Sex Addiction: A Psychological Disorder or an Excuse for Infidelity in a Relationship?
There has been a lot of speculation in recent years as to whether sex can be considered an addiction, especially when there is Infidelity in a relationship. There have been many examples in the news of celebrities suddenly “going to rehab” after such an incidence in their relationship. There are now more treatment centers that focus exclusively on this diagnosis than ever before. This is surprising considering it is currently not recognized as a diagnosis at all in the psychology field. Has it become just an escape route to be able to cover a person’s actions? Or is sex addiction a real psychological disorder that cannot be helped because of a true chemical imbalance?
While addictions to substances have real and tangible evidences of what the chemicals do to the brain, it is difficult to decipher what is beyond the person’s control, and what just comes down to personal choice when talking about sex addiction. Is this term one that was just made up by the psychological community to be able to have more diagnoses to treat? When it comes down to it, treatments cost money. If you need treatment for an “addiction”, someone will financially benefit from your condition. If you just Google “sex addiction”, the first thing you will see in the feed are a number of treatment centers that specialize in sex addiction therapy. So have we taken one more personality defect and given it an official label to be able to treat individuals, and at the same time give them excuses for their behaviors? Let us look at just a few aspects as to why this “addiction” has become one of the most contemporary diagnoses as of lately. Let us also explore the aftermath of this diagnosis for the victim in the relationship, and what it looks like to deal with not only being deceived, but also told that their partner had no control over their actions.
What is Sex Addiction?
Defining exactly what sex addiction is has been a controversy not only in the psychological community but also within society as a whole. We state that we are “addicted” to a number of things, some just in random conversation, and others as a way of explaining abnormal behaviors. When we say that we are addicted to something, as in “I am addicted to tacos”, it indicates that there is a weakness that cannot be helped by that individual, and that their behavior should not be held as accountable when in situations where that person may be exposed to their weakness. The fact that it can be said that we are exposed to sex every day and this weakness leaves a lot open to the idea that sex is so prevalent everywhere we go and look that it is logical that it can become an addiction. The psychological community, however, has not up to this point validated that sex addition is a true diagnosis, per its refusal to include the disorder in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders. The main focus of whether or not to include the term went back to our original definition of addiction in which a person needs to ingest a substance that reacts chemically in their body in order to become “addicted” to it, and since sex is obviously not a chemical that is ingested, the confusion lies still to the root definition of what addiction really means.
With sex addiction, the lines between addiction and free will of choice become very blurred. The sex addict is one thought of to have absolutely no control over their impulses, and cannot decipher right from wrong, even if they are damaging and risking their relationship. It almost comes down to an animalistic quality, as though all primary urges must be acted upon regardless of the consequences. The sex addict is made to be looked at with empathy for their sickness and encouraged to seek help to control their behaviors.
What does this mean for the wronged partner?
With all of these theories and labels being tossed around in psychological circles, what is the partner of the offending party supposed to do when they are told, presumably by a professional, that their mate is incapable of making healthy and positive choices in regards to their sexual actions? The offended partner is left feeling angry, bitter and possibly shamed, but at the same time supposed to show the empathy and care to their partner that they need in such a difficult time for them, as they are suffering from an addiction that is beyond their control. The main focus of the treatment is to take care of the perpetrator of the infidelity. The partner may not feel as though they have a right to feel angry and hurt because this could regress their partner’s progress in the therapy process. They may be told to focus on the present and that the indiscretions of the addicted person were that acts of a sick individual in need of help, and to continue to be resentful over these things can hinder progress.
They are left not only feeling betrayed, but also, in a way, told that they do not have the same rights to be as mad as they want to be, because their partner was addicted to sex. There is not a lot being said about how this label affects the partner that is told her loved one is a sex addict. This person is left scrambling to make some sort of sense of what a sex addict is, but also how this label affects them as well. If they choose to stay, will they forever be in a relationship with a sex addict? Is there a chance to re-build trust with a sex addict? It seems that there has been much put into the treatment methods of the sex addict with less emphasis on the impact on the relationship and the betrayed partner. I believe it should also be noted that there are not many individuals that claim to be a sex addict, and then seek and receive treatment before an infidelity happens. It is only after the partner finds out about an infidelity, or many, that the addict gets intervention for their "condition".
What does this mean for treatment strategies?
Considering these ideas, is it plausible to say that sex can be an addiction? That question is, of course, still very highly up for debate. What is most important in a relationship where infidelity occurs is that both partners are being heard, and working on communication and strategies to prevent further indiscretions. For the partner of a “sex addict” however, the label also comes with many more questions than answers. We may still need to define what sex addiction is firstly before we can conclude how to best treat the trust violated partner. If this results in a separate treatment strategy, we will just have to wait and see.