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Essay: The Opposite of Sex
June 2, 2010  |  by Guido Veloce

I am writing at a time when “sex addiction” is much in the news. With any luck, it won’t be when you read this, although sex addiction is unlikely to vanish from headlines as long as there are people with lots of money, free time, hubris, and divorce attorneys. Caught cheating? Check into a clinic.

What bothers me about this is a recent proliferation of addictions—an addictions arms race with shopping and video games among the other newcomers. Why not just treat people in trouble without creating a new category for behaviors that may stem from very different roots? This rising tide of addictions, moreover, occurred when there was a perfectly good, traditional vocabulary for describing the same behavior, much of it not printable here. Admittedly, those words don’t have addiction’s implication of medical authority, special clinics, and billable hours. Sex addiction hasn’t yet entered the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) but may be on the fast track to the popular culture equivalent of disorder canonization.

Good academic that I am, I decided to check out sex addiction—not by field work but by engaging in safe research on the Internet, in the privacy of my own, newly password-protected home network. It was revealing.

Sex addiction merits two national organizations. In common with similar organizations for other addictions, each follows the 12-step and 12-tradition program of the granddaddy of them all, Alcoholics Anonymous, almost word for word. These words, however, sound different when substituting sex for alcohol. Sex addicts might think twice before asking God “to remove our shortcomings.” And if a requirement is always to “maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, and TV,” some sex addicts fail miserably.

I am also not sure all the language of other addictions transfers to sex addiction. Try to convince a long-suffering mate that you need a “maintenance dose.” Similarly, some of the paraphernalia might not work for sex addiction. I found, for example, a line of greeting cards that make sense when sent by the target audience, recovering alcoholics. From a recovering sex addict, however, they’re creepy. How would you feel receiving from such a person whimsical cards bearing messages such as “Let’s Get Together SOON!” and “Just for TODAY”?

For greater depth of research, I also checked out Gamblers Anonymous for another possible model for understanding and treating sex addiction. I will substitute “sex” for gambling and you can judge. Quotation #1: “After abstaining a few months some of our members have tried some small sex experimentation, always with disastrous results.” Quotation #2: “The intervals between sexual binges were not periods of constructive thinking. Symptomatic of these periods were nervousness, irritability, frustration, indecision, and a continued breakdown in personal relations.” Quotation #3: “The newcomer to abstinence will soon find a keen appreciation of the many pleasant and stimulating activities available—far removed from anything that is remotely associated with sex.” I am not sure there is a one-size-fits-all model for addictions, although Quotation #2 might indicate otherwise.

As for the actual treatment for sexual addiction, I found little specific information. One center offers “Equine Therapy,” among other options. And I appreciated the candor of a therapist who said, “We may not stop the behavior, but we’re going to ruin it for you.” Some of us had mothers and religious instructors who were ahead of the therapeutic curve.

Sex addiction may eventually enter the DSM, but it won’t truly have won the war for public acceptance until a betrayed spouse, golf club in hand, yells at the betrayer, “You sex addict!” At such moments, the language is likely to remain plainer and less therapeutic for a long time to come.

Guido Veloce is a Johns Hopkins University professor.


4 Comments


  1. Hopkins Professor

    To the editor,
    I was extremely disappointed to read the anonymous professor “Guido Veloce’s” disparaging comments about sexual addiction in the summer 2010 edition of Johns Hopkins Magazine (“The Opposite of Sex”). This piece was accompanied by a lurid cartoon depicting a sex addict as a slovenly unshaven individual, staring at his computer with breasts in place of his eyes. I am shocked that Johns Hopkins Magazine would publish any piece which denigrates a group of individuals seeking treatment for behaviors which are negatively impacting their lives. As a Hopkins faculty member who has suffered from sexual addiction or compulsivity for at least seventeen years, I can assure “Professor Veloce” that whether or not sexual addiction has yet earned its place as a designated disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, sexual addiction represents an understudied affliction which like alcoholism and other substance abuse disorders continues to destroy the lives of thousands of individuals and their families. Compulsive sexual behavior has exploded in response to the increasing availability of pornography on the Internet. 41% of corporate employees reprimanded for abusing computer privileges at work were using pornography. One author noted that “upwards of 2 1⁄2 hours per day may be spent engaging in [online sexual activity]” by workers during business hours1. Professor Veloce might be interested to learn that Johns Hopkins has been a leader in the treatment of disorders of compulsive sexual behavior through its Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit and the Center for Sexual Health in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. This group describes symptoms of compulsive sexual disorders on its website (http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/specialty_areas/sexual_behaviors/compulsions.html). The staff members at the Hopkins Faculty and Staff Assistance Program have assured me that my problems with sexual addiction are by no means unique in the Hopkins community.

    “Professor Veloce” disparages Twelve Step approaches to the treatment of sexual addiction. In fact, four Twelve Step Fellowships focus on the recovery of people with sex addiction: Sexaholics Anonymous (www. SA.org), Sex Addicts Anonymous (www.sexaa.org), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (www.slaafws.org), and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (www.sca-recovery.org). Several Fellowships also help the spouses and partners of sex addicts (S-Anon, http://www.sanon.org, COSA , http://www.cosa-recovery.org). SA has saved my marriage, career, and indeed my life. I know several fellows in the Hopkins community who are similarly benefiting from programs of recovery offered by S-fellowships.

    Sex may remain a titillating subject. “Professor Veloce” may chuckle at the very serious problems of celebrities who have brought this subject into the forum of newspapers and gossip columns. I believe that Johns Hopkins Magazine would better serve the Hopkins and Alumni Community by publishing a serious discussion of this and other compulsive behavioral disorders which no doubt plague many of your readers, as well as the various treatment modalities which are available to help them and their families.
    I regret that the stigma associated with sexual addiction in our society requires that I send this letter anonymously.

    Sincerely,

    A Hopkins Professor
    1 Reviewed in Orzack MH, Voluse AC, Wolf D, Hennen J., Cyberpsychol Behav. 2006 Jun;9(3):348-60.

  2. I was about to subscribe to the magazine until I read this article. I had found the publication by following a link to the Addiction and Art article, which was very interesting and positive. However, this distastefull addressing of a debilitating human condition by a major university is in such poor taste I can only imagine it shows the true side of the editorial staff. How many will graduate from JHU this year with this level of… knowledge? Rick Steinberger

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