Is the debate on sex addiction more than a word game? | Addiction Professional Magazine Skip to content Skip to navigation

Is the debate on sex addiction more than a word game?

December 22, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Reactions have been strong this month to the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists' (AASECT's) position statement that classifying problematic sexual behaviors as an addiction lacks scientific support. Some of the ongoing debate has centered on whether the discussion simply amounts to an exercise in semantics or if the questioning of a sex addiction construct serves to confuse and/or stigmatize individuals troubled by problem behaviors.

The International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals (IITAP), in a Dec. 14 blog responding to the AASECT position statement, suggests that the sexuality educators and therapists group is actually moving closer to IITAP's position, in AASECT's acknowledgement that further research could ultimately confirm an addiction approach.

“AASECT's new statement, taken in conjunction with its new training [of professionals in identifying problematic sexual behaviors], signifies a clear move toward aligning with the rest of the sexual health field where there is general acceptance that an individual can clearly be out of control with their sexual behaviors and thereby need clinical help to contain them,” the IITAP blog states.

In a blog written this month for PsychCentral, Elements Behavioral Health senior vice president Robert Weiss bemoans the fact that compulsive sexual behaviors are less widely recognized professionally than alcohol and drug addiction or compulsive gambling.

“The [American Psychiatric Association] has even recognized internet gaming as a valid problem worthy of official investigation,” Weiss wrote. “But people who are compulsive with pornography and other sexual behaviors are inexplicably left in the dark.”

Weiss added that “without an official label and directions for treatment, some sex addicts won't pursue the excellent help that's actually available.” IITAP believes this has been reinforced in recent weeks by media reporting on the AASECT position statement, using terminology such as sex addiction not being a "real disorder." 

Weiss said the field is now beset with a confusing array of labels for ongoing and out-of-control sexual behavior. “For what it's worth, after treating this population for decades, I prefer the term sexual addiction. It's not a pretty term, but it's accurate. By any commonly used diagnostic criteria we are absolutely dealing with an addiction, so let's call it an addiction.”

AASECT leaders who worked on the organization's new position statement say too many therapists have been quick to affix an addiction label on sexual behaviors they they personally believe are too frequent or aberrant.