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Sex Addiction Questioned

A recent report on KPLC television questions the legitimacy of a diagnosis of sex addiction. This despite it being in the news as politicians continue to embarrass themselves – the latest, Anthony Wiener, who sent pictures of himself in revealing underwear to women.

The addiction isn’t listed as a diagnosable mental illness in the latest edition of the Diagnostic Services Manual – the reference psychiatrists and psychologists use to label illnesses. Instead, sex addiction may fall under an “impulse disorder” or an obsession. But experts still disagree, saying that behavioral based addictions do exist. For example, gambling addiction has no drug involvement and is solely based on a compulsion to gamble at any cost and without regard for the harms.

One study mentioned in the report comes from UCLA. Researchers looked at self-identified sex addicts. They used brain imaging to see if subjects acted differently than normal adults when exposed to sexual images. The subjects did not, supporting the idea that what we call sex addiction is merely at one end of a spectrum of sexuality. Perhaps those with a higher libido are simply acting as nature intended and really don’t care about the consequences. In any case, this study found no distinguishing features of hypersexuality that would put it in the addiction category.

The nomenclature can be important, since the label “addiction” comes with a different attitude and response than saying something is a “moral failure” or just a biological urge we all have. Addictions are treated with behavioral modification, inpatient residential treatment with a period of withdrawal, and addicts may even be prescribed drugs to help them cope with cravings or prevent relapse. None of this applies if sexual addiction is just another way of saying, “likes sex a lot.”

Other studies do support the addiction diagnosis because patients report a real loss of control and continue the behaviors even when they know the consequences are harmful – even seriously so.

With conflicting research, it may very well be that sexual activity comes in many forms, at least one of which is an actual addiction. It may be the case that the label is applied to broadly or too quickly when trying to justify normal lust or infidelity.


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