Sunday night’s episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians heavily focused on the fact that Scott Disick brought a woman on the Kardashians’ family trip to Costa Rica. After Disick was slammed by several members of the Kardashian family for his actions, he said something that he later admitted was the first thing that had popped into his head: He’s a sex addict.
“I’m a sex addict,” he said on the show. “I’m a f***ed up, horrible sex addict.” The term “sex addiction” has been thrown around for years, but it’s not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5, the standard for mental disorders. However, people still claim to be sex addicts and even receive treatment for it.
New York City sex therapist Ian Kerner treats people who identify as sex addicts, but he tells Yahoo Beauty that it’s “not real” from a scientific perspective. “Sex addiction is not a scientifically research-based valid diagnostic clinical category,” he says.
David J. Ley, an Albuquerque-based clinical psychologist who specializes in sexuality, agrees. “Sex addiction has been rejected as a diagnosis repeatedly over the past 40 years, due to lack of scientific support for it,” he tells Yahoo Beauty. “Of great concern is the evidence that this concept pathologizes healthy sexual behavior, based on arbitrary, subjective definitions of ‘how much sex is too much?’”
A classic definition of addiction involves changes in the brain, from liking something to craving it to going through withdrawal if one can’t have it. “You’re really able to observe all of these things on a neurophysical level,” Kerner says. But these brain and behavioral changes haven’t been found when someone is having too much sex — that’s why the term “addiction” isn’t useful with extreme sexual behaviors.
Kerner also points out that using the term “addiction” is loaded, given that it implies that someone is no longer responsible for his or her actions. And, while he doesn’t dissuade his own patients from using the term, he tends to refer to sex addiction as “problematic sexual behavior.” However, he stresses that these behaviors are real, can be extreme, and shouldn’t be dismissed.
Typically, someone who identifies as a sex addict or displays out-of-control sexual behaviors is suffering from another mental health issue such as depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety — and sexual behavior is simply a symptom of this. “For example, a lot of my patients, when they’re anxious, try to self-soothe with sex and orgasm,” he says. “If it’s not taken to the extreme, it’s not the worst way in the world to distract yourself, but when it’s really leading to out-of-control behaviors or it’s somebody’s only coping mechanism, that can be a problem.”
Debby Herbenick, an associate professor at Indiana University, tells Yahoo Beauty that people who are concerned that their sexual behavior might be out of control might find it helpful to meet with a sex therapist. “A professional sex therapist can discuss the client’s concerns with them and help understand what may be at the root of their behavioral challenges,” she says. Treatment may involve counseling or therapy, and Herbenick says that some clients find it helpful over time to engage in group therapy. “Depending on what the therapist and client learn together, medication may be offered as well,” she says.
However, Ley urges caution with therapists who say they treat sex addiction. “The dirty secret of sex addiction is that after 40 years, there are still no published studies indicating that sex addiction treatment actually works,” he says. “People have to pay cash for it because insurance won’t pay for it, since it’s not a real diagnosis and not a legit treatment. Then, what they get when they pay for it is a mishmash of various treatments mostly pulled from 12-step programs.”
As Kerner points out, out-of-control sexual behavior may simply be a symptom of an underlying issue, and it’s important to get to the root of the problem. It’s possible for people to overcome a self-proclaimed sex addiction, but Kerner notes that it’s often an issue with impulse, self-regulation, or coping mechanisms, and those can take time to remedy. However, he stresses, “it’s not an addiction.”
Read more from Yahoo Beauty + Style:
- Anthony Weiner Reportedly Checked Into Sex Addiction Rehab. What Does That Mean, Exactly?
- Science Says Sex and Food — and Even Jolly Ranchers — Can Be ‘Beautiful’
- Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Unlocks the Secret to Good Casual Sex