Why Some Psychologists Don’t Believe In Sex Addiction
When asked if you’re addicted to something, would you say you can’t live without coffee? Many men would probably say they’re addicted to sports or playing mobile games on their smartphone. Others may talk about their addiction to working out. But what about sex addiction?
There are psychologists who believe in the concept of sex addiction. The phrase “sex addiction” was coined back in the late 70s, and since then there have been many studies about what it is and how to treat it. On the other hand, there are also psychologists who don’t believe that sex addiction exists as a medical condition or psychological disorder. Here are some of their arguments.
Criteria For Addiction
In the past, the term addiction was only applied to substances such as tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. For an addiction to be medically diagnosed, there are four criteria that need to be met. First, there’s tolerance. This means that people who are addicted build up their tolerance such that the more they consume whatever it is they’re addicted to, the higher the amounts or concentrations they need to satisfy their craving.
Next, there’s the matter of craving. It’s not just a regular craving, like when you’re thinking of eating something you haven’t tasted for a long time. Unlike a craving for chocolates, people who are addicted experience such intense cravings that they go out of their way to get what they’re craving for.
The third criterion is withdrawal. The concept of withdrawal is something that most people are familiar with. In most cases, when you stop taking something you’re addicted to, you experience debilitating physiological effects. This is similar to drug addicts experiencing irritability, restlessness, and hot flashes when they stop taking drugs.
The last criterion is all about the consequences of the addiction. The more severe the addiction, the more severe the consequences. Addicts do almost anything in order to obtain and use whatever they’re addicted to, regardless of whatever negative consequences there might be, even if it means losing their job, their families, or their health.
Debate Among Specialists
To date, sex addiction is not listed as a mental disorder in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). This means that sex addiction is not officially or medically considered as a mental disorder.
Psychologists who object to the idea of sex addiction point out that it doesn’t meet the four criteria which are used to diagnose an addiction. For instance, there are no withdrawal symptoms or tolerance levels associated with sex addiction.
To put it simply, if you are supposedly a sex addict, how would a tolerance build up manifest? Would it mean that you will need more partners every time you have sex, or would it mean you will spend more time having sex? Moreover, what symptoms would you experience if you don’t engage in sex for several days?
If you’re craving for sex, you would probably just send a message to your partner and tell her to come home early or meet up somewhere to spend an intimate night together. But this is also not the same intense craving that drug addicts experience when they’re jonesing for their drug of choice.
You’ve probably experienced taking a day off or being absent from work because your lover wanted to meet up. But that’s hardly the same scenario as when drug addicts report to work high on drugs or disregard deadlines or not report to work for several days at all.
If we were to base it on the four criteria mentioned earlier, it would be difficult to say that sex addiction actually meets the criterion. Moreover, measuring how a supposedly sex-addicted person qualifies for each criteria would also be very challenging.
On the other side of the issue, neuroscientists may have the answer. It appears that engaging in compulsive or excessive sex triggers spikes in dopamine levels in the brain. And the scientists are saying that the neurological changes happening in the brain follow the same pattern that drug addicts show.
To answer the question of tolerance and dependence, scientists are saying that it’s all about dopamine and dynorphin, a protein in the brain that balances the release of dopamine. When dynorphin levels are high, it dampens your brain’s reward system, so you don’t feel any pleasure. To overcome this state, you’ll need more dopamine released into your brain, which is why you’ll need to engage in the behavior you’re addicted to. In this case, it means engaging in sex.
From this point of view, it would appear that tolerance is not about how many partners you have during sex, or how many hours you spend having sex. It would be all about how much pleasure you derive from the act. Tolerance could mean that you’re no longer satisfied with the usual missionary position, so you crave for more exotic or extraordinary positions or sexual behaviors.
This would explain why people who are considered as hypersexual exhibit risk-taking behaviors. Hypersexuality is considered as a dysfunction, and it involves obsessive and excessive pursuit of sexual behaviors such as masturbation, pornography, and casual sex.
Neuroscientists are also saying that the same parts of the brain that get triggered when cocaine addicts are shown images of cocaine also get triggered when they are shown erotic images. This suggests that the same neural networks are involved whenever the brain is presented with any rewarding stimulus, whether its cocaine for drug addicts or pornographic images for those with compulsive sexual behavior.
However, specialists who don’t believe in sex addiction are saying that it’s unnecessarily being pathologized or medicalized. This means that the behavior is viewed as a disorder or medical condition when it shouldn’t be. On the other hand, those who believe in the concept of sex addiction believe that it is an abnormal behavior that needs to be treated.
If you’ve been wanting to ask whether your interest in sex is healthy, or if you’re being excessive and obsessive about it, the answer may differ based on your therapist or sex counselor’s approach to sex addiction.