What Defines a Sex Addict Anyway?

Hey, Doc!
I was totally just told that I’m a sex addict. I’m not even really sure what that means. I mean, I figure that if I don’t go through pussy like a chain smoker with a box of cigarettes, I should be okay, right? Can you explain this all to me like I’m a bright golden retriever?

— I Likes the Nasty

Hey, Nasty!

I get this question so often. Especially when someone is doing something (or wanting to do something) related to sex or porn that is really pissing off their partner. The word “addiction” starts getting thrown around, and the do-er gets an ultimatum that shit’s over if they don’t get therapy for their sex addiction.

Does sex addiction exist? Sure thing. Is everyone who is referred to me for sex or porn addiction really addicted to one or both? Not even.

There is one thing that needs to be said first, though. Wanting sex, enjoying sex and being excited about sex does not make you an addict. Wanting porn, enjoying porn and being excited about porn does not make you a porn addict.

Let me say that one more time for the people in the back: Being sex- and porn-positive does not an addiction make.

Like any other substance or behavior that has the capacity to become an addiction, it’s how you use it, not the use itself. Enjoying a margarita doesn’t make you an alcoholic, right? Everyone gets that. And we all have a good general sense of when those margaritas are a problem. Stupid drunk? Way too often? Wrapped your car around a tree? Coming into work hungover? Or still wasted from the night before? Loss of control over use (having sex when you didn’t intend to, with people you didn’t intend to, or having the kind of sex that really wasn’t on your wish list)? Getting DTs when trying to quit? Some addictions are pretty easy to recognize. But how do you define a sex or porn addiction? It doesn’t compute the same way, when there is no physiological dependence aspect to the problem and the consequences don’t seem as severe.

Sex and porn fall under the domain of “process addictions.” Which means there is no involvement of a substance that creates a literal physical dependency (like alcohol, nicotine and other drugs), but the behavior itself has addictive qualities. The particularly difficult part is that these are behaviors that we kinda have to engage with in the process of being human. Like eating, having sex, or shopping. You can go through life without ever gambling again, just like you can go through life without ever drinking again. But other stuff is pretty much impossible.

Now, you could make the argument that sex and porn don’t belong on the list of “behavior addictions that we have to find a way to do every day.” Because, Catholic priests … right? Except sexual intimacy and pleasure is such a huge part of who we are as human beings — and such a large part of most romantic relationships that going cold turkey would really suck.

Except for the part that no sucking would ever be involved again, right?

First of all, if you are worried that you may fall into the sex/porn addiction category, there are a few good self-assessment tools you can find online. Use your Google Fu to check them out. I don’t know if any particular one is better than another, as I’ve used different ones in my practice over the years. The point isn’t to get a particular score that gives you a diagnosis, but to start a conversation. Use these tools, or the feedback you are getting from others, or just the behavior you are noticing in yourself to start paying attention to patterns in your life.

Because here is the big thing I want you to look at: how sex/porn either hinders or supports your relationships. Because in the end? All addictions are replacement relationships. They become more important than the people we love. They become more important than we are ourselves. We become a servant of addiction, rather than a human being out there connecting in the world.

Is sex itself more important than the person with whom you are having sex? Does it take the place of true connection? Are you skipping out on other important things in your life because of your behavior around sex and porn? Are you feeling out of control of your behavior, instead of seeing sex and porn as another way of expressing who you are as a person? Is it something you use for connection and/or fun or a compulsion you fight with every day? Be honest … were you late to Grandma’s birthday dinner because you were all engrossed in XTube last weekend?

Addictions are born when the thing we are doing becomes more important than all of our reasons for being and all of the meaning of our behaviors are drained of context. I don’t know anyone who is addicted to sex and/or porn who actually likes what they are doing. Not past the immediate moment of engagement, anyway. And they definitely don’t like themselves all too much either. Because addiction is separating them from all the amazing, messy, authentic, beautiful relationships the world has to offer.

So you tell me, Nasty … do you think you’re a sex addict?


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