Sex and porn addiction are different from substance addiction, in fact, the terms “sex/porn addiction” has been rejected by sexual health professionals and from being included in the DSM (the tool health professionals use for diagnosing health disorders)
In other words, sex and porn addiction are NOT legitmate diagnoses.
That’s because the substance addiction model focuses on stopping actions – if you do X action (drinking), you will trigger the addiction cycle. Only by stopping the action can you stop the addiction cycle.
However, sexual health experts agree, we need a different model for sexual behavior that is principles-based, not action-based. I’ll get into why this is so important for sexuality issues later. For now, mental and sexual health experts have suggested the following principles.
In order for sex to be healthy, it needs to be:
- Non-coercive (not manipulative, based on unconsensual power dynamics)
- Protected (from STIs and unwanted pregnancy)
- Honest (about sexual values, relationships with STIs, goals of the encounter)
- In alignment with personal and shared values (of you and your sexual partners)
- Pleasurable (for all involved)
So healthy sexuality is about creating sexual actions – from sex (purchased, casual, or within a committed relationship) to watching erotic videos or going to a munch – that are in alignment with these principles.
The principles are like a rudder, guiding choices at key moments. Instead of trying to stop an action, think about how that action can be done within these principles.
The just don’t do it addiction model does not work with sexual behavior. Evidence suggests this model can make out of control or unhealthy sexual behavior worse due to the stigma, shame, and secrecy.
Stigma and shame create anxiety, depression, and guilt. We all have to cope with these discomforts, but the more run down and stressed out we are, the more we tend to choose outlets that are high reward and easy access, that bring a sense of fun and thrill.
Mix secrecy into this mix – because sex is a taboo – and now we have a high reward, easy access coping skill that you can’t talk about, can’t ask about, and can’t get help for if there are consequences. Folks can easily get lost in this cycle due to lack of education around healthy sexuality and the taboo preventing talking about and getting resources.
So if we know the addiction model doesn’t work, why is it everywhere? The mental and physical health field reflected the rest of society and avoided addressing out of control and unwanted sexual behavior, and sex in general. There was a huge need for answers when fear around (AIDS) exploded in the 80s. To fill the vacuum of addressing this issue, a for-profit company stepped in using the addiction model – and it was very lucrative for them as it appealed to folk’s fear, religious-morality based approaches, and a familiar structure ( the alcoholics anonymous structure). The folks who created the terms sex and porn addiction and their model of treatment are not mental or physical health experts, and are making a great profit from it with books, trainings, public speaking.
What does work? What do I do if I, or someone I love is struggling with unwanted sexual behavior?
Worries vs problems vs disorders – important distinctions when it comes to unwanted sexual behavior.
Many folks who are self reporting sex addicts actually do not meet criteria for absuive, disfunctional, or disordered consequences for their sexual behavior. These folks often FEEL as though they are doing something wrong, even though there are no consequences of their masturbation or sexual behaviors – their behavior falls within the healthy sexual principles.
Then there are folks who are seeing some connections between their masturbation habits and their sex life with their intimate partner.
Finally there are folks who are experiencing frequent, severe, and tangible consequences to their relationships, work, finances, and physical health.
In all of the above cases there are lots of treatment options
- information about the sexual health principles and how to use them
- increasing access to other coping skills
- sex education
- having a safe place to discuss and manage issues within a support group or with a therapist
- treating underlying mental health issues and stressors
- access to harm reduction support
In other words, unwanted or out of control sexual behavior is highly treatable. But these issues are also rich with individual context: all the complexity of individual and relationship history, values, habits, and beliefs. This complexity is best explored with an AASECT certified sex therapist. Which you can find here: aasect.org/referral-directory
The author of this blog post, Florence Paquet, is getting her AASECT certification and loves to help connect people to resources. Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.