Does sex addiction exist?

Anthony Weiner


Brier Jirka is a sex therapist with the Methodist Physicians Clinic Women's Center. She blogs every other Tuesday.Read more from Brier here.

Congressman Mark Foley, former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, President Bill Clinton, and New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner all have something in common.

They are all politicians who have been at the center of major news stories surrounding sex scandals.

From a sex therapist perspective, I always find it intriguing how the media portrays these men. They are often described as sex addicts or having sexual compulsive behavior. Either way, in my field, the terminology is very controversial.

Let's take a look at both of these terms and I think you'll see what I mean.

Sexual addiction, as defined by the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, is “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self or others.”

Therapists, like me, use something called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to diagnose patients. The latest version has removed addiction to sex, food and caffeine from its parameters. That's because so many people meet the criteria for addiction to sex, food and caffeine. Also, a ton of studies have been done in this area and none can state conclusively that sex addiction exists. It's all in the way it is presented and interpreted.

When it comes to sexual compulsive behavior, it is something a person has developed over time and it has become habitual.

Anthony Weiner was not going to die without sex or sexting. He does not have a disease; he simply made poor choices, time and time again.

We treat sexual compulsivity like other obsessive compulsive behaviors:

1) We identify the need (love, power, security, comfort)

2) We determine if there are underlying mental health issues, alcohol or drug issues? These often are linked.

3) We discuss the use of medications to help soften the compulsive thoughts.

4) We determine triggers that start the compulsive thinking patterns. Once these are identified it makes treatment easier.

5) We provide coping skills for the triggers.

6) We discuss family or couple therapy to develop a support network.

Treating sex addiction can be complicated. Some therapists have their patients refrain from sexual behaviors as a sort of disconnect and to retrain their brains.

In my opinion, this is suggesting sex is a negative act. I prefer to help a patient see that sex is positive when acted upon in appropriate ways. Patients need to learn to manage their desires to sexual stimulation, not shut them down.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not talking about situations involving rape, abuse, child molestation. Those are very different situations.

My goal as a sex therapist is to help patients view sex in a positive light. The news stories that label sexual behavior as addictive, without any grounds to do so, simply add fuel to an already growing fire on this misunderstood topic.

Is Anthony Weiner a sex addict?

In my opinion, he has what I call hyper-sexuality, meaning he has chosen inappropriate behaviors to meet his needs for power. Unfortunately, such choices have affected his career and his personal life. I certainly wouldn't call him a sex addict.

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