Today, I took a sex addiction screening test and found out that...drum roll...I’m a sex addict! Wowza, are you one too? Check out my scandalizing responses below, followed by some discussion on why this is problematic.
Out of curiosity, I googled “am I a sex addict.” The fourth result was a link to take the Sexual Addiction Screening Test (SAST), a widely used test that was first developed in the late 80s and which assesses symptoms of sexual addiction. All items are scored yes/no. Let’s breakdown my yes responses together:
Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?
Yes, and in particular, I often think about hot sexual experiences from the past. I believe the scientific term is spank bank.
Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior?
Have I ever crossed a line while in a relationship and hurt a partner? Yes.
Do you feel that your sexual behavior is not normal?
What is “normal”?
People in my life have been upset about my sexual activities online.
A conservative aunt is not the arbiter of my sexual wellbeing.
I visit sexual bath-houses, sex clubs, or video/bookstores as part of my regular sexual activity.
I wouldn’t say regular, personally, but why would that be a problem if it’s all consenting adults? And, bookstores???
Are any of your sexual activities against the law?
I wouldn’t swear under oath that I have *never* had sex in a public place.
My sexual behavior has put me at risk for arrest for lewd conduct or public indecency.
We just covered this. #publicplay
I have purchased services online for erotic purposes (sites for dating).
I’m occasionally a Majestic member of Feeld for $11.99/month.
I have used the internet to make romantic or erotic connections with people online.
I have subscribed to or regularly purchased or rented sexually explicit materials (magazines, videos, books or online pornography).
I have spent considerable time surfing pornography online.
Yep, for my thesis research, baby! And sometimes for fun too.
I have maintained multiple romantic or sexual relationships at the same time.
It’s called ethical non-monogamy and it makes me feel alive.
I have engaged in unsafe or “risky” sex even though I knew it could cause me harm.
I have not used protection 100% of the time my whole sexually active life, no.
Has sex (or romantic fantasies) been a way for you to escape your problems?
Have I ever chosen to daydream about Oscar Isaac on a desert island rather than face a stressful situation at work? Yes.
How many times have you heard the term sex addiction? The term is easily thrown around, from celebs checking into luxury centers to “treat” their infidelity, to online self-assessments titled, Are You a Sex Addict?, ready to get you on the line with a licensed therapist.
Sex addiction is a controversial topic. Yes, there are distressing sexual behaviors that feel out of control for some people. The problem is that mapping human sexuality onto an addiction model isn’t a straightforward process. Morality has long played a major role in sexuality, so it’s impossible to divorce a term like sex addiction from its moral implications.
According to the SAST, I am a sex addict. What does that mean? Am I supposed to feel ashamed or like I need help? From what I understand about addiction, I don’t feel like a sex addict. Yet I passed this test with flying colors.
The SAST was developed by Patrick Carnes, who popularized the concept of sex addiction in the US in the 1980s after observing male prisoners during his work as a prison psychologist. However, in recent years (or decades), a lot of criticism of Carnes’ theories has emerged. Psychologists such as David Ley have argued that sex addiction would be better explained as compulsive behavior that has more to do with other underlying issues rather than sex, and that the term sex addiction too neatly pathologizes healthy sexuality. There are scientists and organizations globally on both sides of the sex addiction debate, but the trend in the U.S. is to leave behind the term sex addiction, and we at Squirm agree!
The SAST and the term sex addiction in general are problematic because they excessively pathologize consensual sexual behaviors. It attempts to draw a line between “objective” healthy and unhealthy sexual behavior, which 1) is impossible and 2) ignores the shame and stigma that often leads us to feel conflicted about our sexual behavior.
Shame can lead someone to feel like their sexual urges or desires are distressing when those same urges or desires would feel perfectly fine for someone else. How I feel about porn, sex clubs, and having multiple partners at once is VERY different from how someone else may feel about them. That’s not to say that people who feel addicted don’t need help, but the addiction model doesn’t work. It may actually harm them by compounding shame and stigma and lead them to treatment programs that are rooted in regressive values. David Ley wrote in his book, The Myth of Sex Addiction, the criteria for sex addiction "reflect heterosexual and monogamous social values and judgments rather than medical or scientific data."
Morality has long played a major role in sexuality, so it’s impossible to divorce a term like sex addiction from its moral implications.
Sex addiction is further weakened when it becomes a go-to excuse for bad behavior. Many celebrities, including Tiger Woods and Harvey Weinstein, use sex addiction as an excuse for their infidelity or abuse. Would they have come out as sex addicts if they hadn’t been caught? Sex addiction seems like a convenient way to be let off the hook. As Ley wrote, specifically about men and sex addiction, “By labeling males as weak and powerless before the onslaught and churning tide of lust, we take away those things that men should live up to: personal responsibility; integrity; self-control; independence; accountability; self-motivation; honor; respect for self and others.”
There is an ongoing battle between a fear-based and pleasure-based approach to sex in our society. Fear drives abstinence-only sex ed and Instagram’s increasingly restrictive Community Guidelines. This long-standing battle between fear and pleasure evolves with each generation, yet moral panic around sex continues to make it difficult to have thoughtful, nuanced conversations about sexuality that support the human, not the stigma.
I’ll leave you with American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT)’s position on sex addiction:
AASECT* recognizes that people may experience significant physical, psychological, spiritual and sexual health consequences related to their sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors. AASECT recommends that its members utilize models that do not unduly pathologize consensual sexual behaviors. AASECT 1) does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction or porn addiction as a mental health disorder, and 2) does not find the sexual addiction training and treatment methods and educational pedagogies to be adequately informed by accurate human sexuality knowledge. Therefore, it is the position of AASECT that linking problems related to sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors to a porn/sexual addiction process cannot be advanced by AASECT as a standard of practice for sexuality education delivery, counseling or therapy.
AASECT advocates for a collaborative movement to establish standards of care supported by science, public health consensus and the rigorous protection of sexual rights for consumers seeking treatment for problems related to consensual sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors.
*Founded in 1967, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) is devoted to the promotion of sexual health by the development and advancement of the fields of sexuality education, counseling and therapy. With this mission, AASECT accepts the responsibility of training, certifying and advancing high standards in the practice of sexuality education services, counseling and therapy. When contentious topics and cultural conflicts impede sexuality education and health care, AASECT may publish position statements to clarify standards to protect consumer sexual health and sexual rights.