It seems like whenever a rich, powerful, and/or famous man is embroiled in a sexual scandal, he mumbles the words “sex addiction” as part of his semi-apologetic public statement. According to noted sex addiction expert Robert Weiss, author of Sex Addiction 101 and a variety of other sex-focused books, sometimes these men really are sexually addicted. Just as often, however, they are not.
Weiss defines sexual addiction as an ongoing, out of control pattern of compulsive sexual fantasies and behaviors that causes problems in the addict’s life. He says the criteria most often used to diagnose sex addiction are as follows:
- Preoccupation to the point of obsession with sexual fantasy and behavior
- Loss of control over the use of sexual fantasy and behavior, typically evidenced by failed attempts to quit or cut back
- Directly related negative consequences—relationship trouble, issues at work or in school, declining physical health, depression, anxiety, diminished self-esteem, isolation, financial woes, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, legal trouble, etc.
Weiss says that, as occurs with other addictions, addictive sexual behaviors are used not to have a good time, but as an emotional coping mechanism. Sex addicts, like other addicts, are not trying to feel good, they’re trying to feel less. They want to escape stress, anxiety, depression, and other forms of emotional discomfort, and they use their addiction to do that.
When asked if we should automatically believe these rich, powerful, and famous men when they blame their sexual harassment and abuse on an addiction, Weiss says:
I treat every individual when they first walk in the door as a person in crisis. As a therapist, it is my duty to do what I can to help. Especially if that crisis is deeply public, as it so often is with well-known men. So, is the client coming to see me to appear sympathetic, or does he really want help? To me, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is that motivates him to come to treatment, once he’s there, I’ll do what I can.
Weiss does note that one of the first tasks undertaken in treatment is an extensive clinical assessment that will uncover the client’s true issue, be it sexual addiction or something else. Then, once the client is properly assessed and diagnosed (if a diagnosis of some sort is appropriate), the therapist can create and implement a suitable treatment plan. If the client truly is addicted, that issue is treated. If not, the therapist will help in whatever ways the client can be helped. At the very least, sexual harassers and abusers can be coached to work through their denial, to understand what they’ve done and how it’s impacted others.