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I work with sex addicts.

I’m a Board Certified Sex Therapist, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and Certified Addictions Professional. I’ve been in the field of psychotherapy for more than 20 years. I’ve written a book – Addict America: The Lost Connection – in which I discuss how addictive thinking and behavior affects our brains and leads to a disconnection from each other and our spiritual Connections. So far, my book has resonated with everyone who read it and my therapy practice is full. I also have my own training programs so I can pass along the knowledge and expertise I have gathered over the years.

 

In short, I’m a competent and experienced professional.

I therefore do not take it well when I read that use of the term “sex addiction” is an excuse to get away with bad behavior, that sex addiction is a way to promote bigotry and sex-negative beliefs, or that sex addiction lacks any credence among the psychotherapeutic community.

When one reviews the history of addiction just over the past 100 years, it can be seen that alcoholism was not perceived as an addiction but rather a moral failing until the middle of the last century, give or take. In the 80s, cocaine was all the rage because it did not have the physiological withdrawal effects that alcohol and heroin did, so was not believed to be addictive. Now sex addiction is in the news thanks to the internet and the ways in which our personal and societal buttons get pushed around anything to do with sex.

Several years ago, I worked with a sex addict and his wife. The couple were Orthodox Jews, which was relevant in that their community was stringently opposed to homosexuality. This man’s addictive behavior involved acting out with other men, although he maintained that he was heterosexual. He also happened to be a licensed psychologist. He had also made a name for himself by treating sex addicts. When his wife shared with me that he was behaving unethically and was being sued, I decided to Google him. I was incredibly dismayed to see that he had a whole program for men who had sex with men and wanted to stop because they did not want to identify as homosexual. He was basically promoting reparation therapy. By the way, although he was himself in therapy, he was still acting out. He was denying his addictive behavior, denying his homosexual behavior (whatever its origin) and also denying the effects on his wife.

So I get it. I get that people use sex addiction to try to weasel out of bad behavior. I get that religion can get tied up in the process -both with causing shame for the addict and also in being used as a way to miraculously stop the behavior. I get that people can twist up the concept of sex addiction to suit whatever agenda they are promoting, as when some anti-sex addiction psychologists and others jump on the Duchovny/Woods/Weiner bandwagon to get their names in the media.

But here’s my real problem: Every time a sex addict reads that sex addiction is a myth, or that sex addiction is just an excuse because he/she cannot control themselves or make good decisions, that sex addict is harmed. Just as in medicine, we are ethically bound to cause no harm. That is why the American Psychological Association and now some states have prohibited orientation reparation programs. They cause harm.

The short definition of addiction, any addiction, is “obsessive, compulsive, out-of-control behavior done in spite of negative consequences to self or others.” It doesn’t matter the behavior. It can be using alcohol or drugs or it can be gambling, shopping or sex. This definition sums up the definition for addictive disorders in the DSM 5, which although it specifies particular substances, is still specifying behavior, not physiological effects of any drug.

So sex addiction isn’t even about sex. It is about particular behaviors that have become associated in the brain with heightened pleasure and, more importantly, relief of emotional pain. It is about the immense power of the limbic system to overrule the executive functioning of the cortex, making a mockery of the idea of sound decision-making. Just as the law admits that an intoxicated individual cannot consent to sexual relations, so can we acknowledge that an individual under the influence of dopamine, endorphins, and other brain chemicals is not able to make good decisions.

A person who is able to stand up and say “Hi, I’m John and I’m a sex addict” is not taking the easy way out or making excuses for his behavior. He is taking responsibility for his life and his recovery and beginning the most difficult journey of his life. Recovery is a long and arduous process made up of daily decisions that require changes in every aspect of the person’s life.

When I work with sex addicts, our goals are for the addicts to live fulfilling lives, to learn to be present and Connected, which includes healthy sexual intimacy in whatever form that takes for the individual. There is no condemnation of any sexual behavior and no imposition of any religious dogma. There is only healing from past trauma, self exploration, and answering the question “Is this for my addiction or is this for my recovery” when making choices throughout the day.

I applaud everyone who struggles with addiction and finds the courage to take that first step, whether it is calling a therapist, going to a meeting, or picking up a book. I can promise that one day you will thank your Higher Power for your addiction, because it brought you to where you are and you would not have gotten there without it. To get there, you made the tough choices and chose your priorities. You discovered the meaning of life. For those who are in that place, you are beacons for us all.

Dr. Carol L. Clark, Author of Addict America: The Lost Connection

Be In Light