Medicine or moralism: A psychotherapist questions "sex addiction"

Can you actually be addicted to sex? Marty Klein doesn't think so. In an interesting article at The Humanist, he critiques the diagnostic criteria and common treatments behind this tabloid-ready psychological problem.


  1. Addicted it a happy word that allows people to avoid taking ownership of their choices.
    Its not my fault I’m $50,000 in credit card debt, I’m addicted to shopping.
    Its not my fault my kids fat, they are addicted to Happy Meal toys.

    1. You’re right, people are diluting the seriousness of the word “addicted” when they throw it around to refer to any behaviour that’s considered undesirable. It makes it that much harder for addicts to be taken seriously by their peers when they are facing a challenge.

  2. Any behavior can be sought out obsessively to the detriment of the seeker or their friends & family, and their ability to be happy & healthy. However, I think there does need to be a distinction between addictions that have a chemical consumption component and those that are behavioral in nature, even if only to ensure that both types receive proper & appropriate courses of treatment. 

    1.  It’s all chemically related. If you are addicted to coke, you’re addicted to an exogenous chemical. If you are addicted to sex, it’s an endogenous chemical.

  3. It is stunning to me how someone without a sex addiction can simply say “there is no such thing”.  An addition can be partially defined as something that you don’t want, can’t control, interferes with your life, that you always regret, that you wish you could change, that when you’re feeling good and clear you say “i absolutely do NOT want to do that” yet somehow you find that you do it, then later say “i do not know what i was thinking, i can’t believe i did that”.  Speaking as a recovering addict, it’s ALL of those things.

    1. Back in the day, didn’t they call that compulsion or disruptive behavior? I was taught very long ago that addiction was something that had a physically addictive element that changed your brain chemistry, but repetitive behaviors such as gambling, shopping, or sex were behavior disorders. Just as intrusive, and just as unwanted, but a different animal when it came to treatment. 

      1. Also neurotic behaviour, and conditioned behaviour and I’m probably forgetting a few.

        “Just as intrusive, and just as unwanted, but a different animal when it came to treatment.”

        Exactly! Otherwise we’d have methadone analogues for sex and warcraft and gambling (which nobody advocates for).

    2. It would help to read the article first before leaping into the comments section, because it does address this.

  4. The origin of “sex addiction”: NOT in sex therapy

    Perhaps the most interesting thing about the sex addiction movement—and certainly the most telling—is that it did not arise from the field of sex therapy or any other sexuality-related field. Rather, it was started in 1983 by Patrick Carnes, whose background is in counselor education and organizational development. He claims no training in human sexuality.

    “Sex addiction” has been adopted enthusiastically by the addiction community, and to a lesser extent by the marriage and family profession—the latter historically undertrained and uncomfortable with sexuality. You can, for example, become a licensed marriage counselor without ever hearing the words vibrator, clitoris, spanking, tongue-kissing, or panties during your education.

    Almost thirty years after its invention by Carnes, “sex addiction” is still not a popular concept in the fields of sex therapy, sex education, or sex research. Of course, the media loves it, decency groups love it, and those who identify as some other kind of addict (alcohol, food, drugs) love it, especially if they’re fans of the Twelve Steps.

      well, for one thing, “panties” is something i just don’t say– and i curse like a sailor– but the article seems to place emphasis on sex as behavior separate from a specific disorder, calling up ocd as not being an addiction to hand-washing, for example… also saying that some of these ‘addicts’ are just narcissists– but not all.

  5. Don’t know how this bodes for either side of the argument, but I’m strokin it right now.

  6. Given Marty Klein’s history of claiming a woman who was handed naked photos by strangers after giving a professional talk was overreacting in saying it was harassment and wrong to be offended by it, I am highly dubious of his take on anything on the topic of sexual morality

    To all the people claiming it shouldn’t be considered an addiction because of the possible implications of that classification:
    1. We don’t and shouldn’t classify mental (or physical) disorders based on what you think people will do with the diagnoses. If something’s an addiction, it’s an addiction, regardless of what that diagnosis means to the people who have it.
    2. People aren’t afraid to tell patients they have diabetes because they won’t be able to control their diets since the diabetes is out of their control. Rather, they recognize that fully understanding what’s wrong is the best way to get control of a difficult medical problem like that. The same goes for mental illnesses, if you fully understand the problem and make plans for it, you can deal with it. Asking people with mental illness to add even more guilt and shame to their problems just because you think they don’t get enough under the current diagnoses is pretty messed up.
    3. As someone with a history of alcohol abuse (something that often has a pretty heavily genetic and physical component), I can say for a fact that no one has ever told me that because it’s an addiction I can drink as much as I want and I’m not responsible for my actions. Before I quit, I was frequently told to stop drinking by doctors. The only thing a diagnosis changed is that I found medications and therapies that work and studies on my problem.

    I hear alllllll the time that calling something an addiction is an excuse or lets someone off the hook but I have yet to see people excusing and letting addicts off the hook for anything. Drinking and doing drugs to excess is a pretty damn easy way to lose everything important to you. It’s not like we’re watching episodes of Intervention and thinking how good they have it.

    The whole “IT’S NOT AN ADDICTION, YOU’RE JUST A TERRIBLE PERSON WHO DOES TERRIBLE THINGS AND YOU CAN’T HAVE AN ADDICTION BECAUSE THAT LETS YOU OFF THE HOOK, YOU NAUGHTY PERSON, YOU” attitude relies on so many misconceptions and does nothing to fix the underlying problem. And it takes a really ignorant person to think having an addiction gets you any sort of slack in our society. The best you get is pity.

Comments are closed.