The accusations levied against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK and others for sexual assault, harassment and abuse have created righteous outrage and concerns that “sex addiction treatment” is being used to excuse their offensive behavior. It is critical to understand that sex addiction and sex offending behavior are not the same thing. A sex offense occurs when there is a non-consensual sexual behavior that has a victim. Most of these behaviors are illegal. It is not uncommon for sex offenders to seek sex addiction treatment when they are struggling. Very few people check themselves into a “sex offender rehabilitation program”, rather they seek “sex addiction treatment.” There is some overlap in these two populations, some sex offenders are sex addicts (and are demonstrating compulsive and addictive behavior), and some are not. However, most studies show that only about 10 % of sex addicts have behaviors that constitute sexual offenses. The majority of sex addicts struggle with issues like pornography addiction, compulsive masturbation, anonymous sexual behaviors, and sexual promiscuity and boundary failure.
Sex addiction and compulsivity is a very real problem. The definition of addiction developed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine incorporates behavioral addictions such as gambling, internet addiction and sex. This definition is supported by over 30 years of research in addiction medicine and an abundance of neurosciences studies. While much controversy exists about whether to call it an addiction, compulsion, or hyper-sexual behavior, there are currently over 700 research studies in the peer review literature investigating this phenomenon. Many of these studies have large sample sizes and are from countries all over the world. The current estimated prevalence rates are between 2-6% of the general population.
While sex addiction was rejected by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) committee, published papers discussing the reason for the rejection deemed that the cause was political, due to this being such an area of intense controversy. This decision has left the field scrambling and fighting about how to classify this very real condition, with many sexual health organizations taking different positions on the matter. The World Health Organization may be finally taking a step forward to legitimize the problem, as it’s current draft proposal for the next edition includes “Sexual Compulsivity” in the Impulse Control section of its manual.
Before the Internet, people were forced to great lengths to commit a sex offense. Sex offenders were typically either compelled by a paraphilia or didn’t give a damn about the laws of society. People who suffered from a sexual addiction, on the other hand, typically acted-out through legal means, such as having affairs or casual sexual encounters; the most common illegal means being the hiring of prostitutes or exhibitionism.
Subsequent to the Internet, there has been an explosion of out-of-control and illegal sexual behavior.
Activities such as viewing child pornography, soliciting sex with minors through chat rooms, and others are much more common. Some of this has to do with the obvious fact that the Internet makes these activities much more available and easy. However, there are other factors as well, such as an illusion of privacy while doing it, lack of immediate consequences for these actions, an idea that others are doing it to (that makes it feel less taboo), and that the need for new stimulation often leads to widening exploration.
Sexual addiction is preoccupation to the point of obsession with sexual fantasy and/or activity. The obsession persists for six months or more despite attempts to quit or curtail the sexual fantasies and behaviors, and despite directly related negative life consequences – disintegrating relationships, trouble at work or in school, declining physical and/or emotional health, financial woes, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, legal problems, etc. Common sex addict behavior patterns involve compulsive porn use, masturbation, casual sex, anonymous sex, webcam sex, sexting, affairs, prostitution (hiring and/or providing), etc. It is important to understand that sexual addiction is not about the pleasure of orgasm. Instead, sex addicts use the neurochemical intensity wrought by their addictive fantasies and behaviors as a means of escaping and dissociating from life stressors and other forms of emotional discomfort, including the pain of psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, unresolved childhood trauma, etc. (This is also why alcoholics drink and drug addicts use. Essentially, addicts of all types are not trying to feel better, they’re trying to feel less.)
There are similarities and differences between sex offenders and sex addicts. Not all sex offenders are sex addicts and all sex addicts are not offenders. Both sexual compulsives and sex offenders however do report a loss of control and life consequences.
- They can both come from rigid and disengaged families.
- There is usually a history of addiction in the family, trauma in their childhood, with a high percentage of emotional abuse.
- They may have multiple addictions.
- High stress levels
- Use of pornography
- High use of thinking errors (cognitive distortions) such as Rationalization, Excuses, Blaming, “Poor Me”, Victim Stance, Denial, Justification, Lying, Anger, Keeping Score, Sense of Entitlement, etc.
- History of sexual difficulties
Sex offenders are more likely to have the following:
- Criminal lifestyle history
- Criminogenic thinking
- Distrust of authority
- History of violence
- Past sexual aggression
- Escalation of violence
- Overall pattern of assaults
- Unstable relationship history (can be a similarity as well).
I do not believe that Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Roger Ailes, Matt Lauer, Bill Clinton, Al Franken or Bill O’Reilly just to mention a few of the over 50 famous types caught so far all did the same behavior for the same reason or in the same way. Some did it believing their own press clippings and most of all, pointing at Weinstein, who I believe did it connected to power, control and the treat of never working in “the business”. That’s Rape any way you slice it. Neither type gets a free pass for sure. Ugly is still ugly.
At the end of the day it makes no difference if the named offender is a public figure or a metro bus driver, the behavior has to stop, consequences must be imposed and at least for the addict help is available. We can split hairs about who is an addict or who the offender is yet when we step back for a second we’ll see that all the behaviors are OFFENSIVE in nature & people get hurt.
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