Sex addiction – a primer

People talk about sex addiction like it’s a thing. Every so often, I offer my opinions – opinions which evolve.

Here is where I stand today.

First, a couple of objective, indisputable facts:

1) “Sex addiction” is not a psychiatric diagnosis. Nor is any other “behavioral addiction,” such as gambling, overeating, spending, or what have you. (I’m not saying that it’s not a real malady – I’m saying that, in the DSM-V, the current guide to psychiatric diagnosis in the United States, it is not an approved diagnosis.)

2) When people speak of “sex addiction,” they are speaking of many different things. There is not any one ailment that is universally agreed to constitute “sex addiction.”

3) A sex addict is someone who disapproves of her or his own desires and behaviors. That same person, freed not of the behaviors but of the judgment, would be no more a sex addict than the same person, freed of the behaviors themselves. And, in the same vein…

4) One person’s healthy sexuality is another’s sex addiction – the range of human sexual desire and behavior is so great as to render almost anything healthy (or pathological) in the eyes of some or other observer. In my time in twelve-step groups, I encountered people who “suffered from same-sex attraction,” and considered themselves addicts. In my time out of those groups/rooms, I have met incredibly promiscuous people who did not experience their sexuality as problematic.

5) There is no “treatment” for “sex addiction” that has demonstrated any significant positive results. Regardless of what anyone tells you. There is no evidentiary basis for the efficacy of 12-step programs, or inpatient programs, or anything….

And now, a couple of opinions:

1) The word “addiction” obscures more than it reveals, conjuring images of junkies, of people ruled by their bodily appetites for poisons.

2) There are unquestionably people who experience their sexual behaviors as existing beyond their control. I have been one of them.

3) There is a neuro-chemical sense in which it is possible to develop a relationship to the stimulation provided by sex structurally similar to that provided by addictive drugs.

4) The “first step” of the twelve steps – “I am powerless over sex and my life has become unmanageable” – unquestionably describes the experience of many people when it comes to sex. For those of us unfortunate enough for that to be true, we definitely need help. (And for me, simply reading the first step was enormously empowering.)

5) The whole “sex addiction” debate is unfortunate, at best. The bottom line is that when our notion of who we wish we were comes into conflict with who we actually are (what we desire, what we do), we suffer. This is not a suffering unique to (sex) addiction – it is in fact the root of much human suffering.

If you are one of those unlucky people (as I have been) whose sexual desires conflict with your ideal notion of yourself, if you are someone who has developed the habit of using sex to medicate your emotions, there is hope. The hope doesn’t lie in finding some “cure.”

It lies in understanding yourself, your motivations, your behaviors. And accepting yourself.


  1. Thanks for this excellent post, you’ve described my experience precisely, right down to the experiences I had with 4 years of “conversion therapy,” where I saw my same-sex attraction as an addiction/compulsion. Once I came out, I no longer consciously viewed it that way, but I have struggled to make sense of my sexual behavior after coming out….which led me back to a sex addiction framework. After almost 5 years in the sexual recovery world, it’s dawning on me that I’m using the same framework to define my sexual behavior now, sans the overt homophobia.

    I am deeply grateful for my experience in sexual recovery, but I’m also aware that I’ve always viewed my sexuality through a lens of fear and pathology, and I’ve never really asked myself the question, “what does sex mean to me?” I’ve never given myself permission to answer that question, mainly out of a deep fear of being seen as perverted, disgusting, etc. But it seems to me that it’s the key to any kind of sexual integrity, not to mention acceptance.

    I’m grateful to have stumbled across your blog, because I haven’t found anything else out here that approaches the topic in such a thoughtful, humane, and nuanced way. Kudos and peace!

    1. Thanks so much for your response. One of the things that makes me sad is that there is so little nuanced description of recovery among addicts and those among us who struggle with compulsion/addiction/out-of-control behaviors. The AA mantra – “a simple program for complicated people” – is really an authoritarian prohibition on questioning and, to be sure, many addicts desperately need to be saved from their questioning impulse.

      But not all of us.

      Like you, I’m grateful for my experience in sexual recovery, but even more grateful for my experience subsequent to my experience there, where I’ve come to appreciate myself and my sexual desires.

      Thanks again!

      1. You’re very welcome. By the way, I purchased a copy of the Monogamy book, and I’m loving it. I welcome any other resources you think would be useful. Actually, I’m in the process of starting an informal group for guys in sexual recovery who are looking for something more. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

  2. First, a disclaimer: I don’t consider myself a sex addict,. Rather I am someone who has suffered greatly from being in a relationship with a sex addict , that is, what you refer to elsewhere here as a CPOS? That being said, take my comments with a grain of salt.

    I agree with your view that hope comes from understanding yourself, your behaviors and motivations, and accepting those — but I think that’s only a first step on the road to a “cure.” You mentioned in a related post that your higher power cared about a much more basic concern: that you not harm anyone (including yourself) through your sexuality. That, IMHO, is the concept of sexual integrity — and the elusive “cure” of which you speak.

    Curing sex addiction isn’t just about accepting your behavior — it’s about taking responsibility for it as well — and cleaning up the mess you made along your path to wellness.

    1. I agree, about one-half, with what you write.

      Taking responsibility is helpful, and necessary if one is to be a good person, but I’m not sure, actually, that it’s necessary if one’s sole goal is to liberate oneself from the prison of repetitive compulsive acting out.

      I’m not really a big fan of the “cure” concept – it implies sex addiction is a “disease,” and notwithstanding the lingo of the recovery movement, it just isn’t. And as such, it doesn’t have a “cure.”

  3. just don’t know why there is such a term called sex addiction as if sex is something that is bad, to me, sex addiction is a myth, some people do enjoy sex a lot that they want more of it, why call them sex addict?

  4. An illuminating post.
    Your last sentence speaks volumes and shows a real understanding of who you are.

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