as well as the experts seem be divided in two camps, -those that believe it to be an actual diagnosis, and those who believe it is just a convenient excuse. However, in our experience, no one in treatment for sex addiction has ever used sex addiction as an excuse. Rather, the painful consequences of this pattern of behaviour are often so great that absolute desperation drives them into treatment. And what may be treatment of an addictive behaviour is often the mending of a broken heart.
The controversy surrounding sex addiction
Sex addiction is a subject area almost devoid of extensive academic research. Although some experts believe that the quest for a sexual high works alongside the same neural pathways as chemical addiction, at present this remains just a theory. Further support for a neurological basis is found in experiments on rats, which suggests that when rats had dysfunction in the frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and higher thinking), compulsive sexual behaviour resulted. Naturally findings relating to rats do not offer conclusive evidence that the same behaviour would result in humans. In fact there are clinicians that dispute the term ‘sex addiction altogether. Philip Hodson, a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy argues that; "There's a difference between having compulsive patterns of behaviour, and being a true addict’. He continues; "I think some people use 'sex addiction' as a way to cover up moral compromises." So while the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders is proposing the inclusion of the diagnostic term ‘Hypersexual Disorder’ for next year’s revised version, the diagnosis remains controversial and much debated.
The reality of the matter
Whether the pattern of behaviour that is referred to as sex addiction becomes formally recognized or not, there is no denying the fact that for those individuals whose lives are dominated by lies, shame and destructive compulsions, life feels unmanageable. It is crucial that we differentiate between infidelity and sex addiction. While the behaviours surrounding sex addiction often result in infidelity, the drivers of this behaviour is entirely different to the average extramarital affair. What constitutes addictive behaviour is a compulsion to continue a given behaviour despite the negative consequences. In this way, the sex addicted person will feel unable to stop frequenting prostitutes, spending a disproportionate amount of time online watching porn, or engaging in high risk sexual acts, despite the possible consequence of divorce, bankruptcy, or sexually transmitted diseases. And often, treatment is not sought until the person has reached rock bottom.
Sex addiction treatment
In addiction recovery it is a recognized fact that the person who has reached rock bottom is more motivated to get better. This is the sad truth of addiction, -and while nobody but the person with an addiction can ultimately decide to get better, the process is helped by creating an environment of openness. Few sex addicts will risk testing whether their spouse is open and understanding of their secret lives, unless they absolutely have to. Fortunately fellowship communities for sex and love addicts (SLA) exist across England where people struggling with similar issues as you come together and share their stories. At any rate, professional treatment of this destructive behavior is often needed in order to restore sanity and quality of life.