When you think about sex addiction, you probably imagine a scene from Shame with a brutally chiseled Michael Fassbender or maybe the latest actor or politician brought down by a sex scandal. But there's been a big change to how we think about sex addiction. In fact, sex addiction isn't an addiction all, says a statement released by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), the leading national body of sex therapists and experts. Although there may be some similarities in how sex affects the brain, it doesn't create the same addictive responses as other substances.
"As of what we know right now as an organization, we can't support the sex addiction model, because we just don't see enough evidence to say that there is a clear enough link," Douglas Braun-Harvey, LMFT, CGP, CST, and one of the authors of the statement tells Bustle. The sex addiction diagnoses has long been questioned and isn't included in the DSM-5. Braun-Harvey emphasizes that this is simply an assessment of where things currently stand, that what they're saying is that as of today, the science simply doesn't exist to back it up as an addiction. So why is it such a popular diagnosis?
"It's because we live in a highly sex-shaming society."
"The sex addiction model grew exponentially in the 1980s," he says, which makes sense, because it was a time where there was not only an explosion of addiction diagnoses generally, but also when HIV panic was at its height. "Fear out of control sexual behavior matched beautifully with the fear of HIV. I think it allowed what were typically called 'perversions' or disgusting people... it allowed them to move to having a disease, which in America gets a lot more empathy." It's a fascinating angle — but one that's based on a much larger problem.
"It's because we live in a highly sex-shaming society," Braun-Harvey explains. And in a sex-shaming society, you're better off having a disease — a label. You'll get more empathy and more forgiveness. But that doesn't mean the science is there to back it up.
But What About People With Unhealthy Sexual Behaviors?
Now, it's important to realize that the study is in no way trying to minimize the affects of unhealthy sexual behaviors and urges and how destructive they can be. In fact, Brain-Harvey instead emphasizes that the issues and behaviors involved are so complex that giving them the label of "sex addiction" is actually an over-simplification of these very real, complicated issues. So instead of pushing it to one side, they are actually underlying the severity of these conditions and the consequences to those suffering, but also warning that mis-labeling the issues as sex addiction can cause further problems.
This is partially because they believe that the training and teaching method doesn't involve enough factual information about sexuality, which is worrying to say the least. And this is the part of statement that Braun-Harvey points out hasn't gotten any backlash, that nobody has disagreed with. Everyone seems to be OK with the assessment that there's not enough science in the training and pedagogy for people dealing with these complex, destructive sexual behaviors. Isn't that a big problem in and of itself? Shouldn't we want more rigorous standards for our counselors and therapists?
The bottom line? As Braun-Harvey says, there isn't enough evidence to link a scientific process with addictive behavior. "The name 'sex addiction' isn't living up to its title," he says. "Bad sexual information has hurt people for centuries. It's a completely well intentioned model, but we can do all sorts of things with good intentions."
So let's make sure the science is there before we start adding in labels — and let's keep fighting to remove the shame surrounding sex in our society. If we can embrace our sexuality, we'll be less hasty to categorize sexual dysfunctions and issues with labels that simply don't fit.
Images: Ashley Batz for Bustle; Giphy