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Is Sex Addiction A Disease

Is Sex Addiction A Disease?

Is Sex Addiction A Disease?
Is Sex Addiction A Disease?

Our Culture Labels Everything

We tend to categorize and label everything in our culture including lifestyles, behaviors, compulsions, phobias, addictions, and hobbies.  The common element is that everything that we label has an impact on our life. Either for the better or worse.

Sometimes, we attach these labels to things we like and appreciate. Other times, we use them to describe a negative condition or behavior that is holding us back from our true potential. From that standpoint, should we call sex addiction a disease?

Is Sex Addiction A Disease?

The question of whether sex addiction is a disease is one I have had to answer for almost 30 years.

The media will have a salacious story about the latest well-known person who does something sexually unexplainable, and the show host will usually take one of two positions: either they will say sex addiction is an excuse for bad boys who do bad things and get caught, or they will sincerely want to know if sex addiction is real.

I will assume you are that inquisitive person who really wants to know if sex addiction is a disease or not.

The Sex Addiction Definition

The term sex addiction has been around since the late ‘80s. Treatment centers and hospitals that treat sex addiction have been around since the early ‘90s. Various 12-step groups like (sexaholics anonymous, sex addicts anonymous, and freedom groups) and grew in different areas of the country around this same time period as well. Thousands of people have been treated for sex addiction, but does that make it a disease?

Defining disease seems to be a logical place to start. We live in an age where Wikipedia is a reasonably trustworthy source for giving basic information. According to Wikipedia, a disease “is often used more broadly to refer to any condition that causes pain, dysfunction, distress, social problems, or death to the person afflicted, or similar problems for those in contact with the person.”

Acting Out Sexually

A person who uses sex in an addictive manner, regardless of behavior (masturbation, pornography, affairs, paid sex, objects etc.), would easily fit this basic definition.

I have successfully treated thousands of sex addicts in intensives and individual counseling sessions for the last 30 years. What I am writing in the next paragraphs doesn’t come from some textbook. In my counseling practice, day after day, I’ve met with men and women who are addicted to sex or in a relationship with someone addicted to sex.

I have clearly seen the addict and the spouse and family in quite a bit of pain when the addict’s behavior comes to light. I have had women physically heave with pain when they find out the truth about their spouse’s behavior. Their reactions are real. The hurt is real.

Dysfunction and Sex Addiction

The dysfunction of the addict’s life in so many ways is measurable in their addiction, as well as in their recovery as their life comes back to order.

The dysfunction may be beliefs, behaviors, or a lack of normal responsibility taken in a marriage or family. Dysfunction is also a reality for those in relationship with a sex addict.

The book “Beyond the Bedroom: Healing for Adult Children of Sex Addicts” is filled with statistics showing that adult children of sex addicts have had issues because of their addicted parent.

Sex addiction doesn’t just affect you it affects everyone around you.

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The Effects of Sex Addiction

Addicts and their families experience huge amounts of emotional, spiritual, sexual, economic, and relational distress that is directly related to sex addiction. The social problems that sex addiction can have in the life of the addict are significant and diverse. The addict may lose their job, have to move, make their children change schools, or have consequences that impact their lives and families far worse.

In my counseling career, I’ve seen that death has also happened to those I knew who went back to their addiction after treatment. All addictions lead eventually to three final destinations: jail, institutions, or death.

Sex Addiction as a Disease

Sex addiction fits all the criteria outlined for sex addiction to be a disease. How then can one know if they have this disease or not? Let me walk you through the basic characteristics of any addiction. If you or someone you know has more than three of these characteristics, then you might consider getting a professional evaluation:

9 Characteristics of Addiction

  1. The person has tried to stop this behavior and has failed.
  2. The person has made promises to themselves, God, or others to stop the behavior, and also has failed.
  3. The person has had some form of consequence for a certain behavior.
  4. The person continued the behavior even after they faced consequences for their behavior.
  5. They have an increased tolerance for a behavior.
  6. The addict requires more of a behavior to get the same high that a smaller amount used to achieve for them previously.
  7. Acquiring the behavior, doing the behavior, or recovering from the behavior takes more and more of the person’s time.
  8. The person gets sad or has withdrawal symptoms when they cannot engage in the behavior.
  9. They decrease involvement in other areas in their life due to the addictive behavior. They stop engaging in normal social behavior that they previously enjoyed.

You could examine any behavior with this list—cell phone usage, chocolate, work, sexual behavior, or even avoiding sex or intimacy—and see if it’s an addiction for you or someone you care about.

Is sex addiction a disease? In my 30 years of experience, I would say yes. I would also say healing or recovering from this disease is also possible. Many have successfully traveled the road to sex addiction recovery, and for those who put the work in, recovery is possible.

Next Steps

Are you or someone you know struggling with sex addiction? There are a wide range of treatment options available to help addicts enter recovery. You can learn more about them here: Sex Addiction Help Options

Douglas Weiss, Ph.D. is the president of the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy. He is also the executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs.

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