Don’t worry – you’re not a sex addict

You might be wondering if your Grindr use is getting out of control.

You might ask yourself if you’re addicted to sex because you hook up with strangers a lot. You might worry that your frequent porn use is damaging your brain.

Those questions are valid and important for you to ask. It is a way to self-reflect on your sexual behaviours.

There is a lot of stuff online, in articles and in books that promote ‘sex addiction’ and ‘porn addiction’. Recently, you might have read some misleading headlines in newspapers that claimed ‘Sex addiction is now a recognised mental health disorder’.

No wonder you are worried. ‘Sex addiction’ is a hot topic at the moment, and it’s inducing fear in people’s minds.

So, let me be clear with you: don’t worry, you are not a sex addict. Take a deep breath, and relax.

Now, let me tell you why you’re not a sex addict. Here is the real science and information:

1. The WHO (World Health Organisation) clearly states that they do not endorse the term ‘sex addiction’ because there is simply not enough clinical evidence that sex and porn is addictive. WHO recognises ‘Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder’ where the criteria is so strict that your sex life has to be extremely out of control in order to qualify for the disorder.

Some people say they feel out of control, but aren’t really out of control. For example, if sex doesn’t stop you from holding a job and attending to your personal hygiene, you’re probably not out of control. Judgements that we have about our sex life are largely constructed by society or a sex-negative, heteronormative culture.

2. Most of the studies promoting ‘sex addiction’ and ‘porn addiction’ make scientific errors in their conclusions. In brain studies, we see a spike in dopamine when someone is watching porn, same as when someone is taking cocaine. Most of those studies make a premature conclusion that it must mean porn is addictive. What those studies overlook is that dopamine also spikes when we do thousands of other pleasurable activities, most of which are not addictive.

What we really see in those scans is the brain doing its normal thing when we do something we enjoy. For an activity to be considered addictive, it needs to meet all of many criteria. Sex and porn fail to meet all of the addiction criteria in real, non-biased scientific studies.


© Grindr

Related: When it’s going down: 10 tips to resolve your erection problems

3. Sexologists, as well as many world-renowned psychologists agree that in real scientific terms, the addiction model is falsified, whereas social shame seems to be the most supported when examining compulsive sexual behaviours. That is to say, if you feel your sexual behaviour is becoming out of control, it is not because you’re an addict. It is probably coming from feeling bad with shame because of our society and culture.

Sometimes shame can lie within us, undetected, yet pulling the strings. Nicole Prause, an independent sex researcher asserts: “Homosexually-identified men are over-represented as ‘affected’. Thus, the introduction of Compulsive Sexual Behaviour has effectively re-pathologised homosexuality and stigmatized high sexual drives, increasing shame and distress rather than reducing shame.”

3. AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists) says: “The ‘sexual addiction’ training and treatment methods and education pedagogies are not adequately informed by accurate human sexuality knowledge.” So, it is important not to allow anyone tell you that you’re a sex addict, not even from a therapist, or any sponsors from addiction recovery groups.

4. Many studies also misunderstand the role of dopamine. Many people will try to rationalize and tell you you’re a sex addict by talking about dopamine to confuse you. The real information about dopamine is that it is not part of the pleasure experience (Schultz won a Nobel Prize for demonstrating this).

Further, dopamine is great and healthy. It means that your brain is appropriately responding to novelty, which characterises much of sex film viewing and Grindr use. Many neuroscientists are aware people are demonising dopamine for no reason.

5. In my clinical experience, I see many gay men struggling with making sense of their sexual behaviours. Unfortunately, most of them don’t come to me first. They usually go to a ‘recovery programme for sex addicts’ and become more depressed, with more shame about themselves and feel worse about their sexuality.

The symptoms that people report after such groups or therapy with well-meaning but ill-informed therapists are akin to symptoms of conversion therapy, which is now being banned in the UK. It is one of my great sadnesses to see so many gay men being shamed for a sexuality that is perfectly good to start with, but outside of the heteronormative construct. Fortunately, many gay men report feeling better about themselves when they find the right sex-positive therapist with accurate knowledge about human sexuality diversity.

This is not to say that you don’t have a problem. You may have some sexual behaviours that you want to address because it causes problems in your life. Self-reflection and questioning your sexual behaviour is very important and healthy. Navigating your erotic mind can be difficult on your own, and it can be a wonderful exploration with the right therapist.

But be clear about one thing: seeing a therapist doesn’t mean that you have a sexual disorder. It means that you need a professional to help you with making sense of some of your sexual urges, thoughts and behaviours, as well as other emotional problems you may have that sex and porn is soothing.

Don’t worry. I think most people could do with a non-judgmental space to talk about their erotic mind. You’re not alone. You’re not ill. You’re not broken. You’re not an addict.

Silva Neves is a psychotherapist, psychosexual relationship psychotherapist and clinical traumatologist. You can visit his official website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Related: Struggling with your partner’s different sex drive? There are 7 ways you can make changes



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