Sex addiction. It sounds legitimate, right? We all know that sex can seem like a drug, sometimes, so it makes sense that we can be addicted to sex, right?
I would like to present a case for why sex addiction — and frankly any addiction — can easily turn into an excuse for poor behavior, and avoids looking at the more complex ideas behind why we make the choices we do.
To begin, we need to talk about words. To most, addiction is a cycle, which means when one is addicted to something, they continually seek that out something. There is the perception that addiction is something that is, at best, very difficult to break. There is the perception that someone who is addicted to something… will always have difficulty with that something.
Do you know what one of the phrases of Alcoholics Anonymous is? “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.” It is meant to illustrate that someone that struggles with alcoholism will always need to be aware of their risk around alcohol. That is, that their specific risk with imbibing is always going to be present.
I think that idea holds a tiny bit of truth: We do need to pay close attention to what our risks are. For me, it is junk food. I can literally sit and just munch on the stuff all day. If I have junk food in the house, I gain weight. Am I doomed to be fat? Absolutely not. I can simply choose not to have junk food in the house, or have it in the form of predetermined portions, so I cannot just keep eating.
So, to me, the idea that we are “addicted” and that “addiction” takes choice out of our behavior, is ridiculous. I think the word “addiction” is self-defeating nonsense, and to be clear, I have known several alcoholics, both recovering and not recovering, and I know a few people who smoke. I am no stranger to some people having a real, serious struggle with the choices they are making. I am no stranger to struggling with choices either. Being in evangelical Christian circles, there is this idea that men will always struggle with sexual lust (even though the idea is not really based in a proper understanding of the Bible).
I think if we are to be healthy human beings, we must see our behavior as a choice, under all circumstances, even the most challenging situation. If we do not, we run the risk of giving up on making good choices, which of course leads to bad choices, and then we can land in varying degrees of trouble. Are there chemicals in the brain that influence how we perceive things? Absolutely! Are there people who have an abnormally high sex drive? Absolutely! However, behavior is a choice.
Seeing our behavior as something that is not a choice is a sure way to seeing ourselves as monsters, worthy of hatred. Why? Because we view our behavior as something that cannot be avoided. We trick ourselves and deceive ourselves into seeing our actions as something that is merely the result of our situation, which can make us frustrated that we cannot seem to control our behavior. What we believe about ourselves and our choices can ultimately lead to depression, poor decisions, and even illegal activity.
Other words that tend to put that same burden on us are the words “urge” and “impulse.” When we have an “urge” it is usually a strong desire… but the word “urge” is often used with smokers to illustrate that they need to go smoke. The reality is, they could choose not to follow that desire and do something different instead. They could chew gum or wear a patch instead, or just bear with the desire until it passes, distracting themselves by doing other things instead. An impulse carries a similar concept: A desire that must be acted upon.
So, what happens when we see our behavior as something that is beyond our control, when the reality is that we are deceiving ourselves into a hopeless situation that we (seemingly) cannot change? We engage in that behavior, of course. The addiction here is not really to the behavior, or the perceived positives that come from the behavior, the addiction is to the belief that our behavior is not a choice. The addiction part, the part that becomes extremely difficult to get out of, is really a mental rut of seeing something a certain way, and being unable to see any other perspective.
Words Lead To Self-Hate
When we see our behavior as something that cannot change, as if we are inevitably going to do… a certain something, whatever that something is… the end result is us beating ourselves up for something we seemingly cannot change. If the reality is that we can change it, but we deceive ourselves into thinking that we cannot, we put ourselves into a hopeless position where we believe very harmful, negative, and most importantly untrue things about ourselves. We may not understand why we make the choices that we do, and it may be difficult to see what the better choices are. However, we have other people that can help us figure these areas out.
The Practical Application
Often, pedophiles get concerned with having fantasies of children, with the belief that having fantasies might someday lead to harming a child. Some of us get concerned that viewing even legal imagery or stories will ultimately lead to viewing sexual abuse images (child pornography), and then, will lead to abusing a child. There is the concern that one thing will lead to another, to another, to another, until we do something horrific like sexually abuse a child.
I believe, given the above reasoning, that this concern is partly grounded in reality: We do need to be aware of our weak points, and of course, stick to behavior that is legal and not harmful to children. We need to be sure that we are not deceiving ourselves into using thinking and justifications that will ultimately lead to harming children.
However, I also think that the concern is not based in the fact that we can and do, through the choices we make, behave in a way that does not harm children. So, the concept of getting addicted to pornography? I call bunk: Using pornography as an inappropriate outlet for unrelated needs is a choice, not an addiction. We can meet the needs we are neglecting in ways that actually address our needs. Lonely? Talk to people! Overwhelmed? Get some alone time! Angry? Get space to cool off!
The concept that pedophiles will inevitably look at sex abuse images? I call bunk: We can choose outlets that are fictional and not harmful to anyone, and stick to those outlets, and manage our other needs by addressing them directly. Doing these things might stretch mental muscles we are not used to using, but it will be well worth it.