Ever heard of the disorder known as sex addiction? Maybe your mother or spouse has even "had the talk" about sex addiction with you? It's not so unlikely that such a conversation, perhaps the prelude to an intervention, might have come up, because the idea that certain questionable behaviors might indicate sex addiction has become very popular of late. Even the treatment of sex addiction is big business right now.
Though, oddly enough, none of the official instruments of mental health diagnosis recognizes sex addiction as a disorder.
That’s right: None. “Sexual addiction” is not a medically recognized designation.
However, do a simple online search of "Sex Addiction Screening Test," and you'll find a handy diagnostic tool that will "scientifically prove" if you're at risk. And make no mistake, chances are astronomically high that you WILL be at risk.
Please join me as we step into the testing booth and read over the shoulder of today’s sample subject, "Ruth," as she answers a few friendly questions.
Ruth reads, gulps, and then clicks on "yes" when she's asked whether she was sexually abused as a child. She clicks another "yes" when she's asked if she ever sought therapy for a sex problem. After all, her husband has complained about her sexual "hang ups." "Others are concerned about my sexual behavior?" Again she clicks, thinking of her husband. Ever feel bad about sexual behavior? Click. Ever feel your sexual behavior isn't normal? Well, she's never talked about some private stuff, but she's pretty sure she's the only adult who masturbates, certainly the only married woman who can't keep her hands still. So "click." Ever tried to stop a sexual behavior and failed? Kept sexual behaviors from others? Masturbation. Vibrator. Double click. Used romantic fantasy or sex as an escape from problems? Ruth has thought about leaving her husband, and she has definitely daydreamed about that one handsome actor. Oops. Another click. Regularly purchased romance novels? A very guilty click. Stayed in romantic relationships after they became emotionally abusive? But Pastor said she should be patient and try to work it out. Sigh. Defeated click.
Ruth hits “submit” and is quickly warned her answers "have met a score on the basis of six criteria that indicate sex addiction is present." In fact, she’s then advised "Most addicts score above a six," and Ruth sees that her score is double that. In her heart, she knew — just as she'd always suspected — that she wasn't sexually “normal.”
But the inconvenient truth is this: Almost everyone who answers honestly scores high enough to indicate sex addiction, yet from a mental health standpoint, sexual “normalcy” exists on a continuum. Human needs vary greatly, so the psychiatric community has wisely decided against pathologizing normal human behavior.
But we humans like the known. We know exactly how much Vitamin C is optimal, for example, and how much sleep we need; but we just don’t know how much sex is “normal.” So instead of recognizing sexual desires as part of being human, we turn to guilt. We turn to tests. And we turn to false concerns about totally normal sexual desires.
Who benefits from diagnoses of sex addiction? Treatment centers, naturally (cha-ching!), as well as fundamentalist churches that consider sexual behavior outside of very narrow limits to be the work of the Devil.
Who loses? Poor Ruth, obviously. And anyone who takes — and buys into — these inane, meritless and completely unscientific screening tests.
Got questions about sexuality you’d like Marriage and Family Therapist Steven Ing to address in a future column? Tweet @StevenIngMFT or email askING@stevening.com.
Column originally appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal.