Beware! Sex/Porn Addiction

There has been a lot of media attention on ‘sex addiction’ in recent years with worries, particularly, that people – usually men – can become addicted to watching pornography online, but also worries that some people are compulsively having casual sex or paid-for sex rather than forming relationships. However, even the most conservative medical groups – such as the American Psychiatric Association – have failed to find evidence of sex addiction as a genuine disorder. Often the definitions of what constitutes sex addiction are simply amounts – and types – of sex that are beyond what the people who designed the measures are familiar with, rather than anything that is necessarily problematic (for example, measures often include things like phone sex, cybersex, viewing porn, and masturbating frequently).

Scare-mongering about sex addiction contributes to feelings of guilt and shame amongst those who do enjoy pornography or have high levels of sexual desire. It makes people who don’t actually have any problem with what they are doing – and who are perfectly ethical in their sexual practices – feel bad about it. There are, of course, people who do have some legitimate concerns about what they want sexually, perhaps because it is getting in the way of the rest of their life, or because they are worried about the ethics of some of what they desire. The demonisation of ‘sex addiction’ can make it very difficult for such people to seek help, to face their fears, and to really think through what aspects of what they are doing are, and are not, problematic.

Sexual desire is on a continuum: some people are not sexual at all (see Everyone needs sex to be happy), some are highly sexual, and how much we desire sex (as well as what we desire) shifts and changes over our lives. It would be good if media could present this full range rather than considering a narrow range of sexual desire as ‘normal’ and anything else as too little or too much. Similarly, there are diverse kinds of sex that people enjoy. Rather than depicting some kinds of sex as ‘addiction’ and others as normal, it would be good to represent the range of possible sexual desires and practices which can be engaged in consensually.

Further reading on this issue

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