Recently the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors (AASECT) came out with a declarative statement claiming that they; 1) “do 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 deliver, counseling, or therapy” (AASECT, 2016).

What is fascinating about this “declaration” is how it came about: http://fightthenewdrug.org/fight-new-drugs-official-response-assects-recent-statement-porn-addiction/

The tactics appear eerily similar to the tactics used by the cigarette companies- create as much  controversy as possible to keep people questioning reality. As Michael Aaron said himself, “To me, every opportunity for controversy was an opportunity….The more of a circus atmosphere the better.” http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2014/06/23/big-tobaccos-tricks-make-cigarettes-more-harmful-health-report-claims/http://www.who.int/tobacco/media/en/TobaccoExplained.pdf

While the author of the declaration would likely argue that his intent was not what Fight The New Drug claims, you have to wonder if he or others in his camp are being honest with their motives for writing such a declaration. After all, to continue to deny all of the actual brain research that exists (numerous studies), along with the main consensus in the field of sexuality, while perpetually claiming that the training, therapies, and sex addiction therapists themselves are unethical, money mongering shamers speaks to an obvious motive. (By the way, Michael Aaron advertises on his website that he treats “sex addiction”). http://www.drmichaelaaronnyc.com/services/

When a declaration such as this is announced by an organization that claims it is open minded about all aspects of sexuality, who does it really serve? Who does it actually hurt?

Here is the truth. If you look at the actual research by neuroscientists that shows that porn and sex addiction exists you will see that porn and sex CAN be addictive: http://www.yourbrainonporn.com/brain-scan-studies-porn-usershttp://www.mdpi.com/2076-328X/5/3/388/htm. It is important to note that these neuroscientists across the globe are not moralizing porn or sex. This is not about some religious stance. They study the brain. But, any time neuroscientists publish a study, the nay sayers come out of the woodwork.

Take for example one psychologist who came out with a study that claimed this person debunked porn addiction altogether. This study is touted by the therapists and educators who are nay sayers of the label “addiction”as being the only legitimate brain study that exists.  However, there have been several studies that have proven that this psychologist’s study was flawed and inaccurate; that this person actually proved that porn IS addictive.http://pornstudycritiques.com/uclas-span-lab-touts-empty-porn-study-as-ground-breaking/;http://pornstudycritiques.com/neural-correlates-of-sexual-cue-reactivity-in-individuals-with-and-without-compulsive-sexual-behaviours-2014-excerpt-analyzing-steele-et-al-2013/http://www.socioaffectiveneuroscipsychol.net/index.php/snp/article/view/23833/32589;

The various sex camps, including AASECT and even some in the sex offender camp, claim that by labeling  sex as an “addiction” it pathologizes someone’s behaviors (or is an excuse that people use).  However, most researchers agree on a majority of diagnostic criteria that indicates an addiction to sex. It is not a matter of “pathologizing” someone’s symptoms but rather accurately assessing and identifying what an individual describes as being problematic. To deny someone’s symptoms is to deny an individual’s personal experience and in many cases their suffering. Especially when researchers of the various labels associated with sex addiction (i.e., compulsion, hyper- sexuality, sexual preoccupation) often agree on the symptoms and signs. For instance, a meta-analysis in the Journal of Addiction Medicine revealed that “When the literature is distilled from an atheoretical perspective, a number of consistencies emerge despite controversy in proposed etiology” (Carnes, P. J., Hopkins, T. A., & Green, B. A., 2014, p.2). As the results of this meta-analysis indicate,  regardless of the theory or label one puts on problematic sexual behavior, most of the researchers agreed on certain diagnostic criteria indicating an addiction is present.

AASECT and some other therapists purport that Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSAT) don’t have adequate training. Yet, those individuals who make this claim don’t actually know what kind of training a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist undergoes. Our advanced training is rigorous and includes learning how to do a thorough assessment to avoid blindly labeling an individual as having a sex addiction. As licensed clinicians we receive 30 hours of consultation on top of our four modules-40 hours each- of training that take a year or longer to complete along with on-going annual trainings including ethics training, and bi-annual re-certification process.It is extensive and on-going. We are continually reminded to be mindful of our own biases, to avoid pathologizing any sexual behavior (including fetishes) and to absolutely honor and support client’s sexual preferences. We do not subscribe to unethical practices such as reparative therapy (claims that we do are absurd and offensive) but instead practice research based models such as Carnes’ Task Based Model (CBT).  Our job as CSATs is to not pathologize but to accurately assess and treat symptoms that the client deems as problematic. We explore any underlying issues that may have impacted an individual’s sexual arousal template in a way that they see as challenging or distressing. We are also encouraged to seek other training so we have a well-rounded approach to treatment since every individual brings a unique set of symptoms. Examples of advanced training that we seek includes EMDR trauma therapy, sex therapy, biofeedback/neurofeedback, family therapy, Internal Family Systems Model, and mindfulness-based stress reduction, to name a few. We are also trained to use a validated, research based assessment tool called the Sexual Dependency Inventory 4.0 which has been modeled on the MMPI’s psychometric analysis (Green, B. A., Arnau, R., Carnes, P. J., Carnes, S., & Hopkins, T. A.). http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10720162.2015.1023386http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10720162.2015.1023386http://cirrus.mail-list.com/atsa/72399198.html

How is it that there is so much scrutiny by AASECT over the (extensive) training sex addiction therapists receive when individuals like Michael Aaron, a sex therapist who’s not formerly trained to treat sexual addiction, can advertise as such?

When AASECT and other individuals claim that therapists who treat sex and porn addiction are in it for the money, that is a clear detraction from the real issue. It is also incredibly ironic since those of us treating individuals with an addiction to pornography know that the porn industry is actually who they speak of; after all, the porn industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. A MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY. For more information on the tactics the porn industry uses to get and keep people (children included) addicted (similar to the cigarette companies), read Pornland by Gail Dines. http://gaildines.com/pornland/pornland-about-the-book/.

AASECT and other naysayers also claim that sex and porn addiction are not in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-V (DSM-V) therefore they are not legitimate disorders. What people, professionals especially (and even more especially, insurance companies) forget is that the DSM is a field manual that acts as a guide for clinicians based on observation, but not on etiology (cause) of conditions. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) came out with a statement in 2011: “Addiction also affects neurotransmission and interactions between cortical and hippocampal circuits and brain reward structures, such that the memory of previous exposures to rewards (such as food, sex, alcohol and other drugs) leads to a biological and behavioral response to external cues, in turn triggering craving and/or engagement in addictive behaviors” http://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction. http://www.asam.org/quality-practice/guidelines-and-consensus-documents/the-asam-criteria/about. Along with this, the ICD-10 acknowledges hypersexuality as a legitimate disorder: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.13366/fullhttp://www.icd10data.com. Why would two major entities in our field acknowledge sex as being potentially addictive if it was not backed by ample research as legitimate?

The real issue that continues to be forgotten when the politics of sex is at play is that people, both men and women are suffering as a result of what they describe is an addiction to sex and/or porn. They are reporting that their marriages, work, finances, relationship with children, are in shambles because they or their partner is addicted to sex, porn, or both. To deny that either exists claiming that there is not enough research, or therapists are not adequately trained, or it’s just a moral issue, dismisses people’s personal experience. What is so interesting about the daily attacks on my profession by the nay sayers (namely sex therapists and some sex offender therapists) is that we are actually not the one’s who blindly proclaim to our clients,  “You are a sex addict or a porn addict.” If you are in the trenches day in and day out like I am, you are witness to all the men, women, and now  teens who come forward saying on their own, “I need help. I think (or I know) I am addicted to porn (and/or sex) and I can’t stop. It’s ruining my life” or “My husband (or wife or son or daughter) is addicted to porn (or sex) and we desperately need help.”

Let’s face it, denying that sex and porn is addictive when the research says otherwise hurts our clients. I have had clients who read AASECT’s declarative statement recently share with me, “How can professionals still be denying that sex addiction exists? This is real for me” and “I know I have an addiction to pornography. Regardless of what my parents told me after reading AASECT’s statement, I am still addicted to it.”

Years ago people denied that a person could get addicted to alcohol, even when people were dying as a result. Years ago people denied that cigarettes were addictive and to this day, cigarette companies continue to use their deceptive tactics. Years ago people denied that people could lose their lives as a result of having an eating disorder and what happened? People lost their lives. Gambling has just recently been acknowledged as being addictive; however, before then people were still experiencing life-altering destructive outcomes that resulted from taking such incredible financial risks.

Isn’t it time we put aside all the ridiculous politics surrounding the words “sex” and “addiction” and focus on helping people that seek support for these issues? Isn’t it time that the one sex camp that claims it is so open about sex yet can’t look at ALL aspects surrounding sexuality accepts that research doesn’t lie, that we are not all crazy, That it is a reality in our world that sex can actually be addictive? Isn’t it time that we all admit that by saying sex and porn can be or have addictive components does not in any way shape or form have to equate to anything pathological, moralizing, or shaming?

I believe that it is LONG overdue for all sex camps to come together and be unified regarding issues surrounding sex. Let’s unify our camps for the sake of those individuals who are suffering as a result of what they experience as an addiction to sex and/or porn. Let’s unify our camps so that we can stand together and help our clients who will continue knocking on our doors seeking help for this very real addiction.

IT IS TIME.

Candice Christiansen, CMHC, CSAT-S
Founder, Namasté Center for Healing and The Prevention Project.™

Carnes, P. J., Hopkins, T. A., & Green, B. A. (2014). Clinical relevance of the proposed sexual addiction diagnostic criteria: Relation to the sexual addiction screening test-revised. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 8(6), 1-12.

Green, B. A., Arnau, R., Carnes, P. J., Carnes, S., & Hopkins, T. A. (2015). Structural Congruence of the Sexual Dependency Inventory, 4th ed. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 22(2), 126-153.