Wow! I just watched a colleague’s interview on NBC on the topic of whether sex addiction is real or not. Although I have tremendous respect for this particular individual and love their work, I couldn’t disagree more with their response during the interview.
Yes, it’s true that the DSM IV and many mental health professionals do not recognize sexual addiction as a valid diagnosis. I am convinced after several decades of working with couples where betrayal is the rule rather than the exception, that sexual addiction is alive and well and destroying lives, marriages and families in its wake. For starters, my colleague said that the way you can tell that someone has an addiction is if that is the only thing they can think about and because of this obsession, it gets in the way of work and other facets of life. I have worked with countless couples where one partner- usually the man, but not always- is so focused on hunting down the next sexual partner and engaging in that relationship, despite continual promises to oneself to stop, that the rest of their lives become unimportant. I have worked with men who masturbate for hours- at work- until their penises actually bleed. How much fun do you think that is?
So many of the folks who have sexual addictions hate themselves, wish they could stop but don’t know how. They need help. Does this sound familiar? Does this sound, let’s say, like alcohol addiction? Or are people just making it up when they say alcohol addiction is truly an addiction? Although I am not an expert on the biology of addiction, suffice it to say that hunting down sexual partners, having sex, experiencing orgasms creates powerfully reinforcing biochemicals in our brains and bodies. This could account for some of the obsessive behavior engaged in by people who have addictions. This is not to say that every person who is unfaithful once or even multiple times is addicted to sex. It is possible to simply be unfaithful without the component of addiction.
Having said that, in light of our not really knowing the truth about addiction, I think it is hurtful to couples dealing with this issue and incorrect to say that this sort of behavior is simply a matter of taking advantage of opportunities and feeling entitled. That is far too simplistic. I have walked the path with couples whose lives have been shattered by addiction and have attempted to help them heal and learn the skills they need to overcome this very real and very painful problem.
Michele Weiner Davis is the creator of the Divorce Busting Centers, learn more on how you can solve marriage problems and stop divorce. Follow me on Twitter @divorcebusting, add my Divorce Busting Facebook Page, and subscribe to the Divorce Busting YouTube Videos for more advice and upcoming marriage saving events.