Sex addiction. Is it a real thing? Drugs, alcohol, and food addictions sure, but sex?
Although he’s not particularly fond of the term “sex addiction,” Dr. Adi Jaffe, UCLA psychologist, co-founder of Los Angeles’ Alternatives Behavioral Health treatment center, and addiction expert says that yes, sex addiction is most definitely a thing. Jaffe, however, suggests that the “group think” mentality on sex addicts — that addicts are helpless and morally corrupt — is outdated and in need of revision.
His Instagram bio gets right to the point. He helps people #fuckshame and become #IGNTD. In his newly created self-actualization program, IGNTD (co-created with his wife, Sophie), Jaffe works at the underlying level of all types of addiction, guiding others on how to discover outworn patterns and beliefs that undermine their self-worth and keep them from stepping into their truest natures.
Best known for sharing his personal journey healing from numerous addictions, Jaffe is helping people release the stigmas of sex addiction and shame through full disclosure of his own personal experiences.
Here, he shares with The Fullest why we need to trade the notion of a “damaged addict” for a more humanistic approach to helping people heal.
You are completely transparent with both your followers and your clients. Did you receive any pushback in the conventional therapy world when you started to share freely, and how have you seen this honesty shape the way the healing community is looking at addiction — especially sex addiction?
I receive constant pushback regarding my self-disclosure. Since I am not a clinical psychologist, I have a bit more freedom in this regard, but the availability of a public-facing profile certainly assures that those who come to me are typically aware of my past experiences. Indeed, I know that many people come to me for help specifically because I have had the experiences I’ve shared. I am a big proponent of reducing shame, and I hope that my self-disclosure allows others to feel less shame about their own struggles.
What is it about sex addiction that differentiates it from other labeled addictions?
Sex addiction gets to the core of puritanical values in this country, i.e., sex is bad, is only useful for procreation, and sexual desire is evil. “Sex addiction” is seen as the compulsive engagement or obsession in this evil by those who are weak-willed or otherwise sinful. Sex addicts are relegated to being thought of as rapists, pedophiles, and sex offenders, and since we don’t usually talk publicly about sex, the stigma is having a difficult time lifting.
What is the difference between sex addiction and just really loving sex?
Sex addiction is a term we’ve given for compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. For many sex addicts it is not the “love” of sex but rather the use of sex, or sexual obsession, for escape and coping. By focusing on this highly pleasurable act, some people put off dealing with real-life struggles around intimacy, socialization, and belonging.
There is disparity in the medical community that sex addiction technically does not exist because it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and, as opposed to an addiction to a substance, when you take sex away, physical withdrawal symptoms typically do not occur. In my practice, however, I have observed that when sex is “taken away” or discontinued, fight-or-flight hormones often increase, dopamine and oxytocin levels may diminish, and cortisol and insulin levels shift disproportionately. If it’s not a “true addiction” what is it? In the spirit of #fuckshame and becoming #IGNTD, what thoughts can you share on this?
It is my belief that compulsive sexual behavior, like nearly all compulsions, has biological elements — but is also closely tied to coping strategies. These withdrawal-like reactions you mention are to be expected if an individual’s coping mechanism (i.e., losing themselves in masturbation, paid sex, etc.) has been taken away from them and they are left to cope without many tools.
How can transforming our perceptions and how we assign value to addictions and shame shift our entire self-loving perceptions, and therefore, our outlook on humanity overall?
The problem with the current way of thinking is that we look at addicts as damaged and the rest of society as normal. In reality, the vast majority of addicts have simply become overly dependent on a singular, or limited set of coping mechanisms that are no longer serving them. As I’ve mentioned in numerous talks, our overarching views on any population has been shown to have substantial influence over that group’s behavior.
Believing that addicts are helpless, morally corrupt liars who are unable to see their problems only makes those who struggle more helpless, less able to cope, and more prone to lying in the face of the burden of shame.
When it comes to sex addiction, many of the people who are currently identified as such have deep-seeded intimacy problems. It is my belief that labeling them a “pervert” will do very little to help them heal and will instead send them deeper into hiding, reducing the probability of them getting any help until they actually do end up acting in inappropriate ways. If we can get the larger society to stop believing this “damaged addict” mentality and adopt a more humanistic approach, we would go a long way towards incorporating those who struggle into society.
Dr. Adi Jaffe is a world-renowned mental health expert, UCLA lecturer, and CEO of the dynamic self-actualization program, IGNTD. His powerful work and research has appeared in medical journals, Psychology Today, The Doctors, and Dr. Oz. Adi lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons.
Christine Dionese, co-founder of flavor ID is an integrative health and food therapy specialist, as well as a wellness, lifestyle, and food journalist. She has dedicated her career to helping others understand the science of happiness and its powerful effects on everyday human health by harnessing the power of the epigenetic landscape. Christine lives, works, and plays bicoastally between Southern California and upstate New York with her family.