I have no doubt there are people out there who struggle with compulsive sexual behaviour just as people struggle with compulsive shopping, gambling, or overeating, who engage in high risk behaviour that is destructive to the self and others. However, these days when I hear the term ‘sex addict’ I shudder.
Too often, ‘sex addiction’ is bandied about as the scapegoat for all kinds of situations and behaviour, from partners caught cheating or using porn, to individuals who have an interest in particular kinks, to sexual desire disparity in couples. More recently I heard it used as an accusation levelled against people who desire ‘too much’ sex, most notably against women who express and act upon their desire for sex for sex’s sake.
This doesn’t just trivialise those genuinely struggling with compulsive sexual behaviour; when people use the term to describe sexual behaviour they don’t happen to like, or as an accusation or judgement, it becomes yet another form of slut shaming.
I first encountered this perception of sex addiction a few years back, when I went through a bit of a sexual binge. For a little over a year, I shagged up a storm, engaged in casual sex, threesomes and foursomes. I explored kinks and finally came to terms with my bisexual orientation. Sex was a high priority for me because for so many years I had neglected it. This was my chance to have the smorgasbord of sex I missed in my twenties.
When people use the term to describe sexual behaviour they don’t happen to like, or as an accusation or judgement, it becomes yet another form of slut shaming.
Some of the people I encountered around that time, even some of my friends, questioned my behaviour: did I perhaps have a problem and prioritise sex a little too much? Was I doing it for attention, was I putting myself on the porn-pile, where guys would see me as someone to fuck but nothing more? One friend even sent me an online questionnaire designed to assess whether I might have a sex addiction. The survey questions were loaded and judgemental and concluded that I might well have a problem (with a convenient link to someone I could pay to help me fix it, of course).
But what problem did I have, exactly? I wasn’t hurting anyone, not even me. Sure, I was having a lot of sex, but my behaviour didn’t impact on my life in any negative way. I held down a professional job; I successfully completed my university study; I had wonderful friendships and relationships; I was healthy and reasonably happy. I partied a little harder than I had when coupled up, I had a few regular lovers, and engaged in the occasional additional hook-up. I was more open to new sexual experiences than at any previous period in my life, but that was the point.
Was it an ‘addiction’? Only if you consider my desire to eat chocolate most days an addiction. Did I feel distressed if I didn’t have regular sex? At times, yes—I was horny! However, that was a welcome change from the years I spent feeling barren and guilty because I didn’t want sex at all. Did it interfere with my life? Occasionally it was a challenge to manage my diary, but I had a variety of competing activities on my plate. Did it damage relationships with others or me? If anything, it helped me learn, grow, and ultimately develop healthier relationships.
I have no more regrets from that period of my life than from any other. These are experiences I am grateful to have had, and would gladly have again.
The older I get the more I see friends going through similar experiences. Out the other side of long-term relationships, they embrace the opportunity to explore a range of sexual encounters, to have multiple casual lovers and seek out sex for sex itself.
I can’t help but wonder, if we were men, would people point their fingers in the same way?
One of those friends has since apologised for judging me back then. She now understands the drive to prioritise sex and sexual exploration, to seek out regular casual sex because it’s a physical need like any other and doesn’t subside when you’re not in a relationship. Now she, like me, has had to fend off accusations of sex addiction.
I can’t help but wonder, if we were men, would people point their fingers in the same way? Or would our accusers pat us on the back and send us out to a bar or onto Tinder to scratch our sexual itch?
I wouldn’t mind so much if the question came from a concerned friend who was watching me spiral out of control, engaging in high-risk situations, about to lose my job, destroy a family, or inflicting pain on others, asking if maybe I needed someone to talk to. However, when someone asks from a place of judgement, when they are simply uncomfortable with sexual behaviour that doesn’t fit with sociocultural norms about how a woman should behave, I’m tempted to tell that person exactly where they can shove their ‘concern’.
Somehow sex addiction has become a label we slap on anyone we perceive as having a higher than ‘normal’ sex drive (whatever that is) or whose behaviour sits outside social norms (whatever those are).
It angers and saddens me that in 2015 so many people still stereotype male and female sexuality and label and judge others for not conforming to sociocultural and gender norms. Somehow sex addiction has become a label we slap on anyone we perceive as having a higher than ‘normal’ sex drive (whatever that is) or whose behaviour sits outside social norms (whatever those are): in this case, on women who have dared to own and prioritise sexual desires outside the confines of a long-term monogamous relationship.
So before you question someone else’s sexuality or behaviour, consider what it is that really bothers you. Would you feel differently if that person were a man or a woman? If they were kinky or vanilla; gay, straight or something in between? How is their behaviour affecting them or others? Is there actually a problem to be addressed, and if so, what? Because whatever ‘sexual addiction’ looks like, this isn’t it.