Sex Addiction – What it is and what it isn’t. Does it exist? Is it real?

The following piece was written by Timothy Perper, PhD (1938-2014) for the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists list serve. It was written several years ago and I feel the need to unearth it again, since the issue still looms large.  This was his response to the professional member’s ongoing debate on whether sex addiction actually exists.

Timothy Perper, PhD response to: A self-identified sex addict

 

Reposted by permission of author from the AASECT listserve (American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists)

 

Names within text, other than author, have been changed.

 

…I got to thinking about this business of “uncontrollable

sex urge.” I’m NOT — repeat, not, not, not — going to try to define

that; in fact, my point is that a definition suddenly and unexpectedly

EVADES us. I don’t mean just me; I’ve been reading this postings

(nearly 500 of them since 2006, as I just said) — the definition has

been evading all of us. Seems to me that maybe that’s part of the

problem.

 

When I was a teenager, I too had “uncontrollable sex urges.” My penis,

with a life of its own (a standing joke among men), would get hard in

the middle of high school classes. It just did that — and I wanted to

jerk off. I wasn’t able to talk it down; it ignored me and my

explanations that THIS is not the right time. Or sometimes on subways.

Or at other times.

 

And later in college, and even later than that, the same thing would

occur again and again: “uncontrollable sex urges.”

 

Oho! Now we reach a crux in the whole search for a definition.

 

At some point in college — though not in high school (for reasons I

don’t understand) — I discovered that I could eliminate these

“uncontrollable sex urges” by going to the men’s room, sitting in a

stall with the door locked, and jerking myself off. Then, for some

hours, I had no “uncontrollable sex urges” at all.

 

In brief, if the definition we are looking for arises from

“uncontrollable PENILE sex urges,” then the solution is simple. Go

find someplace private and masturbate to orgasm. End of that. Yes, I

know that some men have moral and other qualms about masturbation, but

that’s not what we mean by “sex addiction” — that’s called “sex

guilt” or something like that.

 

If so — and that “if” is very very large! — then no problems exist

about sex addiction. Find someplace private and masturbate. This

solution may be less effective for some women, but I’m going to set

that difficulty aside for a while. IF — repeat, IF, IF, IF —

“uncontrollable sex urges” are of penile (or vaginal/clitoral) origin,

then they can be resolved in a few minutes. End of story and discussion.

 

Now comes the big but. BUT, someone says, that’s not what

“uncontrollable sex urges” are about! They’re about sitting and

watching HOURS of porn on the internet, talking for HOURS on some sex

phone line, spending HOURS imagining copulating with someone. They

center on the uncontrollable desire to get laid.

 

And if so, then we have a different definition, and it has nothing to

do with “sex addiction” at all. It is an “uncontrollable” desire and

yearning for a CERTAIN KIND OF SOCIAL CONTACT — with the surrogate

human beings of internet porn, the less surrogate but still fantasy-

laden telephone partner, or the imaginary but completely social

fantasy of masturbating with not only HER (or him, perhaps) but with a

whole bunch of “hers” and “hims.” Those sessions of imagination are

barely sexual at all: sexuality provides a mechanism for imagining a

fantasy of a different life, a different world, a different place, of

different people than the ones we know. The penis or vagina has become

a portal taking us elsewhere — somewhere where we are wanted, are

desired, are happy, are never rejected, are satisfied and are

satisfying. In brief, we invent a utopia for ourselves — because we

do not live in such a utopia in reality.

 

The underlying engines of such fantasies are not sex — they are

loneliness, despair, unhappy alienation, anomie. Sex is simply a

vehicle by which we imagine a place and time where such loneliness

DOES NOT EXIST. In that world, we are happy.

 

So if a man — I explicitly do not mean Craig, whom I do not know at

all — tells me that he’s a sex addict, then I privately think to

myself, “And you’re a liar.” If you really and genuinely were an

addict of your penis, you would not be telling ME about it in this

bar, or party, or therapy session. You’d be off jerking yourself off

in the bathroom.

 

The same holds for a woman, who might say “I was a real sex addict in

college! I just had to get laid all the time, and all I could think

about was how I could hook up with Joe or Jeremy or Chad — ”  And

again my response is the same. “No, you’re not a sex addict at all. If

you were you wouldn’t be telling ME about it in this bar or party.

You’d be off in bed with Joe or Jeremy or Chad or maybe all three of

them, fucking their brains out. You wouldn’t be TALKING about it.”

 

Underlying everything I have read and heard about sex addiction and

the “uncontrollable sex urges” said to define sex addiction are the

engines of loneliness,  isolation, alienation, and despair.

It is therefore a social — NOT  SEXUAL — dysfunction,

and centers on the inability of the person to

provide him- or herself with people who love and want them. It

involves a FANTASY that sexuality — meaning penile and/or vaginal

contact — will satisfy those social needs for love. But because mere

penile and/or vaginal contact does not fill those needs, the recipe is

repeated, in the hope that maybe it’ll work out the NEXT time. Which

it does not, and we enter a cycle of repetition driven by unidentified

— but profoundly human — desires for social contact, for someone to

talk to, someone who likes you, and who wants to listen.

 

Did that describe me in high school? Oh, come on. Of course it did. I

would have given anything to have spent the whole day talking to (and

kissing) two or three of the girls I knew… like Jane, who sat next

to me in one class (I loved that class!), and like Amy, who I would

walk home with… Sometimes my penis got stiff, not surprising at the

age of 17, but always I wanted to be with Jane and Amy, stiff penis

or not. That’s not sex addiction. It’s desire and loneliness.

 

Tim

 

 

 

 

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