I've gestured toward my CPOS past here, but I have a lot to say on this particular topic - "sex addiction." My own very brief, highly personal executive summary is as follows: until a couple of years ago, I was deeply repressed, and my life was in ever-increasing disarray as I chased down a rabbit-hole of compulsive sexual behavior. In the time since then, I've been incredibly lucky: the most obvious way in which I've been lucky concerns my wife, about whom I won't write a word in these posts, but the judgment of whom I'll leave to you.
But I've been lucky in other ways too. I've reorganized my entire psyche, changed my relationship to my desires and behaviors, and in so doing, have been delivered to a place that's a ton of fun, filled with joy and adventure, excitement and fulfillment. And this all has happened thanks to an enormous effort on my part, and with some tools, one of which is the world of 12-step programs. I have a complex and ambivalent relationship to that world, and in this and the next few posts on this topic, I want to share a bit of that - both to help me work it out in writing, and because one of my greatest challenges as I went through my "recovery," such as it was, was the relative absence of thoughtful voices of people who both suffered from out-of-control compulsiveness with regard to sex and thought of themselves as fundamentally sex-positive.
Let me start by saying two things, unequivocally: first, I do not believe one can be "addicted" to sex in any meaningful sense. And/but second, I believe that many people have a relationship to sex that is not meaningfully different than that of an alcoholic, or heroin addict, or smoker, to their habit. I certainly did.
Dictionary.com (the dictionary that provided the most easily copy-and-paste-able definition) defines "addiction" thus:
[uh-dik-shuhn] Show IPA
the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.
This definition, like most I've seen, focuses on the trauma associated with cessation. Some focus on the necessity of a substance's or behavior's continued supply in order to feel "normal." Clearly, it all depends on what "severe trauma" is, but I think it's hard to imagine a definition of "severe trauma" that could capture the experience of "withdrawal" for even the most inveterate "sex addict." Certainly, no one ever has suffered DT's or other physical symptoms of withdrawal. (This is true of all sorts of behavioral "addictions." There's a whole 'nother piece to be written about the 12-step-ification of so many of our problems, but I'll only touch on that glancingly.)
There are a number of challenges to this discussion: first, it's almost inherently politicized, along a couple of dimensions. There are sex-positive folks (like myself) who generally see "sex addiction" as a sex-negative stigmatization of promiscuity, a sort of bullshit diagnosis used either to stigmatize or excuse the behavior of severely repressed people. Then, there are the sex-negative folks (any number of preachers come to mind) who see "sex addiction" as a disease of lust run amok (with a whole subset of these folks who seek to help gay people "recover" from their same-sex attraction). Finally, there are those who suffer from "sex addiction," people who understand that they are genuinely (in the language of 12-step programs the world over) "powerless over sex" and that their "lives have become unmanageable." The transformation of their experience into a "disease" - a sort of exogenous force over them, rather than an internally generated moral failing, or failure of willpower - is itself enormously relieving and even empowering.
My own point of view is to honor at least the views of the sex-positive and of those who suffer from "sex addiction." I participated in a number of 12-step "S-fellowships" - the collection of 12-step programs that exist to help people who are sexually out of control to regain control of their lives, and while none was (close to) perfect, collectively they helped me. Enormously.
In a later post, I hope to write more about those various programs (I'm familiar with Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Recovery Anonymous, and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, though I'm sure there are more). Each is different, both in its conception of the "problem" and of the "solution."