Regarding Sex Addiction

We've been figuring out how to market our business more effectively, and recently spoke with an expert on search engine optimization (SEO) and therapy groups. He gave us common keywords and phrases that get Googled--anxiety therapy, divorce counseling, marriage counseling (rather than couples counseling, which is our preferred language set).

He then mentioned sex addiction. We cringed at the language. Two immediate thoughts came to mind regarding the fallacies of sex addiction. First of all, the neurological processes that are typically associated with addictions don't happen with sexual addictions and compulsions. Jillian Keenan at Slate explains findings from a 2013 neurological study:

If sex can be addictive in the clinical sense, scientists theorized, then the neural response of sex addicts to pornography should mimic the neural responses of drug or alcohol addicts to their drugs of choice.

Instead, researchers found that hypersexual brains don’t react in the same way as other addicts’ brains—in fact, the neural responses to pornography only varied based on levels of sexual libido, rather than on measures of sexual compulsivity. People with higher libidos had more active brain reactions to the sexual images than people with lower libidos, but that was the only correlation. Degrees of sexual compulsivity did not predict brain response at all.

Image from Psychotherapy Networker

Image from Psychotherapy Networker

Which leads us to a second problem with the notion of sexual addictions. Sexual excitement and inhibition exist on a spectrum, so the idea that people with high levels of sexual excitement and low levels of inhibition ("hypersexual" tendencies), resulting potentially in higher consumption of pornography and deeper curiosity in kink and fetishes, are somehow "disordered" is extremely problematic. (The same thing, by the way, is true for people with low levels of sexual excitement and high levels of sexual inhibition, or "hyposexual" tendencies.) Problems may arise in relationships between people with differing levels of excitement and inhibition, but these are relational dynamics that can be discussed through couples and sex therapy.

The language of sex addiction has been used by millions to describe "hypersexuality", which can have negative implications for both genders. Women with high levels of sexual excitement may be labeled as "sluts" or "promiscuous". Men may face criticism for "hypersexuality", forcing their sexual needs and desires to be explored in secretive ways, if not to go underground entirely.

In this blog post, though, we (South Shore Family and our sister group South Shore Sexual Health) wanted to simply state our position against language of sex addiction, moving toward a language that describes sexuality in affirming and positive ways.

This position, by the way, was released yesterday by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), the premier organization for working with sexuality education and mental health:

AASECT recognizes that people may experience significant physical, psychological, spiritual and sexual health consequences related to their sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors. AASECT recommends that its members (ed. note: including our therapists) utilize models that do not unduly pathologize consensual sexual problems.

AASECT 1) does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction or porn addiction as a mental health disorder, and 2) does not find the sexual addiction training and treatment methods and educational pedagogies to be adequately informed by accurate human sexuality knowledge.

Therefore, it is the position of AASECT that linking problems related to sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors to a porn/sexual addiction process cannot be advanced by AASECT as a standard of practice for sexuality education delivery, counseling or therapy.

AASECT advocates for a collaborative movement to establish standards of care supported by science, public health consensus and the rigorous protection of sexual rights for consumers seeking treatment for problems related to consensual sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors.

So what can you expect from us?

We will talk about sexual urges, thoughts, and behaviors as natural sexual processes, as ways of exploring who you are and how you can grow both individually and relationally.

We will continue to discuss sexuality from a pleasure-centric model, where sex is a way of celebrating the positive sensations and physiological processes of our bodies.

And we will continue to explore sexuality in individual and couples contexts, where sex is representative of a decision making process by which you combine intimacy, growth, and pleasure.

For more information, give us a call at 617-750-0183. Check out our bios, and if you'd like, schedule an appointment with us online.