Thursday, January 6, 2011

More on Sex Addiction in Sex-positive Culture

I've been talking about this subject online in several different forums, and wow, does it make some people cranky - not only that, but some also outright reject the idea that sex addiction even exists. If only.

As irritating as it is to know how much criticism and false accusations are made toward we in the sex-positive world, it's easy to question the concept of sex addiction. But it's a very real emotional illness for a lot of people that eventually turns their world upside down. Many desperately wish they could stop but find that they can't. Instead they compulsively take greater and greater amounts of risk to get a very temporary sense of satisfaction that soon turns to guilt and shame. There is a general sense that if people *really* knew who they were, they would be rejected and ostracized.

This is not just true of vanilla mainstreamers but is also just as true for some in the sex-positive world. In many cases our more open attitudes is what draws sex addicts to the BDSM, swing and polyamory communities. It's a cycle that keeps repeating itself as feelings of shame cause anxiety to build which acts as a trigger to act out again. And around and around it goes.

The risks are significant:

• Getting STIs and bringing them home to unsuspecting partners;

• Being arrested having public sex or hiring a pro off the street;

• Getting caught surfing porn and masturbating at work and losing one's job;

• The financial drain on the family by paying for pros, porn, phone sex, etc.;

• Loss of time spent acting out needed for maintaining healthy relationships;

• Humiliation at having one's addiction publicly exposed - you don't have to be Tiger Woods or David Duchovny to have that problem - and to friends and family; and

• Risk of losing intimate partners who feel betrayed about what has been going on without their knowledge or consent.

Sex addiction is growing at a rapid pace due to the easy availability of sexual goods, services and hookups via the internet. Yes, we all know that these can be used in healthy ways. If you do any of this and it doesn't cause you problems, they you aren't a sex addict. You're sex positive - good for you!

Still, this affliction most definitely exists in our own communities, likely in much larger numbers than any of us suspect. It doesn't get talked about by the addicts because of fear of being ostracized.  Their partners don't talk about it due to the shame and self-doubt it raises for them about their own desirability. Codependence is rampant, just as much as with any other kind of addiction.

This is not to raise fear but instead awareness and compassion for those who suffer from feeling out of control around their sexuality, and for their partners who must find a way to deal with betrayal and doubt about themselves and about their partner's love and commitment. If you are an SA or the partner of one and would like to talk, confidentiality is assured, just drop me a line at


Drake said...

Some argues that sex addiction only exists because of the governing moral standards that are based on culture or religious beliefs. Oftentimes, moral standards dictate what the acceptable behavior is but this could change anytime. The strongest argument for this is the way diverse cultures view morality and sex. Demonizing sexual activities only because it is unacceptable by the current culture is therefore unjust.

Anonymous said...

Drake do you not understand the definition? Sex addiction, like any other compulsion/addiction is an outward manifestation of inner turmoil. I know a lot of sex positive people take umbrage at the concept of sex addiction, but I suspect those denying or making excuses are really addicts themselves. Why deny something that is obvious unless one is already accustomed to living in denial?

Anita Wagner Illig said...

I'll also add that sex addiction is NOT liking to have a lot of sex, or liking kinky kinds of consensual activities. It's about compulsion. Just like a substance abuser who is addicted, if the "addict" wants to stop but finds themselves continuing to do things that are increasingly risky anyway, that's a hallmark of sex addiction, too. Some prefer the term sexual compulsion. Whatever you call it, there has to be a component of potential negative consequences that the compulsive temporarily ignores, like surfing porn at work knowing if caught one would get fired, or getting busted hiring a sex worker, which if made public could have negative repercussions on reputation, job security, relationships, etc. The behavior tends to be cyclical, i.e. after acting out the compulsive swears to themselves they won't do it again because afterward the anxiety raised around the risks taken is too much. But after a while, the cycle begins again, and the compulsive at some point realizes they are in hell, continuing to do what doesn't really make them happy and nevertheless unable to resist the compulsion.

The old joke is that to a lot of people who are sex negative, a sex addict is someone who wants more sex than they do. Men especially have been hurt by such accusations, but regardless of gender, this has caused a lot of pain and resentment about the ideal of sex addiction also.