Why There’s No Such thing as Sex Addiction

A person needing too much sex is considered a sex addict, similar to an obese person telling you they are addicted to food. Not true. The symptoms of someone being out of control may look the same as addiction, but people certainly have the capability of being in control. The labeling of a symptom is most important, because it sets the scene to how it will be treated.

A client once told me they were a sex addict. When I mentioned that was not a mental illness I adhered to he was most angry. He did not want to be told he was responsible for his actions, and there is the crux of this debate. Can individuals be responsible for being out of control?

The following article makes some good points.

By Dr David J Ley

A few years ago, a 33-year-old man called Tom came to see me for therapy. Sandy-haired and nervous, he worked as an accountant and came to the appointment with his attractive young wife, Sarah. Tom looked like a man in trouble. Sarah had caught him coming out of a sex shop and, after being caught, Tom had admitted he’d been going there once a week to have sex with other men in the video booths.

Tom blamed himself for his poor choice, saying he had “got horny and didn’t think”. But Tom’s wife disagreed: “That’s addiction, right?” she said to me. “He’s addicted to this, to going to these creepy places and having sex.” Sex addiction is the psychological disorder du jour. When powerful men — from the golfer Tiger Woods to the actors Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas – are caught sleeping with women who are not their wives, their standard response is to hold up their hands in rueful acknowledgement, check into a therapy centre and announce they’re embarking on a course of treatment for sex addiction.

In Woods’s case, this reportedly involved a period of celibacy, behavioural therapy, trauma work, “relapse prevention counselling” and one-to-one sessions on shame reduction and “setting sexual boundaries”.

And these things don’t come cheap. A month’s treatment at some residential centres can cost more than $37,000 (£23,600). In California, a church called New Life Ministries charges $1,400 (£900) for its three-day “Every Man’s Battle” workshops (for men who believe pornography and lust have taken over their lives) and runs a website that sells books, compact discs and DVDs for men, women and adolescents who have “failed in their battle for sexual purity”.

There is even a kit for soldiers, shipped in a camouflage box, designed to help men resist sexual urges while deployed in the military. In 2009, this organisation made nearly $8 million (£5 million) from selling its self-help material and running its seminars and workshops.

Sex addiction is big business. And, thanks to the British director Steve McQueen’s film Shame (released this Friday), which shows a sex-addicted executive played by Michael Fassbender grimly trawling the streets of New York in search of his next “fix”, it’s a hot topic once again – an “epidemic”, according to more than one headline. But despite all this, there is no evidence whatsoever that sex addiction is a valid psychiatric disorder. And there probably never will be.

For more than a decade, I’ve worked as a psychologist, treating issues of sexuality in my clinical practice, in several states in the American south west. I’ve seen scores of patients who have what most people would consider to be a highly active sex life, but I haven’t diagnosed anyone, ever, as being “addicted” to sex. I’ve publicly challenged the validity of sex addiction, and this has brought me trouble. I’ve been accused of being “evil”, “dangerous” and “heartless”. Sex addiction therapists have attacked me — I’ve even been accused of being a sex addict myself, told that I am in “denial” about the danger of my own sexual desires.

But the fact is, there’s no standard definition of sex addiction. It hasn’t been recognised as a bona fide disease by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the medical profession’s bible when it comes to mental health, so, instead, there are a dozen or so competing definitions and no two psychotherapists who apply the concept in the same way. A diagnosis is based on a therapist’s own idea of what constitutes an excessive amount of sex. But the mistake all these “experts” make is to try to apply the characteristics of drug and alcohol addiction to sex, claiming too much sex works like a drug, causing cravings, withdrawals, tolerance (the need for increasingly powerful “hits”) and a downward spiral in which sex “takes over their life”.

There are many embedded moral concepts in these definitions, all of which suggest that sex is dangerous, shouldn’t be “enjoyed too much” and that something that creates imbalance in a person’s life is inherently unhealthy. However, people like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa made single things the overwhelming focus of their lives — and yet these lives of “imbalance” are not judged unhealthy. Some “experts” have argued that sex addiction is more like a compulsion, others that it’s a reaction to sexual trauma, though there are many people who’ve been abused and have none of these problems, and many people who have sexual problems but were never abused.

Most importantly, unlike those who’ve become dependent on alcohol or drugs, an individual who has been labelled a sex addict faces no serious physical consequences if he or she suddenly goes “cold turkey”. Nobody in history has ever died from wanting sex and being unable to have it. Wanting something that you don’t have and being dissatisfied, even sexually, is a condition that people around the world deal with every day. They cope with it without losing control, without lying, cheating and manipulating, and without proclaiming themselves an addict.

Most in vogue is the theory that people can become addicted to pornography and, in particular, internet pornography. Men are supposedly lost to the powers of the internet, “clicking” themselves out of jobs, marriages and finances.

I don’t deny that porn is a powerful stimulant. It directly targets aspects of male sexuality that have driven men to seek sexual variety throughout the aeons. But is this addictive? There are no studies that say so. Porn exposure is almost universal in men and if it had the destructive effect that doomsayers claim, we would be awash with sex crime, and every day would look like the erotic chaos of Carnival and Mardi Gras. In fact, as porn access has increased, sex crime has decreased. We cannot say porn has caused this decrease, but we can say that the availability of porn through the internet does not cause inevitable, unstoppable loss of sexual control.

No one proves this point better than Phil Varone, a rock musician who used to play the drums for a band called Skid Row. As well as being an accomplished drummer, Varone has also been branded a sex addict — he has admitted to having sex with more than 3,000 women. But, on an American reality show, Celebrity Rehab, Varone denied he was an addict. “I never considered myself a sex addict because sex never screwed up the rest of my life or my ability to function at a high level,” he said.

Whatever one might think of Varone, you have to give him credit for one thing: he’s prepared to accept full responsibility for his actions. It’s the way a diagnosis of sex addiction is used to somehow absolve men and women (though mostly men) of all responsibility for their actions that is, in my opinion, the most malign feature of the sex addiction industry. Many of the true believers reject all the science and research that confronts their theories and work desperately to find ways to justify foolish, self-destructive choices and sexual behaviours. They blame these choices on neurochemicals, porn, a history of sexual abuse and myriad other factors, all of which can help us to understand how and why people make the choices they do, but none of which, ultimately, takes away control or personal responsibility.

In 2007, a 52-year-old Illinois public official called Felice “Phil” Vanaria pleaded guilty to misconduct and bribery after telling a massage worker that, if she performed oral sex on him, he would give her a job in county government. But the job didn’t exist. When she found this out, she filed charges. At trial, the official proclaimed himself a sex addict, and pleaded for treatment rather than punishment. He was sentenced to 30 months’ probation and ordered to undertake treatment for sex addiction, after which he was allowed to work again. Sex addiction is a fictional disorder, and should never be accepted as evidence in court. It’s not an excuse.

One patient of mine was diagnosed as a sex addict decades ago. Convicted of sex-related crimes, he was defended in court by a psychiatrist who said the man’s addiction to sex meant he wasn’t accountable for his behaviour. Years later, this man told me: “I don’t believe I was ever actually addicted to sex, though I think we often act impulsively, without considering the consequences of our choices.” People can choose to be in control of their behaviours. But it’s not just the supposed “sex addict” who thinks the diagnosis will make life easier. I’ve also spoken to many women who said their belief in sex addiction helped them tolerate their husband’s infidelity. It was easier for them to believe their other half was sick than to acknowledge he was selfish.

But where does this view of sexual desire — that it’s some sort of monster that cannot be controlled – come from?

In America, the centre of the sex addiction industry, it is the inevitable by-product of a long war against sex by social and religious institutions. As far back as the American Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, one of the founding fathers, declared that masturbation and sex were the cause of scourges and illnesses, including blindness. One hundred years later, physicians John Harvey Kellogg and Sylvester Graham believed spicy foods inflamed the senses and encouraged sex and masturbation. Bland foods like cornflakes and Graham crackers were actually developed to reduce the urge to masturbate.

After the liberated fun of the Seventies, the next decade brought with it a very sobering and frightening aspect of sexuality. The spread of HIV and Aids gave rise to a deathly fear of sex, particularly promiscuous and secretive sex. And in that fear, sex addiction was born.

It is this part of the sexual addiction myth that is the most dangerous. Sex addiction tells people that sexual desire is a destructive, weakening thing, and that the only way men can control their sexual desire is to excise it, and ring it with fear and prohibitions.

But sex is not a disease. In fact, it’s good for you. Research shows that men who have more sex live longer. Women who have more sex don’t live longer, but those who enjoy sex more do live longer (and apparently more enjoyable) lives. The more sex people have, the fewer days they take off from work. When sex is called a disease and too much is labelled as dangerous, it takes away a healthy part of life.

The concept of sex addiction is not going to go away. It’s too convenient an explanation. But the people who struggle with their sexual behaviours deserve to know that it is something they can control. I think it does them a disservice to tell them lies.

It also damages our views of what constitutes a healthy man. If male sexuality is inherently addictive and dangerous, then a healthy male is one who has no sexuality. That’s a frightening and emasculating concept. Treating sex as evil leads to more secrets, less control and less responsibility. I help patients identify how and why they came to be a person who made selfish, self-destructive choices that involved sex. I invite them to see their sexuality as something that is in their control, just like any other aspect of their life.

Tom, the patient who had been having secret sex in video booths, eventually admitted that his behaviour had been partly a result of stress and partly a result of a failure on his behalf to admit that he liked to have sex with both men and women. Eventually he decided he hadn’t been addicted to sex, but had been making bad decisions in his life, and sex was just a part of them. He resolved to confront his problems and deal with them. “Sex,” he admitted, “was just a distraction.”

David J Ley’s ‘The Myth of Sex Addiction’ (Rowman & Littlefield, £19.95) will be published in May


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Porn yesterday: Roman brothel tokens & the rise of erotic art

In case you are one of those individuals that assumes porn was invented by the internet, read on.

Jonathan Jones on Art Blog, the Guardian

Porn yesterday: Roman brothel tokens and the rise of erotic art

“Bronze discs depicting sex acts, like the one discovered in London, were used to hire prostitutes – and directly led to the birth of pornography during the Renaissance

Pound of flesh … a bronze Roman brothel token discovered in Putney, London, showing a man (left) and a woman having sex. Photograph: Museum of London

One of the oldest pieces of British pornographic art has just been discovered beside the river Thames. At first sight, the bronze disc found near Putney Bridge in London looks like an old coin – until you notice that it depicts a sex scene.

This type of bronze token with its erotic imagery was specially made to spend in ancient Roman brothels. The example found near Putney Bridge and given to the Museum of London is evidence that brothels in Roman Londinium were just as busy as they were in ancient Pompeii, where brothels and their lewd wall paintings are among the well-preserved everyday shops of a Roman town.

Yet this is not just a hint of life in Roman Britain. It is also a glimpse of a hidden art history. These Roman tokens, with their detailed depictions of sex acts, had a dramatic influence on the birth of modern pornography. While the Putney token has been hailed as a rare discovery from Roman Britain, such artefacts showing similar scenes were actually well known in Renaissance Italy. Scholars in the 16th century didn’t know what they were – maybe something to do with the reputed excesses of the emperor Tiberius? – but they did leap on evidence of ancient Roman erotic art. Anything from antiquity was considered noble in the Renaissance, so these “coins” (as they were misnamed) licensed saucy 16th-century art, including Giulio Romano’s famous series of pornographic illustrations I Modi.

It’s easy to see how these classical erotic images by Romano, engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi, emulate the images on tokens like the one from Roman London. In turn I Modi, in its printed form with pornographic poems added, became a bestseller all over Europe and returned to the London of Shakespeare. It set the style for a new erotic art.

As for Roman Britain, those invaders from the shores of the Mediterranean probably needed every reminder of home they could get. I spent an afternoon in the Christmas holidays looking at the ruins of a Roman bath in north Wales. Like the brothel token from Londinium, it shows how the Romans recreated the same way of life everywhere they went: here, Romans could sit in a heated bathhouse in the middle of what to them must have seemed an incredibly cold and bleak Welsh wilderness, and feel the warmth of the Mediterranean for a moment. The site hereabouts has only been partly excavated. Who knows – perhaps the bathers in wild Wales clutched brothel tokens of their own.”



Sex After 60? Yes, Yes, Yes! – The Ageless Sex Life

It is rather scary to think that sex after 60 is considered old. Frances, the nonagenarian who graces the Erotic Literary Salon, is turning 95 in March. She has a 97 year old boyfriend and is upset that there are no books or articles discussing sex for old people. Elderly is not a word in her vocabulary, but the challenge is on to write for this age group.

I’m presently writing a book on the Ageless Sex life, shall be published as ebook. Perhaps one chapter will be on sex after 90, certain it is far different than sex at 60, maybe better.

Read what one writer has to say about sex as we age.

Sex after 60? Yes, yes, yes!

It’s taboo, but my generation are having sex, says LINDA KELSEY – and enjoying it more than ever

By Linda Kelsey

Last updated at 8:19 AM on 2nd January 2012

Ageing gratefully: Linda Kelsey thinks sex is wasted on the young

The scene was set for seduction. Nothing elaborate, just some mood music — subtly sexy, classic Brazilian bossa nova — in the background, lights dimmed and a candle to cancel out at least some of the years.

I snaked towards him across the living room floor. Well, in truth, I hobbled, on account of the dodgy foot; these things happen as you age.

I beckoned kittenishly, or at least attempted to: ‘C’mon, let’s dance.’

Rare is the man who loves to dance, but this one does, so I knew I was on safe ground. As he swung his legs off the sofa, where they’d been propped to watch TV, he let out a thunderous: ‘Aaaaargh!’ And then another. And another.

I panicked. The man’s having a heart attack, I thought. He’s 57, he does no exercise — apart from dance — he doesn’t monitor his food intake and he’s having a heart attack.

But no, he was up on his feet, or at least on one foot, with the other leg stretched rigid in front of him, caught in a painful cramp. ‘It’s my thigh,’ he yelped, hopping and grimacing. ‘It’s never happened before.’

Oh, really? In an instant, I was massaging the limb, trying to coax it out of spasm.

‘Get off me!’ he screamed. ‘You’re making it worse.’

I began to snigger and so did he. As the cramp waned, our laughter filled the room. ‘Geriatric sex starts here,’ I snorted, giggling helplessly.

The music played on. The candle flickered. ‘Shall we have another go?’ he asked, determined to restore his pride.

‘Oh, all right,’ I replied, still breathless from laughter, wiping the tears and the mascara from my face with the back of my hand.

‘You look like a panda,’ he grinned as he surveyed my two black-rimmed eyes.

‘A sexy panda, I hope,’ I replied.

And so we began to dance…

Laughter is always an aphrodisiac. And as you get older, when it comes to sex, a sense of humour is essential.

I am divorced with a child in his 20s, and I am in a relationship. This year I also turn 60. In old-fashioned parlance, I’m an OAP; in new, a senior citizen. I’m looking forward to free prescriptions, discounts at my local cinema — and lots of sex.

I suspect that sounds slightly shocking, but when it comes to putting my head above the duvet and speaking out for older people and sex, I’m shameless.

‘As you get older, when it comes to sex, a sense of humour is essential’ 

In an age in which you can be open about virtually all your lusty persuasions, sexuality in later life — especially for women — is one of the last taboos.

If the airbrushed images of young women are harmful to the body confidence of girls, then surgically remodelled older celebrities make real older women, with their time-worn wrinkles and fleshy folds, wonder if they should batten down their sexual hatches altogether.

And in a society obsessed with youth it doesn’t help that, according to a survey by The Forster Agency earlier this year, a quarter of 18 to 30-year-olds think sex after 60 is wrong, disgusting or only for ‘dirty old men’.

Of course, I accept that to an adolescent, the notion of their parents having sex is always going to be a cringe-making scenario, but it angers me that it should be the view of society as a whole.

To put sex back on the agenda for what they term ‘older’ people (in their definition anyone over 50), the Family Planning Association has felt the need to issue a mission statement to the effect that older people ‘have the right to sexual health and well-being, and should be acknowledged as sexual beings’.

It believes older people’s sexuality is often ignored, neglected and stigmatised, and should instead be viewed positively. Also, that there needs to be a balanced and realistic representation in the media of older people’s experiences of sexual activity, as well as in professional resources and sexual health literature.

No age barrier: Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin discover passion later in life in the film It’s Complicated

And it does seem that things may be changing. Last week I went to see former Cagney & Lacey star Sharon Gless in The Round-Heeled Woman at the Aldwych Theatre. The play opens provocatively, with a woman in her 60s laying on a bed having phone sex.

Based on the memoir of Jane Juska, an American school teacher of English literature, the play chronicles her experiences of sexual experimentation in her late 60s after three decades of celibacy. She places an ad in the New York Review of Books stating: ‘Before I hit 67 next March I’d like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.’

Dozens of replies and several sexual encounters later — by turn sad, satisfying, humiliating and hilarious — Jane knows she has unlocked her body and done the right thing for her self-esteem and her sense of being a woman.

‘Sex is about the desire to be desired, the need to be acknowledged as a woman. And that’s not something that changes as we age’

The audience — 80 per cent female — were unlocked as well, cheering and whooping as Gless took her final bow. It may have less than wowed the critics, but the aged 40-plus women in the audience lapped up every self-affirming moment of witnessing a woman who, after decades of repression following various traumatic emotional episodes, gives free rein to her innermost desires.

Given that I went to work on Cosmopolitan magazine at the age of 19 and eventually became its editor, sex has always had a dual role in my life — spanning the personal and the professional. I’ve never been embarrassed to talk about it. Yet, curiously, until recently, sex and I have always been uneasy bedfellows.

I started early — at 16 — and with a degree of enthusiasm. But I always felt I never quite got the hang of it between the sheets. You can’t have great sex unless you lose yourself completely. I was too acutely aware of myself. And while you don’t have to love your body, you do have to feel comfortable with it.

Men can sometimes be cruel in bed with the things they say. And when you’re none too sure about your body to begin with, it doesn’t take much to send you down a road of self-loathing.

In my 20s, I once had sex (and it was only once) with an ear, nose and throat surgeon. ‘Your breasts…’ he hesitated thoughtfully, as if to conjure up the perfect, poetic words to describe them as we lay in what was supposed to be a post-coital haze. ‘Would you like me to recommend you to someone who could make them bigger?’

Bucking the trend: Actress Sharon Gless is currently showing older women can be sexy in the play A Round-Heeled Woman

And around the same time, as I undressed in front of another lover for the first time, he appraised me like a lab specimen, sighed and said: ‘My Charlotte, she was so slim-hipped.’ Mourning your ex’s superior vital statistics during foreplay takes the heat out of things. I put my jeans back on, made my excuses and left.

Perhaps it’s a measure of my low sexual self-esteem that I can remember those criticisms with crystal clarity, while the compliments men paid me — and there were quite a few — floated away. I dismissed their comments as flattery, while I internalised the criticism as proof of my fundamental flaws.

Time and experience — including a 23-year relationship with my husband that began in my early 30s and during which time the sex was pretty good until the relationship itself began to falter — have helped me conquer those insecurities to the point where, paradoxically, though aesthetically my body is far ‘worse’ than it used to be, I am more comfortable with it than I have ever been. And the result is that I am so much more confident in bed at 59 than at any point in my youth and middle years — the married years included.

More enthusiastic, too, now that  I’m no longer suffering the exhaustion of years of juggling work and parenthood, and the more debilitating symptoms of the menopause are behind me. Of course, firm young flesh has the edge on flabby old skin; there’s no denying which is the more pleasing to behold.

When it comes to sexual fantasies, what you conjure up inside your head is unlikely to involve an elderly twosome: him with paunch and moobs, her with saggy bits and dimpled bum.


Helen Mirren has appeared naked in eight films, and said of one sex scene: ‘I didn’t want it to be a fake romantic, soft-lensed moment’

And yet, when it comes to long-standing partners of 30 or 40 years standing, if you love them and still desire them, you can forgive their flesh most things (except a lack of personal hygiene).

Sex isn’t just about the act itself, it’s about the desire to be desired, the need to be acknowledged as a woman. And that’s not something that changes as we age.

‘I met this chap the day after my 60th birthday in the cafe I go to most days,’ one happily married friend confessed to me recently. We became friends and he clearly wanted more, though I wasn’t going there. But I so loved that feeling of being desired.

‘I found myself taking more effort with my appearance. I even realised I was walking differently, feeling really alert to my sexuality.

Wow! This guy didn’t want me for my mind, he wanted me for my body. Thirty years ago, I’d have been in a full feminist fury. But at 60, to be wanted for your body is just so flattering. It even perked things up with my husband.’

When my husband left me — I was 55 — I was surprised, despite a libido that seemed  to have died as our marriage fell apart, by the stirrings of sexual longing that welled up in me.

I had the sense that sexual passion would bring me back to life, back to a vitality that had been lost. And yet, it seemed impossible. I felt too old, too ugly.

There were the scars from a succession of operations, none of the cosmetic variety. What man would want me? And after 23 years with the same partner, would I even know how to behave in bed?

I enjoyed men’s company, though, and I did some dating. Sex, while filling my thoughts, was out of the question for almost a year. And then I met someone at a friend’s party who had an ease about him that made me feel instantly relaxed.

After a sporadic, three-month courtship I realised I was ready. The night he came back to my place it was all so easy.

These days I find sex more fun and less inhibited. It’s partly to do with being with someone who is tactile and sensual, and comfortable with his own body. It’s partly his acceptance of me as I am, the good, the bad and the indifferent bits.

My libido is probably greater than it’s ever been. And I say this not as a boast, but to demonstrate that sexual appetite has very little to do with age and everything to do with the person you’re with and how you feel about yourself.

As the over-60s are the only age group in which divorce rates are still climbing, the number of people seeking new relationships in later life is inevitably growing, too.

Some of my friends, newly divorced in their 50s and 60s, say they’re done with sex. But others express the view that sexual sparks would be a  pre-requisite for any new partnership they might form.

For those who are married and have been so for several decades, regular sex remains key to a happy old age.

A recent study of married couples over 65 found almost 80 per cent who had sex more than once a  month were ‘very happy’ with their life in general, compared with 59 per cent who reported no sexual activity in the past 12 months and 40 per cent who had been celibate for more than a year.

With my 60th birthday just around the corner, I find myself asking  the following question: is it just possible that sex, like youth, is wasted on the young?