Author: Daniel Lacovara
Article via The Advocate
“I think I am a sex addict.” John is a new client. He is 43 years old, gay, successful, and likable. He tells me he has a stable job, owns his own condo, and has an active social life. John also tells me that he spends hours at a time on social media hookup apps like Grindr and Scruff seeking anonymous sex. John acknowledges he was ambivalent about coming to see me and that he doesn’t like the label of “sex addict.” I tell him that this is understandable.
The word addiction generally conjures up images with which we all are familiar. A bottle of vodka. A needle. A handful of pills. But when you say the words “sex addiction,” the images are not so clear. The term “addiction” in regard to sex is clumsy at best and has led to years of arguments among mental health professionals about whether it is or isn’t a real addiction. Some therapists prefer sexual “compulsivity.” Others shy away from any definition at all for fear they will appear sex-negative, believing that the entire concept demonizes any out-of-the-box sexual behavior (such as swinging, BDSM, polyamory, etc.)
So it’s important to look at the basic definition of any type of addiction. Addiction is the repeated, compulsive seeking of a substance, thing or activity despite negative social, psychological, and/or physical consequences. This is a pretty broad classification, but the basic point is that whatever you are doing is creating some measure of havoc in your life.
For John, the impact of his online cruising and hookups was minimal at first. He might stay up late a night or two and be tired at work, but otherwise he was a reliable employee. He spent time with friends and was a boot camp devotee.
Over time, however, he found himself more and more drawn to the chase. He would glance at his phone during dinners with friends, checking to see if anyone had messaged him. He got gonorrhea from one of his anonymous encounters and chlamydia from another. He started to cancel plans and take sick days from his job. He was having sex three or four times a week with anonymous partners. He admitted that eventually his anxiety about sometimes not being able to find a sex partner was so great, he turned to hiring escorts or getting sensual massages.
The LGBT community, particularly the subsection that is gay and bisexual men, fought long and hard through the late sixties and seventies for the right to embrace and celebrate our sexuality. We came out of the shadows to express it in all its beautiful forms and, well, to have lots of sex. Therein lies the rub, no pun intended. How can you identify yourself as a sex addict when it seems like everyone around you is getting laid all the time too?
The reality is that sex addiction is not about sex. The word “sex” in this equation is the red herring. Just like the five martinis an alcoholic consumes in an hour isn’t really about a love for vodka.
Sex addiction is not about the kind of sex one has. Consensual sex between adults in whatever form that is pleasurable, respectful, and consensual is not the problem. Having multiple partners or engaging in casual hookups is not the problem.
The problem is when one regularly tries to escape emotional or psychological pain through the high of sex. Sex addicts just happen to use body parts — theirs or someone else’s — to avoid what’s happening inside of them.