Is There Such a Thing as Sex Addiction?

tantraSteven is remembering the active days of what he calls his sex addiction: “I was at a party and noticed this overweight, not so beautiful woman across the room who was obviously attracted to me.” He drums his fingers on the table. “I did my number on her and got her to go out to the barn behind the house where we had sex, then we went back inside to the party. Later, I remember I glanced over at her and she was crying.” He breaks eye contact and looks away. “It was sad because I knew I had hurt her, injured her self confidence, but who she was as a person had nothing to do with it. She was just next.”

Steven is currently an active member of AA and Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). He’s also in longterm therapy dealing with the fact that he’s nearing fifty and has never sustained a relationship with a woman for longer than a year, and never one that included his being monogamous. “It’s all the same addiction,” he says. “The drinking, the pot, the sex–it’s all about not being able to really connect with anybody.”

Whether or not such a thing as “sex addiction” exists is controversial. In “Why There is No Such Thing as Sex Addiction – and Why it Really Matters,” Dr. Marty Klein argues that by using such a phrase, we are at risk for pathologizing sexual behavior that is outside the mainstream. This is an important consideration, because society has a way of making people wrong who are sexually active and alive, people we might call “sex positive.” The mainstream often makes people wrong who have a lot of partners or people who engage in alternative lifestyles such as polyamory, whether they have psychological problems or not. People may be branded as “sex addicts” just because they really, really like sex.

The point is that a person’s sexual activity may or may not coexist with psychological problems. Many times people who prefer sexual behaviors outside the mainstream are completely psychologically healthy, and certainly not “sex addicted.” However, counselors of all types are seeing increasing numbers of clients with problematic sexual habits that are causing a great deal of pain. These might be addictions to Internet porn, compulsive masturbation, molestation, the compulsive pursuit and abandonment of women, or infidelity. It is estimated by Dr. Patrick Carnes that 3-6% of the population meets the criteria for sex addiction.

One of the ways to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy sexual activity is the degree to which a person feels out of control of their behavior, or that it hurts themself or other people. If something feels this way to you, find the help of a counselor or program who will not judge you and help you to continue on your journey toward greater sexual health.

© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth


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Catherine Auman is a Los Angeles psychotherapist specializing in transpersonal psychology, also known as spiritual psychology.

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