Most of us are interested in sex to some degree—it's the reason we're
here, after all. Libido strength varies between individuals, and even
waxes and wanes within one person over time. Why then, would someone on
the extreme end of the spectrum be called a "sex addict" instead of,
say, "particularly amorous?" Though the term is thrown around quite
often, experts disagree over whether sexual addiction is a legitimate
These people are preoccupied with sexual gratification reaped from a
variety of pursuits, from rampant promiscuity to spending hours on
Internet porn sites. Sex consumes their thoughts. Such an obsession can
affect one's financial, personal, and professional obligations—just as
compulsive gambling or addiction to alcohol or drugs.
Aviel Goodman, founder and director of the Minnesota Institute of
Psychology, believes that sexual addiction stems from an imbalance in
the chemicals that operate the brain's reward system. Impulse control
takes a hike when the reward system is askew, leaving a person mired in
a cycle that mimics that of an alcoholic. These people must increase
the intensity and frequency of their behavior to continue reaching the
same level of pleasure or escape.
Not including "sexual addiction" in the DSM, argues Victoria White Kress, co-author of Beyond the DSM Story
and counseling program coordinator at Youngstown State University, only
brings a special kind of shame for people. It could even preclude them
from seeking help. "For many people, having a disorder to describe
their behavior helps empower them to take more control."
Stanton Peele, a practicing psychotherapist who has researched
alcoholism, argues that pathologizing unconventional sexual behavior is
merely a way of enforcing our Puritan values. We arbitrarily define our
acceptable sexual activity level against a diverse global backdrop.
According to Peele, sexual "addiction" occurs along a continuum, and
many individuals demonstrate a form of it at some point in their lives.
"Many people give a good rendition of sexual addiction in their youth,"
Peele points out. He contends that sexual "addiction" naturally goes
into remission over time.
Perhaps more important than putting
an official label on such behavior is determining whether it's
enhancing or sabotaging your well-being. Engaging in risky sexual
behaviors or feeling incapable of controlling your impulses could in
fact be symptoms of other well-established conditions, for which help
(and insurance coverage) is largely available.
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