The Myth of Sex Addiction

Open hand raised Sex Addiction sign painted multi purpose concept - isolated on white background

Labels like sex addict, love addict and porn addict are becoming much more frequently used in pop culture.  But does sex addiction, love addiction and porn addiction even really exist?

Currently, these “diagnoses” have not been accepted into the “Bible of Mental Disorders” — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5).  Despite heavy lobbying efforts by the Sex Addiction Industry, the American Psychiatric Association has determined that there is not enough legitimate peer-reviewed scientific research to support these diagnoses.  Even a more moderate diagnosis, Hypersexuality Disorder, has been rejected multiple times for these same reasons.

So, why are these labels so popular among the media, and even among some therapists?

  • It simplifies a set of behaviors and focuses on salacious stories
  • There is a desire to change behaviors that are upsetting to individuals and/or those around them
  • There is a desire to disown responsibility for problematic behaviors
  • There is a desire to control sexuality
  • Fear of the unknown

It’s obvious that certain sexual behaviors are viewed as problematic in our culture and can even FEEL compulsive, but they actually don’t meet the criteria for an addictive disorder.  While some will highlight that they light up the same areas of the brain that other substance addictions do, this in and of itself, doesn’t mean that there’s an addiction, just that an activity or substance is pleasurable.  In fact, recent research conducted at UCLA by Neuroscientist, Dr. Nicole Prause, has shown that watching porn, doesn’t cause the same physical tolerance (needing more of something to get the same high) as do alcohol or drugs.  Also, there are no physiological withdrawal symptoms like there are with other substances.  The reality is that those who identify as being more religious self-diagnose much more frequently as being sex/porn addicts.  They appear to have a conflict with their core values and their behaviors but this does not constitute an addiction.

Why is it so problematic to call sexual behaviors addictive?

  • This is too often used to shame sexual diversity (and mainly men)
  • It distracts therapists from looking at more complex underlying issues that might be contributing to what’s going on
  • It focuses on pathology and symptoms versus on how to more fully enjoy/embrace one’s sexuality

Here is a resource list I created:

sex-addiction-myth-resources-handout-1st-side-01 sex-addiction-myth-resources-handout-2nd-side-01

Here are the clickable PDFs of these handouts:

Sex Addiction Resource List, Page 1

Sex Addiction Resource List, Page 2

Watch Dr. Chris Donaghue, author of Sex Outside the Lines: Authentic Sexuality in a Sexually Dysfunctional Culture, talk about the myth of sex addiction:

Watch Dr. David Ley, author of The Myth of Sex Addiction and his newer book Ethical Porn for Dicks: A Man’s Guide for Responsible Viewing Pleasuretalk about Porn Panic!:

Watch Neuroscientist, Dr. Nicole Prause, talk about what science proves about these topics:

Watch Doug Braun-Harvey offer an alternative approach to the Sex Addiction Model:

SUBSCRIBE to my iTunes Podcast where you can listen to information about these and other topics here:


6 thoughts on “The Myth of Sex Addiction

  1. Sex addiction is real and neurobiology keeps the score. The DSM is a field manual (not the bible on etiology) and says little about cause or theory. Gambling is addictive but porn is not? It is same reward pathway. Years ago, I treated mostly chemical dependency. The Internet gave us access, affordability and anonymity and now more than 50 % of my case load is sex addiction. Many couples enter marital therapy now due to problems involving pornography and sex addiction.

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