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By Alanna Hilbink
Stigmas are really nothing more than negative attitudes and assumptions about something or someone based on distinguishing characteristics. With people, these characteristics may be related to mental or physical health and ability, and are often traits someone has no choice or control over. The definition may be simple, but stigmas themselves are complex, causing hurt and doing harm. All forms of addiction have a long, problematic history with stigmas, but the stigma attached to sex addiction is especially prevalent. Knowledge really is power, and learning the “why” behind the stigmatization of sex addiction may actually help to change it.
When discussing sex addiction stigmas, it’s important to get the biggest question out of the way: Is sex addiction real? Denying the validity of sex addiction is just one way stigmas hurts those who struggle with this disorder. We no longer question the reality of drug or alcohol addiction. Gambling and various forms of media addiction are also gaining recognition. So why are we still questioning the validity of sex addiction?
Denying the validity of sex addiction is just one way stigma hurts those who struggle with it.
The World Health Organization now recognizes compulsive sexual behavior disorder as an impulse control disorder. This disorder is defined by a failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges that result in repetitive sexual behavior. When dealing with an impulse control disorder, repetitive sexual behaviors become the focus of your life. You find you can’t stop or cut back on these behaviors, and your sexual behaviors get in the way of your work life, family and home life, or simply your personal happiness and well-being.
When an impulse to continue an activity even though it is causing you harm is combined with failed attempts to quit and serious consequences in your personal life, it is a problem. Now, add drugs or alcohol to this experience and it would look exactly like clinically defined, acknowledged, and treatable addiction.
And compulsive sexual behavior disorder isn’t just a rare or theoretical experience. Psychiatry shared a study that determined 8.6% of the population to have “clinically relevant levels of distress and/or impairment associated with difficulty controlling sexual feelings, urges, and behaviors.” So it’s a medically recognized and relatively common experience.
The fact that we still question the existence of sex addiction or compulsive sexual behavior disorder shows just how powerful sex addiction stigma truly is. So what does this stigma mean for those who are struggling with repetitive sexual urges and behaviors?
No matter the form of addiction, stigma gets in the way of treatment and recovery. National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Dr. Nora Volkow explains, “People with addiction continue to be blamed for their disease, even though medicine long ago reached a consensus that addiction is a complex brain disorder with behavioral components.”
Addiction is often still seen as your fault, a flaw, or a weakness despite the now decades of research showing that it is anything but.
Addiction is often still seen as your fault, a flaw, or a weakness despite the now decades of research showing that it is anything but. However, because of preconceived ideas and assumptions, you may hesitate to ask friends and family for support or approach medical professionals for help. You may fear being judged or having your concerns minimized or denied. Here at Gentle Path at The Meadows, it is different. We offer a warm, welcoming, and always judgment-free community of professionals and peers.
In addition to denying the existence of sex addiction altogether or assigning blame rather than acknowledging a disease, there are further assumptions about compulsive sexual behavior disorder. Many of these stigmas stem from confusion about sex addiction and sexual offending. The two are often equated, and while they can overlap, it should not be assumed they go hand in hand. Many people who struggle with sex addiction only participate in consensual sex, whether online or in person. That doesn’t mean no one gets hurt, because their actions certainly cause pain for spouses, partners, and loved ones, but they would never commit a sex crime. And sex addiction treatment isn’t a way for someone who does offend to avoid legal consequences.
When ask the question, “What is a sex addict?,” I’m sure most of us picture a man. However Psychiatry found that, while more men do deal with compulsive sexual behavior, 10.3% of them in fact, women aren’t statistically far behind and make up 7% of the population. This assumption about who engages in these behaviors means women may feel even more shame about coming forward and asking for help. And the help that does exist may not be tailored to their unique experiences and recovery needs.
Stigma means more than just misunderstanding a person or a disease. Addiction stigma has a real impact on mental and physical health, so when you do take the big, brave step to ask for support, it’s important to approach the right professionals. Dr. Volkow explains how stigma can lead to substandard care or even the rejection of people seeking treatment. And when a person has been treated poorly because of their addiction, they are likely to be even more hesitant about speaking up and seeking help in the future.
This is why Gentle Path offers treatment for sexual addiction and any co-occurring mental health or addiction issues by a caring staff with a deep understanding of this disorder. We firmly believe that everyone deserves the best, most advanced behavioral healthcare treatment. We meet you where you are with no judgment or assumptions, and we work with you to create a personalized, comprehensive treatment plan. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help you.
October 14th, 2022
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