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Sex Addiction - There is More to The Story

By Stefanie Carnes, Ph.D., CSAT-S - 2017-01-12

Summary

Sex can be every bit as addictive as alcohol and drugs--and a great deal of research backs up this assertion.

"Sex addicts focus a higher-than-normal share of their attention on addiction-related cues (i.e., pornography), doing so in the same basic ways and to the same basic degree as other addicts."

Main Document

A small group of sexologists in the psychotherapeutic community is espousing the mistaken belief that sex addiction is not a real disorder. This misconception is a prejudice Certified Sex Addiction Therapists have battled for decades. In truth, sex can be every bit as addictive as alcohol and drugs--and a great deal of research backs up this assertion.

Despite an increasing array of neurobiological and social science research that clearly supports the concept of sexual addiction, a small but vocal group of misguided professionals insist sexual addiction is not real. In fact, "even though all major professional organizations in the field of sexual health agree sex addiction exists, there's no official diagnosis for sexual disorder," says Stefanie Carnes, Ph.D., CSAT-S and president of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP), a company that provides training and materials to addiction professionals.

Even with much research summarized in Harvard professor Martin Kafka's 2010 position paper arguing in favor of Hypersexual Disorder as an official diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic bible, there are "sexual health" professionals who choose to bolster their misguided arguments with poorly conducted research, coupled with confusing statements conflating the term "sex addiction" with phrases like "sex negative" and "1950s sexual conservatism." Basically, sex addiction deniers seem to think sex addiction treatment forces preconceived moral, cultural, or religious values onto vulnerable people already tortured by sexual shame. However, that's not the type of care that properly trained sex addiction therapists provide.

"The simple reality is neuroscientists worldwide are studying the actions and brain responses of sex and porn addicts, comparing those reactions and responses to what occurs with other addicts (usually substance abusers). There is an accumulation of compelling evidence suggesting sex and porn addiction manifests in the brain in much the same way as any other addiction--the only real difference being the substance/behavior of choice," says Carnes.

Ji-Woo Seok and Jin-Hun Sohn of the Brain Research Institute at Chungnam National University in South Korea recently published sex addiction research that parallels the findings of earlier sex addiction studies--conducted by Dr. Valerie Voon (University of Cambridge, UK) and an array of highly regarded researchers--on attentional bias and neurological response. Other recent sex addiction research led by Paula Banca (University of Coimbra, Portugal) looks at sex and porn addicts' preference for novelty.

The studies reveal:

So, without a diagnosis we are left with confusing colloquial labels to describe the individuals dealing with a pattern of out-of-control sexual behaviors. Along with this confusing nomenclature, without a diagnosis, individuals with this condition will continue to be misunderstood, and clinicians will continue to deny sex and porn can be an addiction, leading to treatment failure for many clients.

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