Can You Be Addicted to Sex?

You’ve probably heard the saying “too much of a good thing can kill you.” In many cases, too much of certain behaviors can lead to an addiction. My favorite definition of addiction is a compulsive use of a substance, or behavior, in spite of negative consequences. There are four different stages of addiction; use, misuse, abuse, and dependency.

Most people are well aware of addiction to substances, but don’t know about process addictions. Process addictions are addictions to activities or processes such as gambling, spending, and sex as opposed to drugs or alcohol. They are also known as behavioral addictions. They are defined as a compulsion to engage in behaviors despite the negative impact on one’s life.

Let’s use the example of sex. Healthy sexual expression varies widely. Addiction does not identify certain behaviors as normal and others as abnormal. But it creates a label for problematic behavior gone wild. Some clinicians disagree about whether sex addiction should be considered an addiction. They prefer to call it OCSB, Out of Control Sexual Behavior. Whatever you call it, it comes with risk.

I recently read an article entitled Your Belief in Porn Addiction Makes Things Worse by David J. Ley, PhD. This article addresses the use of porn. He refers to the work of Joshua Grubbs which demonstrates that identifying oneself as a porn addict, creates emotional distress such as depression, anxiety, anger and stress. Moral or religious prohibition against porn can create distress, regardless of the frequency or extent of its use. The author goes so far as to say that porn addiction treatment does more harm than good. He states that “people who believe themselves to be porn addicts need to understand how and why porn use is not an addiction, and how viewing themselves as a porn addict may affect their self-image and emotional health.”

I hear his point that labeling oneself as a porn addict, will likely make you feel bad about yourself. But let’s be clear. It’s not only the label, but the actions associated with porn addition that will make you feel bad about yourself. This is true whether you view porn with religious or moral prohibitions or not.

For example, the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health lists potential negative outcomes. Sexual addiction and compulsive sexual thoughts and behaviors (such as porn) lead to increasingly serious consequences, both in the mind of the addict and in his or her life. Research shows that 70 to 75 percent of sexual addicts report having had suicidal thoughts related to their sexual behavior patterns. Often, sex addicts suffer from broken and distant relationships. Forty percent of sex addicts report severe marital and other relationship problems. Health consequences of sex addiction may include HIV infection, genital herpes, HPV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sex addicts have a highly increased risk of contracting a STD and of passing it along to unknowing spouses or loved ones. Some sex addicts go to jail, lose their jobs, get sued, or have other financial and legal consequences because of their compulsive sexual behavior. Financial difficulties from the purchase of porn, use of prostitutes, and travel for the purpose of a sexual hookup and related activities can tax the addict’s financial resources and those of his or her family, as do the expenses of legal representation in divorce cases.

Therefore, I respectfully disagree with Dr. Ley’s position that treatment for porn addiction does more harm than good. It seems to me that he confuses the use of porn, with the abuse and dependency of viewing porn. He is minimizing the potential negative consequences of Out of Control Sexual Behavior.  If you wonder if your behavior (whether it is eating, spending, gambling, or some other behavior) is out of control, ask yourself if it is compulsive and if there are negative consequences. Has your use of this behavior crossed over into abuse or dependency? If so, treatment is warranted.

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