Is Sex Addiction “Real”?

When Patrick Carnes first began to write about sex addiction in the early 80’s no one else had ever identified these issues quite the way he described them. Many clinicians and researchers had seen the behavior but chose to call it sexual compulsivity rather than sexual addiction. For many years this has been a primary topic of debate chiefly among professionals. Within the last 10 years the research on this topic has become much more available. Studies showing that the brain chemistry of addicts appears to be different from non-addicts is helping us clarify the diagnosis. My belief then, as now, is that what we call it is not nearly as important as what we do about it. Those of us who are on the front lines of treating people in pain must be ready to understand, empathize and offer guidance about the way out of that pain.

All humans are sexual beings. Most people need assistance at some point in their lives with understanding and coming to grips with their sexuality. Unfortunately, we are not taught how to do this. In most families sex, if it is mentioned at all, is not fully explained other than from a biological standpoint. When teenagers begin the process of sexual exploration we as adults often use shame or guilt as attempts to control what we consider to be inappropriate sexual behavior. Those messages of shame can stick and sometimes young people go underground with their questions, thoughts and frequently their behavior.

Sexual addiction can also come out of a trauma experience. Research in the field indicates that over 90% of sexual addicts have experienced some type of sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse. These wounds must be healed or medicated in some way. Sexual behavior in many forms often becomes that balm whether or not it is conscious.

The ways that people use sex are varied and there are numerous opportunities to practice these behaviors. When what happens in the privacy of your own home is not problematic, there is no reason to seek help. But for millions of people worldwide this behavior has become uncontrollable and their lives are unmanageable as a result. No one wants to be addicted to sex. While we may laugh or joke about it, the truth is that for those involved in this behavior what was once pleasurable has become a ritual that brings little relief and no pleasure.

If this is the place that you find yourself – there is help available. If you don’t seek treatment with me – find it somewhere. No one has to live their lives with secrets that keep them lonely, isolated, and in the shadows.