We’ve heard the term sex addiction in mainstream news, seen it in pop culture or Celebrity Rehab, and likely scoffed when a popular actor or athlete gets caught cheating and claims sex addiction as the reason- but is it legit?
Psychiatrists and Sexologists have varied opinions on sex addiction, or also known as hypersexuality, and many seem reluctant to acknowledging it as a clinical classification. In 2013, the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) was published and omitted the inclusion of sexual addiction as a legitimate mental disorder. Although Hypersexuality was a proposed addition to the manual, a lack of current research on the diagnostic criteria of compulsive sexuality saw it cut from the current edition.
Although not a psychiatrist, Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor and has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. She says:
“We numb shame, but you cannot selectively numb emotion. We try to numb fear, shame, grief; we say, I don’t want to feel this so I’m going have a beer. When we do that, we also numb happiness, joy, gratitude, and then feel miserable and looking for purpose and meaning, and it becomes a cycle. We need to ask, why and how do we numb?”
It’s a more empathetic approach rather than clinical, but speaks to the humanity of any kind of addiction, hypersexuality included. And perhaps this is where the problem arises when trying to categorize a behavioral addiction pathophysiology; the diagnostics simply do not exist yet.
Sex addiction has been a term since the mid-1970s, and yet there is still a noted amount of controversy surrounding it’s identification in a clinical setting. There have been debates over the definition and existence of sexual addiction for decades, and it looks to continue this way. So although the DSM may not officially recognize sex addiction as a mental disorder, it does not mean it does not exist.
Addiction manifests itself when a person lacks or cannot access the internal tools to process trauma or pain or conflict, and must turn to external sources. So the question is not why the addiction, but why the pain? What is that person trying not to feel? What are they trying to numb?