With all the recent media attention on the Harvey Weinstein scandal—numerous revelations by movie stars about the powerful Hollywood film producer’s sexual harassment and assault habits—we’re seeing many references to his behavior as “sex addiction.” Cleverly, Weinstein has taken the easy path—rehab instead of prison—checking himself into expensive “sex-addiction rehab” programs for the foreseeable future.
Morality and justice aside, I have long ago abandoned the “sex-addiction” terminology. It is nothing more than an oversimplified and misleading term like “nervous breakdown,” a pop-culture catchall that does nothing to get to the important issues out-of-control behaviors. I say this as a therapist who years ago was in the sex-addiction industry trained with therapy concepts and practices. However, when I discovered the concept of healthy sexuality and trained with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), I abandoned the term and treatment of “sex addiction,” as well as the methods I been taught to deal with it. I now use treatment methods which are strength-based more helpful for those struggling with sexual behaviors.
All too often everything from having extramarital affairs to watching porn to desiring different sexual experiences with a reluctant spouse or partner is lumped together under the umbrella of “sex addiction.” In the sex addiction industry, they are even trying to include sex-offending behaviors under this umbrella, but someone who is experiencing out-of-control behaviors is not necessarily a sex offender.
People like Weinstein who sexually offend and perpetrate others have a much different pathology going on than people who struggle with conflict around sexual behaviors such as too much masturbation or pornography use. And, in a broader sense, calling someone who acts on an unwilling victim a sex addict rather than a predator blurs the line between predation and what may even be normal, if misunderstood, sexual interests that doesn't cross a line of harming others.
Labels and words matter.