What is Sex Addiction?

picture of three bodiesRecently, there has been a lot of discussion in newspapers and on television about sex addiction. Stories about celebrities such as Tiger Woods and David Duchovny have raised interest and debate amongst health professionals and the general public. Many people who are struggling to make sense of things of their lives have been asking themselves whether their own problems might come down to something called ‘sex addiction’.

The Problems with Calling Something ‘Sex Addiction’.

But there are a few problems with this idea of sex addiction. To begin with, what actually is addiction? Is it a behavioural pattern? Is it a brain disorder? Something to do with chemicals in the brain? Is it treatable or untreatable? Because there are numerous definitions of addiction it can be very confusing for someone who starts thinking of him or herself as “an addict”.

Another problem with this idea of ‘sex addiction’ is: what happens to responsibility when someone starts thinking this way, that they are an addict? Does having an addiction mean a person is not responsible for his or her actions? Could sex addiction become an excuse for doing something that goes against a persons own values and beliefs?

And probably the worst thing about this idea of sex addiction is that it makes people feel bad. If you start thinking of yourself as a ‘sex addict’ you will probably start believing you have a disorder or that you are sick or not normal. In a therapeutic context, this is often called the ‘internalising’ of a problem. The problem – interpreted as ‘sex addiction’ in this case – has you thinking there is something wrong with you and you are the cause of it. Understandably, these kinds of thoughts can make a person feel quite shameful. And shame often traps and makes us afraid to talk about problems. So the problem becomes bigger and more influential than it was before.

So if sex addiction isn’t the problem, what is?

Good question!

If you have contacted a therapist or counsellor wanting help for ‘sex addiction’:

  • You might think you are having too much sex or want to stop or reduce the amount of sex you are having,
  • You might be having sex with a person other than your usual partner and without your usual partner’s knowledge,
  • You might be taking risks with sex you would not usually take,
  • You might feel bad about the sex you are having,
  • Or perhaps several or all of these apply for you.

In other words, there are a range of situations that lead people to get an idea they may be experiencing sex addiction. There are also many reasons individuals find themselves in these situations. For every person who believes they may have a ‘sex addiction’, there is a unique story behind their arriving at this understanding.

People are more than just machines or animals: we are meaning makers. We are constantly making meaning about our lives. And these meanings are connected to our culture and history. If a therapist focuses on sex alone as the problem, and doesn’t explore the meanings you have and can make, they risk failing to understand what is most personally important and relevant to you. This idea of treatment for sex addiction can actually be obscuring many other details that factor into what is affecting you and what you would prefer for your life. Furthermore, the idea of ‘sex addiction’ probably has you believing any problem (whatever it may be) exists within you, instead of in a particular circumstance or relationship you are involved with.

How Can Narrative Therapy Help?

Asking this question ‘what is sex addiction?’ is one way to begin investigating the problem or problems that might be hidden by the idea of sex addiction. There are many ways of proceeding in a therapeutic conversation that questions this idea of sex addiction.

  • Where have you heard these ideas about sex and sex addiction?
  • What has been going for you that has lead to these ‘sex addiction’ thoughts?
  • How might these ideas about sex addiction and these thoughts of sex addiction be connected?
  • What is it about the sex that you are having that concerns you?

We can investigate how these thoughts of sex addiction have been constructed. We can explore your hopes, values and beliefs through considering the circumstances that have brought you to therapy. Once we have some new ground to stand on, these ideas about sex addiction often become less relevant than your intentions and the efforts you have been making for what you want in your life.

For more information or to make an appointment, go to www.forwardtherapy.com

About Forward Therapy

Ash Rehn is a counsellor and narrative therapist with over 20 years experience. He specialises in therapeutic conversations and collaborative therapy for anxiety, burnout, depression, midlife crisis, sex and relationship issues, pornography use problems and counselling for lesbians and gay men.
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