In the wake of the numerous allegations of sexual assault against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, experts have been reiterating that sex addiction isn’t actually a real condition.
Harvey Weinstein is facing several sexual assault and harassment allegations from multiple women. [Photo by Steve Crisp/Reuters]
Dozens of women, including Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cara Delevingne have accused Weinstein of varying degrees of sexual harassment and assault. Weinstein is reportedly checking into rehab at The Meadows, a facility that has treated other high-profile personalities such as Kate Moss and Tiger Woods. Apparently, Weinstein checked in to receive treatment for sex addiction, telling journalists “Guys, I’m not doing okay. I’m trying. I’ve got to get help.”
However, this effort to “get help” rings hollow as numerous experts, therapists, and mental health professionals claim that sex addiction isn’t a real condition. There are even those that say that some use sex addiction as an excuse to explain away and not take responsibility for their actions. Even so, let’s delve into what makes this alleged condition what it is--and what it’s not.
Actresses Cara Delevigne, Lea Seydoux, Angelina Jolie, Gyneth Paltrow, and Ashley Judd (left to right) are among those who have accused Weinstein of various kinds of inappropriate behavior. [Photos by Getty]
The allegations against Weinstein depict a decades-long career rife with predatory behavior towards young women. If sex addiction were a real thing, would it explain Weinstein’s behavior?
A study from 2012 defined sex addiction as a condition in which the sufferer experiences “recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior”, among other related things, over a period of at least six months. If these “fantasies” begin to affect the patient’s personal and professional lives, then it may be an addiction.
However, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) says that there is no substance to that “diagnosis”. According to the organization, the alleged condition has [no empirical basis](https://www.aasect.org/position-sex-addiction), and that even if it were real, the treatment for sex addiction isn’t as rigorous as it should be.
“In my opinion,” says Dr. Tom Murry of the AASECT, “the sex addiction treatment industry has bastardized neuroscience and consequently has drawn erroneous conclusions.”
In 2013, UCLA researcher Nicole Prause also discovered that the brains of alleged sex addicts don’t respond to sex the way the brains of addicts typically respond to stimuli.
Clinical psychologist David Ley, meanwhile, was more scathing toward those who claim to have sex addiction. “We see this parade of men getting caught engaging in this type of hypocrisy,” Dr. Ley tells NBC in an interview. “Then they claim their behavior is the result of this alleged disorder when we all know these were men who were abusing their power and privilege.”
Various experts and professionals have denied the plausibility of sex addiction.
So is it impossible that sex addiction will eventually be accepted as an actual psychological condition? Not necessarily. However, as of now, the evidence supporting the existence of the condition is severely lacking.
If sex addiction were a real thing, however, would it explain Weinstein’s behavior? Likely not. According to Joye Swan, head of the Woodbury University Psychology Department, Weinstein isn’t addicted to sex, but to power and intimidation. Many of his victims were young up-and-coming actresses who knew that by defending themselves, they would risk alienating a powerful movie executive, and they would be in danger of putting their burgeoning careers in jeopardy.
“I disagree with the sex addiction field, in which they lump nonconsensual and exploitive behaviors with someone who compulsively masturbates, has multiple relationships, or purchases sex,” says Doug Braun-Harvey, the founder of a sexual health organization called the Harvey Institute.
Still, there are those who argue that sex addiction is a real condition. However, real or not, psychological diagnoses should not be used to pathologize and excuse something morally objectionable.
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