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
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.