I’ve been avoiding talking about sex addiction/sexual compulsivity for weeks and weeks because whenever I talk about it I sound like a bitch. Also I’ve never worked with sexual compulsives myself, so my knowledge is only theoretical.
But I have finally crossed some kind of nonsense-ignoring/tolerating threshold with HuffPosts’s story about Tiger Woods’ texts about violence, choking, and urinating with sex.
I just want to make sure that folks aren’t conflating kink with sexual compulsivity, which means I need to make two distinctions.
The first is the notion of “sex addiction.” The whole idea of sex “addiction” is problematic for a number of complicated reason (which @DrPetra has explained with great thoroughness, so I don’t have to), but as briefly as I can, here’s the issue:
Roughly speaking, addiction is a neurological dependency on an exogenous chemical. Heroine, nicotine, caffeine, that sort of thing. Your body goes into withdrawal without it, and you become depressed, anxious, etc.
Compulsive behaviors – like eating, masturbating, and checking locks – are used to manage negative affect. The negative affect isn’t caused by the lack of the behavior; it gives rise to the behavior. You’re depressed or anxious and therefore you engage in your compulsion (PDF). It gives you a temporary feeling of calm and/or control. And then you return to your depressed or anxious state and need to return to your compulsion to stabilize again.
So it’s not really an addiction. Maybe this is all moot because the concept of addiction is a handy shortcut for folks to understand what it’s like to live with it, but then again maybe the world would be a better place if we aimed to understand things accurately rather than trying to understand them simply.
Treatment? My favorite point of view on treatment for “sex addiction” comes from the sex nerd’s sex nerd, Leonore Tiefer (I can’t tell you how much I love this woman), who said in an interview with Susie Bright, “I think that people are sold a bill of goods and that it’s really helpful. It’s like religion.”
Well exactly. Thanks Dr Tiefer!
(That means that it gives people something to do, something to think about, a community of people they trust, and an alternative outlet for their compulsivity, but it only redirects negative affect, it doesn’t actually FIX anything.)
Second, sexual compulsivity definitely does not have a causal connection with kink, power play, or sensation play. Lots and lots of people who like BDSM are healthy and are not using sex to manage negative affect. Some are, of course, just as some sexually ordinary people are, but I’m not aware of any causal connection or even any correlation. If you are, let me know.
I gotta write something about power play, I now realize.