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Dr Eve: 'Sex Addiction Does Not Exist'

Sex addiction is a label used by rich, powerful men to avoid punishment for sexually violent behaviour.

04/11/2017 12:25 SAST | Updated 04/11/2017 12:25 SAST
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Harvey Weinstein is not a sex addict. I can say that with certainty. My statement is rooted in the fact that there is no evidence-based clinical diagnosis for "sex addiction". Ask anyone who has scoured the DSM5 [the American Psychiatric Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; 5th Edition"] in the hope of finding a label to pin on themselves or a beloved.

It just isn't there. Perhaps that is why, after one week in a sex-addiction rehabilitation centre, Weinstein is said to have been "cured". What were they treating? And more relevantly, why was he not sent to a prison for abusing and raping women –– because that is his crime, not so called "sex addiction"?

When working on the 2013 DSM5, professionals dedicated hours of debate to whether or not to include "hyper-sexuality" as an addiction and give it a separate diagnostic category. They concluded that there is just not enough evidence to warrant calling it an "addiction", so it was left out.

The omission was much to the chagrin of a multibillion-dollar industry that depends on people –– mostly men, like Weinstein, Michael Douglas, Tiger Woods –– being diagnosed as "sex addicts" due to their excessive sexual thoughts or behaviours. These men -- or their partners -- describe a compulsive obsession with sexual behaviours that interferes in their everyday living. And they are offered very expensive "treatment programmes" to cure their "addiction".

I see the term "sex addict" as a stigmatising label for anyone who deviates from the heteronormative model of sexuality. In fact, I would lose my licence to practise as a Couple and Sex Therapist, were I to "treat" any person as a sex addict. My licensing body, namely the American Association of Sex Educators, Counsellors and Therapists (AASECT) put out a Position Statement that forbids me from doing this, believing as they do that it would constitute unethical practice –– since "sex addiction" does not exist as a diagnosis.

I ask you to position yourself: Do you identify as a man having a high level of sexual behaviour, but identify as not addicted to sex? Or would you identify yourself as a "sex addict"? Do you experience sexual behaviour, urges, fantasies that make you feel out of control? Do you feel you have too little restraint over your behaviour, urges and fantasies? Or do you have sexual behaviour and fantasies that do not fall squarely in the heteronormative model of sexuality, and make you feel shameful? Do you think you are abusing women or men with your sexuality?

Patrick Carnes, father of the concept of "sex addiction", put the fear of God into people who have any deviation from the norm by constructing a sex-addiction model that promises progression from legal sexual activities to illegal practices, then into dangerous and extreme sexual activity, culminating in sexual offending, such as rape. He divided the world into "good" sex and "bad" sex, confusing and shaming many men and women who practise their own particular form of consensual sex.

There is no progression into the darkness of "bad" sex. There is, however, a large group of men who abuse women and blame it on their "sexual addiction". They claim they have out-of-control sexual behaviour. The "addiction" model has given them language through which they can escape their dastardly deeds of violence.

What does it mean to be "out of control", sexually? Addicts will tell you that they have an inability to control their sexual choices. I ask you to decide whether or not "sex addiction" exists... or whether it is a label used by men to avoid punishment for sexually violent behaviour.

Lets look at some scenarios:

  1. A powerful, entitled man interacts professionally with a woman. He feels fully in control of himself and his sexuality. He may not even feel horny. But he does feel his power. He has the opportunity, invites her to his room and rapes her. This is a planned action. There was no lack of impulse control. No addictive behaviour. This was a clear act of violence. Nothing sexy here at all.
  2. A simple man, who is in charge of little girls as they cross the street, gets a uniform and feels his power. He is totally in control of himself and in time, realises how in control he is of his charges. He carefully, thoughtfully, strategically plans how to rape each one of those 87 girls. Nothing out-of-control in his behaviour here, and nothing sexy. By the way, it's interesting that the offender in that case was not offered sex-addiction treatment -- is it because this is reserved for privileged, mainly White males?
  3. A husband has a higher sexual desire than his wife. That's it. Nothing pathological about this. He labels himself as being "unable to control" his sexuality. He cites his daily porn viewing as evidence of his sex addiction. He blames his visits to sex workers on his wife, because he "needs" sex. He feels entitled to take sex from his wife whenever he wants. This is strategic, controlled and deliberate sexual violence. No addiction here.

My wish: call yourself what you like -- a sex/love addict, hyper-sexual, obsessive-compulsive. However, don't let this excuse your violent, non-consensual sexual behaviour towards men, women or children. A man who feels internally out of control, and feels in control when he can strategically violate women, needs serious therapeutic intervention, not a 12-step sex-addict programme.