I ran across an excellent article the other day in the professional journal I receive- the journal’s focus is on research and treatment of sex addiction. In his article, Bill Herring states what I’ve long believed: regardless of what we call it, “sex addiction” is destructive to all involved. But what we call something determines how we respond to it. Addiction assumes the ability to seek recovery. Other options might not be so kind.
I have clients, or spouses of clients, who balk at the term addiction to describe their situation. Either the person with the behaviors doesn’t believe he or she is an “addict” or the partner believes that calling the behaviors “addictive” somehow releases the offender from responsibility for his/her actions. Both of these positions then keep the individuals and couples from moving forward in healing. We can get so caught up in the language of the disorder that we don’t address and adequately treat the disorder!
Sex addict by any other name hurts the same
In Herring’s article titled “A Sex addict by any other name hurts the same” (2011), four possible ways of understanding compulsive out of control and destructive sex are presented. Herring states that we can explain this collection of behaviors one of four ways:
- the person doesn’t know any better
- is ethically challenged
- has a psychiatric illness, or
- lacks sufficient self-control (Herring, 2011, p. 59).
Herring then summarizes these positions saying, “To be blunt, such a person is either ignorant, unethical, impaired, or addicted…All of a sudden, ‘addict’ doesn’t sound so bad” (2011, p. 59).
Herring summarizes his position saying that a person who engages in ongoing destructive or deceptive sexual actions has a significant problem that must be acknowledged no matter what the reason is or what other issues are present. ..What you do about something is influenced by what you call it (2011, p. 59).
What does this mean for partners of sex addicts?
I encourage you to resist the urge to get hung up on the term “addiction” as you confront your spouse or as you seek help for yourself. Describe the behaviors and the level of destruction you experience. The label addiction, while preferable to the other options as described by Herring, can be a stumbling block for those who need help. What matters most is that the out of control sexual behaviors bring about great pain, trauma, and destruction in the lives of those closest to the “addict” and that is reason enough to confront the behavior and demand that it stop. These behaviors have dire consequences and the person is responsible for them, regardless of how we name them.
Reference: Herring, B. (2011). A “Sex addict” by any other name hurts the same. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, (18)2, pp. 57-60.