Editor's note: Ethlie Ann Vare writes about the contentious question of sex addiction from an anecdotal perspective; that is, while not a mental health professional, she strongly believes that the term "addiction" best describes her own struggles with love and sex. This piece represents her personal opinion regarding sex addiction.
Either David Ley is my evil twin, or I am his. He is about to release a book called The Myth of Sex Addiction and is forever writing articles on the topic. As the author of Love Addict: Sex, Romance and Other Dangerous Drugs, I am forever writing articles about that decidedly different perspective.
My argument is not with Dr. Ley's expertise or even with his premise, although it is admittedly difficult to prove a negative. No, my argument is with his faulty logic. Take, for instance, the frequently reprinted article originally published in the London Telegraph on Jan. 8, 2012, "Why there's no such thing as sex addiction." Dr. Ley begins by saying that, in a decade of work as a psychologist, he has never "diagnosed anyone, ever, as being 'addicted' to sex." I don't doubt it for a minute. I also believe it is the last entirely accurate statement in the piece.
Let me share a few of his lapses in logical continuity. With regard to people such as me, he says, "[T]he mistake all these 'experts' make is to try to apply the characteristics of drug and alcohol addiction to sex, claiming too much sex works like a drug, causing cravings, withdrawals, tolerance (the need for increasingly powerful 'hits') and a downward spiral in which sex 'takes over their life'."
First, "experts" never said that too much sex works like a drug but that all sex works like a drug. You could be an anorexic sex addict who hasn't gotten laid since the Carter administration, but orgasm still creates the same neurochemical reward cascade in the limbic region of the brain that cocaine does. So does the intoxication of romantic infatuation. It has nothing to do with the amount of, the variety of, or the type of sex you're having. It's all about the brain that's receiving the input.
"Most importantly," continues Ley, "unlike those who've become dependent on alcohol or drugs, an individual who has been labelled a sex addict faces no serious physical consequences if he or she suddenly goes 'cold turkey'. Nobody in history has ever died from wanting sex and being unable to have it." Indeed, one cannot die from "blue balls," no matter what your high school boyfriend told you. However, that's not what proponents of the disease model of sex addiction said. We said the addiction can kill you.
How do you die from sex and love addiction? You die when the lover you can't bear to leave beats you one too many times. When you can't keep away from back-alley trade, until one cuts you for your wallet. When you contract HIV/AIDS from compulsive, impulsive, unprotected encounters. When you commit suicide because he doesn't call, or because you just can't look at yourself in the mirror anymore.
I believe it's the inductive fallacy Ley falls prey to when he says, "I don't deny that porn is a powerful stimulant. ... But is this addictive? ... Porn exposure is almost universal in men and if it had the destructive effect that doomsayers claim, we would be awash with sex crime." Addiction to pornography is neither proven or disproven by sex crime statistics; there is no correlation between them. Addiction to pornography is correlated with addiction to pornography.
He concludes, "If male sexuality is inherently addictive and dangerous, then a healthy male is one who has no sexuality. That's a frightening and emasculating concept." I agree. Luckily, treating sex and love as mood-altering and potentially addictive has nothing to do with masculinity. I, for instance, am a woman. You can check under the hood. Nor do addiction counselors attempt to desexualize either gender. There are churches that do, but then there are churches that forbid the use of alcohol, caffeine, and lipstick. Because some church groups treat sex addiction, and some church groups decry sexuality, it does not necessarily follow that those who treat sex addiction decry sexuality. I believe that's the deductive fallacy.
Ley concludes his piece by inviting high-libido men to "see their sexuality as something that is in their control, just like any other aspect of their life." He could make the same invitation to heavy drinkers, I suppose, but I doubt any respected therapist today would suggest such a thing. We know now that some of those drinkers won't be able to stop, no matter how much they want to or how hard they try. It's the very definition of addiction.