Does sex addiction kill?
A good friend emailed me on Sunday morning. He lives on the other side of the country, in Maine, and I’m a certified sex addition therapist (CSAT). He wanted me to see an NBC Asian America report on the Atlanta-area spa shootings. Specifically, he wanted me to know that the shooter told the Atlanta Police Department he is a sex addict.
Ah, that old excuse, the article was saying. Harvey Weinstein made the same claim. So did Anthony Weiner. The piece was entitled: “How sex addiction has historically been used to absolve white men.” What about it, my friend was asking. Do white men use it to justify their behavior? Is sex addiction a fake diagnosis?
I read the article and felt my face flush. The term “sex addiction” gets a workout to justify criminal behavior, but misuse can’t void the truth of the disorder. Robert Weiss is founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute in LA. In his masterful book, “Sex Addiction 101,” he defines sex addiction as “hypersexuality,” a harmful preoccupation with fantasy or behavior that plays out in non-intimate sex, porn, compulsive self-stimulation, romantic intensity, and objectified-partner sex.
And yes, it can create addiction. “Imaging studies show that the brain on cocaine and the brain when sexually aroused are virtually indistinguishable,” Weiss writes. “The human brain reacts to sex the same way it reacts to cocaine — one of the most highly addictive substances known to man.”
In the wake of the Atlanta tragedy, the shooter’s claims, and the windstorm of opinions about sex addiction, from my vantage, there are two ringing questions: Is sex addiction real? And, for everyone who genuinely struggles with it: Is there hope?
Yes, the disorder is real. I can’t know whether Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old killer of eight people is a sex addict. I can’t know the minds of Harvey Weinstein or Anthony Weiner. What I know from the frontlines of therapy is that acting out can form a pattern, turn addictive, and draft on co-addictions like alcohol, gambling, and illegal drugs. No longer is sex about a person or pleasure or intimacy. It’s necessary to maintain. For 99 percent of sex addicts, or any addict, what begins as a way out, typically from pain in childhood or adolescence, often from abuse or neglect or a trauma, has become a prison.
Straight or gay, male or female, a typical sex addict is a good person under a growing pile of compulsions and complications. The people in my office are not there to excuse their behavior. They’ve come because their excuses to themselves and their loved ones have worn thin: “I stay late at the office for us.” “Tell the kids I’ll catch the next recital.” “Just one more time.” Their money drains into multiple addictions, and many are leaders in the community. Exposure would unleash hell on earth for them, and their lives have narrowed to tightropes.
I have deep respect for men and women in their valiant fights to save themselves and their families. These are not potential murderers. Sex addiction does not kill. When the term is invoked to excuse criminal behavior, nearly 100 percent of the time, the criminal behavior feeds on something else.
Solutions call for more than a catch phrase. What’s needed is honest conversation, study and inquiry. People have been murdered. Families are grieving. To label a real problem with “rampant white male privilege” shows more political agenda than public service. No journalist, no media outlet, should want to undercut the real problem or the real hope.
Edward Dudding, M.A., LMHC, LPC, CSAT, NCC