Troy’s wife was hurt and angry. He felt terrible. She had found some messages on his phone about meeting up with a sex trade worker. Troy hadn’t actually gone through with the meeting, but that was irrelevant at this point. Troy spoke about his history of porn use, the fact that he had used porn on and off since puberty and wondered if that’s what had led to this event. The last time there was an issue like this in his relationship with his wife was just after their son was born, 8 years ago. She had caught him using porn and was upset that he would go to that when she was trying to take care of their new child. She felt betrayed. Troy had only used porn twice since then, both times when his wife was away visiting family. He felt guilty about these times. Troy loved his wife and didn’t want the relationship to end. He didn’t know why he had contacted the sex trade worker. Troy states that he and his wife’s sex life was good and that they didn’t have any major issues in their relationship. Troy and his wife were looking wondering if maybe Troy had a sex addiction.
Sex addiction is a controversial concept. It is not a diagnosis that exists within the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (the DSM). Nevertheless, there are treatment programs for sex addiction and counsellors who specialize in sex addictions. Many people ask if they might have a sex addiction, after they have crossed a line in their relationship, in regards to their sexual behaviour. Often what they are wondering is whether there is just something inherently wrong with the person who crossed the line, that needs to be managed. Treatment for sex addiction follows the 12 step program with the idea that once someone is an addict, they are always an addict and will need ongoing support and boundaries in order to keep their behaviour in check.
Now, I know that I wrote the title of this post, but I, personally, have not found the question, “Do I have a sex addiction?” a particularly helpful one. A question I find more helpful is, “What is your relationship with your sexual behaviour?” I would follow this up with questions asking “Are you happy with your sexual behaviours? Are they getting in the way of your life goals, relationships, etc. and, if so, how would you like them to change?”
If someone is happy with their sexual behaviour, but they are breaking laws to fulfill their sexual desires…
….then their sexual behaviour is interfering with their relationship with the rest of society and that needs to be addressed urgently.
If someone is happy with their sexual behaviour and they are not breaking any laws, but their behaviour is causing problems in their personal relationships…
…then they most likely have relationship issues that needs to be addressed.
Just because someone’s sexual behaviour is causing problems in their relationship, doesn’t mean they have a disorder. It is possible that this persons’ priorities are misaligned, it is also possible that the values of each person, in the relationship, are misaligned and need to be addressed in order for the relationship to work.
If someone is not happy with their sexual behaviour but they are not breaking any laws or having any conflict in their relationships…
…it is possible that their behaviour is in conflict with their own values and beliefs, and this is worth exploring.
If someone is not happy with their sexual behaviour and they are breaking laws and/or having conflict in their relationships as a result…
…then there are a wide variety of possible issues to address, including the possibility of mental health issues related to genetics and/or trauma history; and/or poor coping strategies. External stressors including relationship conflict, while not an excuse for unhealthy sexual behaviours can contribute to the motivation to utilize these types of behaviours.
Our society has a history of toxic sexuality. Starting with the Puritans who who saw sexuality as evil and needing to be ‘cut off’ (sometimes in very literal ways), shame and blame have been part of our relationship with our sexuality. A few months ago I heard Indigenous poet, Tenille Campbell talking about and reading from her book #Indian Love Poems. *She spoke about how, traditionally, sexuality was a fun and beautiful part of Indigenous culture and how colonization changed that. She was writing her poems in order to reconnect and celebrate sexuality as a way to combat the toxic sexuality that pervades our society. In another book, The Nine Parts of Desire,* Geraldine Brooks, a journalist studying the culture of women in Islamic countries, compares attitudes towards sexuality in the east and the west. In the West, she notes, we talk about men having very strong libidos with little control over it and women having very low libidos. The assumption is that men need help to control their libido and a woman with a high libido is deviant. In the east, Brook refers to the Qaran which states that sexual desire has ten parts and that women possess nine of those parts. For this reason, women need to be covered lest their sexuality overwhelm men who are trying to be chaste but could not resist it.
Until we, as a society, are able to celebrate sexual diversity and expression that does no harm, I feel that we should be very cautious in labelling sexual behaviour as deviant before addressing the issues which might actually be the problem. We are better served to spend our energy on doing the work needed to develop healthy relationships with ourselves, with our intimate partners, and with our sexuality as a whole.
*Please note: I have signed on as an affiliate sales person for McNally Robinson which means that if you click on the above link, and decide to purchase the book I’ve recommended, I will receive an affiliate’s fee. I only recommend books I have read and believe to be worth recommending.
For more reading on this topic, check out When you find out Your Partner Uses Porn
Also check out After You’ve Cheated
And Ethical Porn