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Sex, an addiction?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 10, 2012

As our listeners know, we tend to stretch the boundaries of skepticism. This week, I thought we would explore sceptical sex. In particular I was looking at an article published in New Week about “The Sex Addiction Epidemic”. The article starts out with anecdotal evidence about Valery who was so ‘addicted’ that she often chose her vibrator over work. It of course drags up the usual celebrities who have fallen from grace due to sexual indulgency…just recently Herman Cain was forced to withdraw from the presidential race because of a dubious sexual history.

The International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals “Grandfathers getting caught with porn on their computers by grandkids, and grandkids sexting at 12.” The Porn Pastor claims that heterosexual men are ‘driven’ to homosexuality in an effort to satiate their sexual need.

The rest of the article points out the age-old tirade about how our society is becoming more sex crazed, sex is more accessible, and that we are not as pure or wholesome as we were in the old days. The other theme was that there are a cadre of professions willing to help people and treat their illness of enjoying sex.

From the 80s onward there has been a movement in society to try and understand why people seemed to be obsessed with sex. Science seemed to have the answer, it’s a mental illness. However, after some initial acceptance of this hypothesis in the psychiatric community, research showed that sex was not an illness; it is not a ‘gate way drug’ to addiction. The DSM, the bible of the psychology, dropped “sex addiction” from its listing, however keeping a note of it in the appendix relating it to a manifestation of other disorders like OCD. That which conservatives have called unnatural sexual behaviours seems to be healthy and normal.

What research has shown is that “sex addiction”, as it may be, is just addiction; most often it is obsessive compulsive neuroses, where people instead of obsessing on gambling or hording newspapers focus on sex.

Now, the article and sex-addiction proponent delves into to the realm of Pseudo-science because those who wish to perpetuate the idea that sex is addictive point to neuroscience…or more appropriately abuse of science. MRIs and other brains measurements show that people who obsessively have sex have changed brain patterns…i.e. their brain is altered. They then jump to the conclusion that the SEX must be causing these changes. You get proponents stating things like “in a study of sexually active people, a notable change occurred in their brain chemistry, we can see how sex has altered HOW their brain works” or something like that. However, proper science tell us that ANYTHING you do in a compulsory manner changes the brain, it’s not the subject matter but the repetition. This tripe we have seen in ‘games addictions’ or “that thing I hate causes kids to be violent”.

The NewsWeek Article tries to build credibility by saying it is LIKE eating disorders and LIKE heroin addiction, however they don’t point out how it is NOT like those. Being hungry is LIKE an eating disorder as in I feel the need to eat but it’s NOT like one in that I eat 5 xl pizzas. It’s like heroin addiction in that it makes you feel good and wanting more but it’s NOT like it in that it destroys your health and gives you the need to knock over liquor stores for that next hit. You might make the case… a serial rapist is an addict.

The real root of the problem of ‘sex addiction’ is our society’s inability to conceive of a ‘healthy’ sex life. Far too often religious conservative traditions attempt to subvert our natural urges and call them unnatural…people who express sex openly and freely must be diseased.

As I stated earlier and should reiterate, there are people who have unhealthy sex lives however it is not the sex that is the unhealthy element it is the “other” underlying psychical disorder be it bi-polar-ism, manic-ism or some other real psychological ailment.

What we risk here, by articles like the one published in New Week is to artificially create a class of healthy people and cast them as diseased; who must have their behaviour altered to conform to some warped and/or restrictive social standard and the risk to the rest of us who become so sexually repressed we truly do become ill. A hundred plus years ago the disease of Nymphomania was diagnosed on women who ‘enjoyed’ sex; the cure in some cases was the removal of their clitoris.

In a society that is beginning to accept LGBT community, what awaits them if we allow the conservatives and the religious right to dictate what is ‘healthy’ and what is not healthy sex? One thing the gay community had (and flaunted) was its openness with their sexuality (well, at least ‘in the community’; i acknowledge and know that while in closet, sexual repression is a fact of everyday life). My fear of promoting and accepting ‘sex addiction’ is that it give the conservatives another tool to repress a group that has just begun to feel the freedom of acceptance. I worry that a generation of kids will become distorted by the ‘war against sex addition’.

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