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Sex Addiction Deniers: What Makes Them So Mad?

Author:  Linda Hatch, Ph.D.  

Original Article 

The mere idea of “sex addiction” gets a lot of people angry.  I’m talking here about the writers who rail about the “myth” of sexual addiction and who argue that the whole idea of sex addiction is just a cop-out for the addict and a money making scam for the professionals.

The anatomy of a sex addiction denier

I prefer to see these “deniers,” as I call them, as a part of a larger societal pattern and one that is worthy of study in its own right.

Currently the opposition to the concept of sex addiction comes in two main flavors.

1.  Sex addiction is really just normal behavior.

These men and women have a defensive reaction to the whole field of sex addiction treatment as an attempt to restrain normal sexual freedoms.  Sometimes their blogs and online commentary seem to be jokingly, (nervously?) defending behavior around which they have some unacknowledged shame.  The message is “we all do it and you just think it is ‘sick’ because you are so uptight!”  This is an uninformed bias that seems to resist logic.

2.  Sex addiction is really just irresponsible behavior.

This argument comes from all quarters including some in the scientific community.  It minimizes the seriousness of the problem and the suffering it can cause, and the message is often “you so-called addicts are just behaving badly and you need to take responsibility and shape up!”

This second argument sometimes takes the form that “if sex can be an addiction then anything can,” or “if we let people off by calling it a disease then there’s a slippery slope which will lead to nobody ever taking any responsibility for anything.” (OMG!)

Both of these arguments have the net effect of saying that we shouldn’t medicalize the issue of sexually compulsive behavior and therefore that we shouldn’t actually do anything about it.  See the New York Times Op-Ed for an excellent discussion.

We need to understand the deniers, not condemn them

“Deniers” have always existed in relation to almost every unwelcome phenomenon that has emerged throughout history.  Sometimes they have taken a socially acceptable position which conforms to religious or other dogma and have acted accordingly, as in burning heretics or imprisoning the mentally ill.  In other cases they have simply veered off into crazy-sounding conspiracy theories such as that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were really a government plot or that the holocaust never happened.

These are elaborate attempts to explain or deal with something that is experienced as incomprehensible or intolerable.  In this regard they are all defense mechanisms and nowhere more obviously so than in the area of sexual addiction.

Sex addiction deniers are trudging a road well traveled in earlier eras by those who wished to defend themselves against a trend or theory that they found very threatening.  This is especially true in recent history in the evolution of the disease model of mental health. It has been very gradually that the “deadly sins” have been recast as very human psychological afflictions.

Fear and loathing as a developmental phase

Because I believe sex addiction deniers are genuinely reacting to some unconscious fear, I think professionals cannot dismiss them but rather need to understand them.  If we don’t they won’t go away and will keep confusing the public and getting in the way in much the same way that global warming deniers get in the way of protecting the biosphere.

As the superstitions and fears surrounding a social ill begin to dissipate, the issue moves through a predictable sequence in public awareness from demonization to criminalization to medicalizationto reintegration.  First the problem, say alcoholism, is a moral failing, then it’s a legal problem, then a medical disease, and finally a larger societal or public health issue.

Leaving aside the issue of illegal sexual behavior, this mans that society’s current approach to sexual addiction is moving beyond demonization and criminalization but has not yet reached medicalization.  This transition to full medicalization will mean the evolution of awareness. This involves dispelling fears, confronting judgmental attitudes, and persuading people to suspend those judgments.  It is up to us to patiently explain.

The information contained in this post is the intellectual property of Dr. Linda Hatch, Ph.D.

Online and Telephone Support Forums For Sex Addicts and Their Partners

One of the things you will find on my site is a list of self-help resources for various concerns.  Recently, a colleague of mine compiled some information I have been meaning to for sex addicts and their (past and present) partners.  I have reproduced Bill Herrings’  posting about the different support options available that go beyond the in-person 12-Step meeting.  I highly recommend  poking around his blog for a wealth of helpful articles and information.

Submitted by Bill Herring on Sun, 2012-08-05 22:34

People whose lives have suffered because of the ravages of misguided sexual desire often find themselves emotionally isolated from others due to their shame and the fear that others will not fully be able to comprehend what kind of support is truly helpful.  This is just as true (and sometimes even more so) for the partner of a person who has repeatedly engaged in deceptive sexual behavior.

The opportunity to benefit from the shared experience of others in a similar situation is invaluable.  Nobody understands a problem better than somebody who has walked a similar path.  Family, friends, therapists and others may all have something to offer, but each have their own limitations.  Truly mutual help offers a benefit unobtainable anywhere else.

This is why support groups can be so very helpful.  For issues related to repeated sexual loss of self-control, 12-step groups are a primary resource for the “experience, strength and hope” that are available there.  I encourage anyone who is reluctant to attend a 12-step group to read my article “12 Step Groups: Twelve Objections and Twelve Responses.”  I also suggest to people who are planning to attend such a meeting for the first time that it’s far better to listen for at least one message that may be helpful rather than using some aspect of the experience that is less than useful as a reason to not return.  Anyone can find something to not like about a 12-step meeting, but extracting something extremely valuable is like panning for gold: the effort is ultimately highly rewarding.

However, for a variety of reasons a person may not be able (or may not choose) to attend a support group in person.  The good news is that there are many online and telephone versions of support groups that are easily available to anyone, no matter where they are in the world.  I encourage anyone suffering from the pain, isolation and confusion that accompanies sex addiction and related problems to give any of these a try.

  • Sex Addiction Support Group – This forum is located at SupportGroups.com, whose mission is “providing concise, up-to-date information and a meeting place for individuals, their friends and families, and professionals who offer pathways to help.
  • Reddit NoFap – this is a forum specifically to help people break the cycle of compulsive masturbation to porn (i.e. “fapping”).  Unlike any other venue, this community utilzes unique, often earthy and frequenty funny jargon,  and has an atmosphere and attitude that is often missing anywhere else.  “Whether your goal is to casually participate in a NoFap week or monthly challenge as a test of self control, or if fapping has become an addictive problem in your life and you want to quit for a longer period of time, you will find a home and friends here.”
  • Through the Flame, “the only International online support network for those affected by ponography addiction”.
  • COSA telemeetings – online meetings for COSA, which is a 12-step “recovery program for men and women whose lives have been affected by someone’s compulsive sexual beahvior.”
  • Sex Addict Codies – a support forum hosted at the Junkie’s Wives Club, whose motto is “We’re all here because we’re not all there.”  Note: this forum requires a simple registration.
  • Marriage and Family — a Blazing Grace Christian forum (see description above), populated by both addicts and partners.
  • Sisterhood of Support – a fee-based online support group for spouses and partners of sex addicts, hosted by MarriedToASexAddict.com.

Note: there are also many for-pay online support and therapy groups that are not listed here.  The forums on this page are free (with the exception of “Sisterhood of Support” which has a modest cost and is included here because of its value).

It is worth emphasizing that support forums are only representative of the people who are on them, so that the quality and extent of support and guidance can vary from group to group and time to time.  Most forums have far more readers than contributors.  Even without joining into any discussions, the wide variety of topics covered by these sites can be very useful to anyone desiring more information and understanding about this complex problem, and they are excellent places to ask questions that may not be able to be addressed almost anywhere else.

I encourage anyone who has information about additional online and telephone support forums to contact me so that I can include them here.

Remember, addiction and despair breed in isolation, while recovery and hope thrive in connection.

Note:  The information reproduced in this post is the intellectual property of Bill Herring, LCSW, CSAT.