Sexual addiction, also known as hypersexuality, is a puzzling concept. Is it an excuse for people to engage in numerous sexual encounters with reckless disregard for their own health and that of others, or is it an actual disorder that is beyond a person’s control? I’ve always been a skeptic. What a convenient way to explain one’s philandering to a spouse. And from 1990 – into the 21st century it seems we have to developed the “it’s not my fault, it’s a disorder” mentality to escape responsibility for irresponsible behaviour.
To wit, the infamous incident where Mel Gibson was arrested or drunk driving and made slanderous comments against Jews. Later his explanation to the public was that his comments were “blurted out in a moment of insanity.” Does alcohol impairment qualify as insanity? To be sure, Gibson was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder some time before the incident, however if he was (presumably) in treatment, what was the impetus for the insanity claim?
However I digress. This is about sexual addiction not Gibson and his drunken rant about Jews. I compared the definition of a general addiction to that of sexual addiction in order to highlight similarities and differences between the two:
- is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences
- is marked by two properties that characterize all addictive stimuli:
- they are reinforcing (i.e., person will seek repeated exposure to them)
- and intrinsically rewarding (i.e., something perceived as being positive or desirable
- people who report being unable to control their sexual urges, behaviors, or thoughts
- some specialists do not believe sexual addiction exists as a clinical entity (it isn’t in the DSM 5)
- No diagnostic proposal for sex addiction has been adopted into any official government diagnostic manual
- There are two models that are used to classify SA, with the following model being the most similar to the characteristics of drug addictions, in that SA is both
- reinforcing and
In spite of the findings that no government diagnostic manual classifies sexual addiction as an entity, and many psychiatric specialists do not believe in sexual addiction, community groups exist that consist of twelve-step programs for sex addiction, and clinical treatment. Such programs include Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and others. That “sex addicts” attend these groups suggests they do feel overwhelmed by their sexual impulses and are intent on controlling them. That sounds a lot like a drug or gambling addictions.
The thing about SA that makes me skeptical is that sexual addiction meets the criteria for an addiction because it is “reinforcing and rewarding.” No kidding. But picking up a bottle of alcohol and drinking it alone, or putting a needle in your arm, compared to the intimate, premeditated act of engaging in sex with another person are very different behaviours. Perhaps two other labels for this behaviour are playboy and philanderer. The drug addictions I understand. The jury’s out on SA.
Do people exhibit paraphilia-related disorders in terms of their sexual behaviour? They certainly do: fetishes, BDSM, nymphomania, Don Juaniam, uncontrollable sexual thoughts, voyeurism, exhibition, and many more are proof of paraphilia-related disorders. However it is proven that many of these behaviours aren’t genetic as in the case of drug and alcohol addictions; they are learned.
For instance, the adult who engages in masochism was once a childhood victim of a parent’s extreme abuse, followed by remorse and affection for the abuse. In this manner, the child developed the concept that pain and love were inseparable. As an adult, the two result in sexual arousal. James Dean is a famous example of a masochist although information supporting this allegation tends to be obscure.
Sexual sadism is expressed in two different ways: with mutual consent between the “victim” and the sadist; non-consensual sadism resulting in injury or death. Mild sadism involves role play, in which the two participants agree beforehand on which acts are acceptable. This is another reason why I believe SA is unlikely. This isn’t compulsive or out of control. It is very much in control of the “sadist.” The behaviour is within the sadist’s control, unlike the characteristics of drug, alcohol and gambling addictions.
Voyeurism – this is a complex form of sexual behavior. Often voyeurs are comorbid with drug and alcohol addictions which is a rarity among people with other paraphilias. Also, pornography can significantly decrease the incidence of voyeurism, which suggests to me that such an easy substitute does indeed suggest that voyeurism is an act that is well within the voyeur’s control.
Exhibitionism – the flip side of the voyeurism coin, exhibitionists like to expose their genitalia, buttocks or genitals to unsuspecting victims. This is non-consensual and is usually meant to elicit a distressed reaction or an amused reaction from strangers and acquaintances. Marilyn Monroe is a famous example of an exhibitionist. Her famous skirt scene, where her skirt flies up over her head during a publicity stunt in New York City, is an example of her exhibitionism. Also Monroe was known to walk around her house naked even in front of guests.
Exhibitionism is generally one of the least harmful of all sexual paraphilias. And evidence of self-control stems from the ability for many “exhibitionists” to merely fantasize about exhibitionism, rather than engaging in the act. Exclusive exhibitionists: These offenders cannot form romantic relationships and cannot engage in normal sexual intercourse. Exhibitionism is the sole outlet for sexual gratification. Oddly, exclusive exhibitionists haven’t been diagnosed, but based on the theory of paraphilic equivalence, clinicians believe it can be predicted that these exhibitionists do exist in society.
Autoerotic Asphyxiation Disorder – , also known as hypoxiphilia, is a form of masochism. It is almost exclusively practiced by males. It consists of using some means of cutting of one’s oxygen supply, often through ligature strangulation, as a means of achieving orgasm. It is a very dangerous practice. The behaviour that results from intense and recurring fantasies or sexual urges over at least six months must cause significant clinical stress and/or impairment (social, occupational, other) in order to receive this diagnosis. Although some males experiment with it only periodically, the majority of men who engage in this behaviour do so on a regular basis. Sometimes AAD practitioners have otherwise healthy sexual relationships. There is no comorbidity with mental or personality. Although cures are possible, few people are motivated to cease the behaviour, although this is within their control. A famous example of this phenomenon was Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of the 1980’s rock band INXS, who accidentally asphyxiated himself to death through AAD. A fictional example of this behaviour was included in the Robin Williams’ film Worlds Greatest Dad.
List of Famous Sexual Addicts (if you believe in SA)
- John F Kennedy
- Tiger Woods
- Donald Trump
- David Duchovny
- Jesse James (no, not the gun slinger)
- Charlie Sheen
- Kanye West
- Michael Douglas
- Billy Bob Thornton
- Kari Anne Paniche
- Jenny Ketcham
- Jenna Jameson
- Angelina Jolie
- Brittany Spears (oops she did it again)
- James Lovett
Frankly, I think most of these people have sex with lots of people because they can, not because their behaviour is out of their control. It’s the wealth, prestige and fame that gives them access to countless sexual flings, whereas the lack of the aforementioned would likely limit their partners – and their behaviours.
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