Are You A Sex Addict?

Please note: This post discusses many different aspects of my personal sex life — many, many aspects — in a fair amount of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t. Really, really don’t.

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Are you a sex addict?


I seem to be.

Via Dr. Marty Klein’s excellent Sexual Intelligence blog comes news of this Sexual Addiction Screening Test from, a site designed “to help those affected by sexual addiction and compulsivity.” The site was created by Dr. Patrick Carnes: inventor of the term “sex addiction,” founder and designer of multiple treatment programs for sex addiction, and author of several books on sex addiction.

According to Dr. Klein, Dr. Carnes admits he has no training in human sexuality. But let’s not focus on that just now.

Because according to this test, I have a problem.

Which is a bit odd. My life is good; my sex life is great. Things in my life are stable and flourishing, and sex is a happy part of that.

So I don’t actually think I have a problem.

I think this test has a problem.

I think this test has several problems. I think this test represents an extremely narrow, rigid view of what can constitute a happy sex life. It pathologizes any kind of sex that’s unconventional. It pathologizes any kind of sex that other people are shocked or upset by — regardless of whether they have any right to be, or whether their sexual sensibilities are reasonable. And it pathologizes anyone who makes sex a high priority in their life.

And I think this is the problem with the way sex addiction commonly gets treated. In fact, I think it’s the problem with the whole “sex addiction” theory in the first place. I don’t deny that some people behave compulsively around sex, self-destructively and destructively of others. I’d be an idiot to deny that. I just don’t think “addiction” is the right word — or the right concept — for that problem.

And I think this shows up in this test. Specifically, it shows up in the way that unconventional sex, sex that defies conservative sexual mores, or making sex a high priority in one’s life, are all seen as signs of sex addiction.

But maybe I’m in denial. Maybe I’m one of those addicts who can’t admit they’re an addict. Let’s take a look at the test, and at all the questions I answered “Yes” to… and let’s see.

(This piece contains explicit descriptions of sex. If you’re under 18, please do not continue reading.)

Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?

You betcha.

Sexual thoughts are how I keep myself entertained during the duller parts of my life. On the bus; waiting in line at the grocery store; when I’m doing the more mechanical parts of my job that don’t really require thought… I think about sex. Sex is important to me, and I think about it a lot.

Pathologizing people for whom sex is a high priority? Check.

Do you feel that your sexual behavior is not normal?

Normal by whose standards?

Lots of what I do sexually isn’t done by the majority of people on this planet. Or even in San Francisco. Sadomasochism; writing porn; even bisexuality: none of this is technically normal. It isn’t what most people do.

But why should normality be a measure of sexual health? If someone is aroused by, say, the sight of bald women in Spock ears and combat boots — an abnormal sexual desire — why is that inherently less healthy than the more normal arousal by the sight of blonde women in high heels and lingerie?

Pathologizing unconventional sex? Check. Pretty much your dictionary definition of it.

Has your sexual behavior ever created problems for you and your family?

For me? Not so much. Unless you count the usual run of bad relationships and dumb decisions. Otherwise known as “youth.”

But for my family? Sure. When I was a teenager, my mother hated the fact that I was having sex at all. And many members of my family still have problems with the fact that I write porn.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. My family is both progressive and non-religious. If you come from a family that’s conservative about sex — and especially if you come from a deeply religious family with strict sexual taboos — then you might have to answer “Yes” to this question just for being gay, or using birth control, or having sex before marriage.

Pathologizing sex that shocks or upsets other people, regardless of whether they have a right to be? Check.

Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior?

Probably. See above, re: family.

And I’ve had sexual differences with partners that they weren’t happy with. There was my boyfriend in college, for instance, who unilaterally instigated a non-monogamous arrangement — and acted on it frequently — but got deeply hurt when I wanted to have sex with a friend of his. And there were women I dated in my “casual sex” days, who I told ahead of time that I wasn’t looking for a relationship but who got hurt anyway when they realized that I meant it.

Pathologizing sex that shocks or upsets other people, regardless of whether they have a right to be? Check.

Are any of your sexual activities against the law?

In what state? And in what country?

This is a textbook example of “pathologizing unconventional sex.” In Texas, owning more than five dildos is against the law (or it was until this month). SM porn is illegal in Canada. Until recently, gay sex was against the law in many states in the US… and if I’m not mistaken, in many states adultery still is. And in countries around the world, both gay and extra-marital sex are not only illegal, but punishable by death.

So yes. Some of my sexual activities are against the law — or they would be, if I didn’t live in California.

Do we really want to use the laws about sex as guideposts for sexual health?

Pathologizing unconventional sex? Check.

Do you hide some of your sexual behaviors from others?

Honestly? I do this less than almost anyone I know. But yes: strange as it may seem to people who read my blog, I have sexual practices that I keep private. And no, I’m not going to tell you what they are. They’re private.

I truly don’t know what category to put this in. On what planet is having a private sex life that you don’t talk to people about considered a sign of sex addiction? This is in a category all its own: the “completely wacky, flatly stupid” category.

Has sex (or romantic fantasies) been a way for you to escape your problems?

Well, if you consider “boredom” a problem, then yes. See above, re: using sex fantasies to kill time.

More seriously: Sure. There have been times when I’ve been sad or upset, and I’ve had sex (or masturbated) to help me feel better. I’ve done it to feel loved and connected; to remind myself of the possibility of joy in sad times; even just to relax when I’m stressed and can’t sleep.

And this is bad because… ?

Pathologizing people for whom sex is a high priority? Check.

Have you purchased services online for erotic purposes (sites for dating, pornography, fantasy and friend finder)?

Sure. I live in the 21st century. If I’m going to buy porn or answer personal ads, I’m going to do it online.

In other words, here’s what this question really is asking: Have you ever bought porn, or placed or answered personal ads?


And again, this is bad because…. ?

Half my friends have played the personals at one point or another. I just went to a wedding of a couple who met through the personals. Online personals, even.

More about porn in a moment.

Pathologizing sex that shocks or upsets other people, regardless of whether they have a right to be? Check.

Have people in my life been upset about my sexual activities online?

Yes. There are members of my family who aren’t thrilled about the fact that I blog about sex.

Pathologizing sex that shocks or upsets other people, regardless of whether they have a right to be? Check.

Have you subscribed to or regularly purchased or rented sexually explicit materials (magazines, videos, books or online pornography)?

Yes. I buy porn on a somewhat regular basis. I probably wouldn’t buy it as much if I weren’t a porn critic… but then, I’m a porn critic largely because I like porn.

So what we have here is the assumption that the regular use of porn is inherently unhealthy. No question about whether your porn use is interfering with your life; no question about whether you’re spending more on porn than you can afford, or whether it’s giving you unrealistic expectations of your sex partners. If you like porn and enjoy it on a regular basis — no matter how well you incorporate it into a happy sex life — that’s a sign that you’re a sex addict.

Pathologizing people for whom sex is a high priority? Pathologizing sex that shocks or upsets other people, regardless of whether they have a right to be? Check, and check again.

Have you engaged prostitutes and escorts to satisfy your sexual needs?

Technically, no. She was a professional submissive, not a prostitute. But I’m going to answer in the spirit of the question, not the letter; and I’m going to answer, “Yes.”

And I’d do it again if I could afford it. (I’ve written about the experience, in fact; the essay appears in the “Best Sex Writing 2008” anthology.)

And as I’ve written before in this blog, I don’t consider the mere fact of hiring sex workers to be unhealthy. I know it’s scorned and condemned by our culture; but unless hiring sex workers is getting in the way of your pursuit of romantic relationships (that is, assuming you want a romantic relationship), or unless you’re spending more on sex workers than you can afford, I don’t see why this is automatically a sign that you have a problem. In fact, I think it can be a sign of a very healthy attitude towards sex: it shows the ability to know what you want, and to openly and unashamedly seek it out from someone who’s willing to give it to you.

We’ve hit the trifecta here, folks. Pathologizing unconventional sex? Pathologizing people who make sex a high priority? Pathologizing sex that shocks or upsets other people, regardless of whether they have a right to be? Check, double check, and triple check.

(This is a two-part piece. Part 2 appears tomorrow.)

Are You A Sex Addict?

15 thoughts on “Are You A Sex Addict?

  1. 1

    I’m also skeptical about applying the theories of chemical abuse wholesale to innate physical drives (sex and food).
    If you follow the Mormon blogs, you’ll learn that a majority of LDS men have a problem with “porn addiction,” which makes it a bit hard to believe it’s pathological (as opposed to being normal). one unfortunate effect I’ve observed is that the “addiction” label provides something of a second opinion (“It’s not just a sin — you’re an addict!!”) which allows people to justify giving a marriage-ending ultimatum rather than even considering the possibility of giving one’s spouse a little consideration and privacy.

  2. 2

    Why add the bit about not reading this article if you are under 18? Maybe this is a difference between American and British law, but I don’t think that reading about any kind of sexual activity is illegal, just viewing things. Books don’t have age restrictions after all. I think that one of the main things I got from this peice is in accepting unconventional sexual activity, is in understanding you don’t have to feel guilty about your own sexual preferences that other people may view as unconvential. I feel that those things are relevant to anyone who is having sex, and often even more so to someone who is just begining to become interested in these things, such as those under age.
    I’m over 18 now, but I know that when I first started having sex I read a lot of articles on the net, and they helped me in forming an adult, sensible opinion about such issues, far more than any of the sex-education I got at school. So I feel that such discussions really can’t be shielded from an underage audience for their own good, as it really doesn’t help them grow up.
    Perhaps you added it for a completly different reason?

  3. 3

    I got 1 in the test myself. I have sex everyday(in a relationship) and I used to read A LOT of erotic fiction. Never have had a problem, but yes, sex is a very important thing in my life.
    I think the problem with the test is, that you kind of “have to know” how to answer. Out of what you said yes to:
    “Do you feel that your sexual behaviour isn’t normal?”
    -What matters according to this question, is your own view only. What you yourself define as normal. SM isn’t done by majority, but it’s certainly not “not normal.” If you think that there’s nothing wrong with your sexual behaviour, you should have checked No.
    “Are any of your sexual actitives against the law?”
    -I think it’s clear that this means things like pedophilia, rape and such. So in my opinion you should have checked a no.
    “Has your sexual behaviour ever created problems for you and your family?”
    -This must mean severe problems. It’s not your problem that your parents weren’t fine with you having any sex in the first place. And you writing porn and this blog is perfectly normal, the people who have a problem with it are not so normal. So in perspective, I think you should have checked “no.”
    …when it comes to “browsing on internet for people and porn” -hell, who doesn’t do that? I don’t watch porn myself, but I think erotic fiction does count as porn, and my partner found me via personal ad. So in this part, the test has a slight problem. But questions like that are a must have, since “the porn addiction.”
    I think it’s called sex addiction, because: 1) the person is addicted, they can’t stop. They think about sex all the time and are obsessed by it. 2) the person themselves experience that they constantly need sex. Constantly. 3) sex causes them more problems than enjoyment.
    In my point of view, you don’t have an addiction.

  4. 4

    “Why add the bit about not reading this article if you are under 18?”
    I’ve done so on the advice of a lawyer. In the Oscarology thread, it was called to my attention that there were minors reading my blog. I contacted a lawyer, asking whether this could be a problem given how much sexually explicit material I have on my blog, and what I should do to protect myself. Putting the explicit stuff behind a “don’t click through if you’re under 18” curtain was the advice I got. I’ll be doing this from now on with my explicit posts, and will also be retrofitting my previous explicit posts with the click-through curtain.
    I’m not thrilled about it either. But I’m also not thrilled at the possibility of getting thrown in jail and/or having my blog shut down because I knew there were minors reading my blog and didn’t do anything about it.

  5. 5

    Wow. This takes the proverbial cake! I hate that there is this yutz sowing guilt and confusion about sexual behavior when so many people are already burdened with a lot of guilt and confusion about their sexuality. And to hear that the good doctor has no training or experience with sexually related issues makes me so angry I want to tear out my hair!
    By his estimation, I’m clearly sick, sick, sick. I make porn, I view porn, I write porn, I swing, I engage in SM, my family really doesn’t like what I do (though, 21 years into their awareness of my job, they’ve calmed down a lot), I wrote a book about sex, I speak about it and blog about it.
    Wow. Better semd the nice young men in their clean white coats.
    What’s really sad is how many people will be even more beaten down by what they think is “wrong” with them.
    I think it’s irresponsible for him to do this, frankly.

  6. 6

    I think that throwing around the term ‘sex addiction’ like people have been doing to justify their narrow-minded, bigoted, and repressed view on sexuality in general only trivializes those with a real impulsive or compulsive sex problem that interferes with their life and is indeed self-damaging. Basically, all this comment serves is to agree with you whole-heartedly. It’s pathologizing non-normative sex. Shame on him. Shame, shame, shame. And shame again, because I’m trying not to get angry.

  7. 7

    (I know I’ve made this point ebfore, but I don’t remember when)
    When I took that test, my score was very low. I think it is mostly because I happen not to like most of the usual “unusual” sexual practices.
    However, when I followed your advice and substituted the word “music” for the word “sex”, lo and behold, I am addicted to music! And yet, nobody seriously thinks I need any help with that.
    You are absolutely right Greta, this man is a kook of (dare I say it) biblical proportions.

  8. 8

    Aislin, the person who wrote this book is a doctor, a highly educated person. If, by “are any of your sexual activities against the law?”, he meant pedophlia, rape, or the like, he was perfectly capable of using those words. The generalness of so many of these questions results in just about anyone taking this quiz ending up as a “sex addict.”
    Also, in the question about having multiple partners or sexual relationships at the same time, you could argue that he meant “having multiple relationships and being dishonest about it.” But, again, if that’s what he meant, then why didn’t he say that?
    Sex addiction is such a crock. As Greata points out, it pathologizes non-mainstream sex and people who like sex. And it gives people are are using sex in a way that harms others (e.g. having multiple partners AND being dishonest about it) the message that their bad decisions are somehow not their fault, i.e. the devil made them do it. It’s degrading, shaming, and condescending, all at once.

  9. 9

    Well, whaddya know, I might be a sex addict! Yaaaaay, me. All along I thought I just liked sex, liked feeling good, loved erotica, loved the way my body felt during, and after, sex, loved the way my mind reacted before, during, and after, sex. Who knew that I had a problem?

  10. jb

    I agree with lozzy42, you are off base in your concept of the problem addressed. You don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re not it. Having lived with a sex addict, I can say it has very little to do with drive or desire and everything to do with compulsivity and acting out regaurdless the impact on anyone else or even yourself.

  11. 12

    Sex addiction is like a drug addiction, one’s you pop you cant stop. But it is considered a sexual addiction if I masturbate everyday? Because I masturbate almost 7 days a week..lolz..

  12. 14

    The sex and the food are very similar in this direction as they probably are the basic principle one and the majority of basic driving of human. Some Points For the Appealing Couple. For your more information:

  13. 15

    When you say such things as “so do a lot of my friends” or “in California” or so on you are simply underscoring the fact that SOME level of social comparison is helpful for most people to assess their own choices. We are never a social creatures, we just have a whole lot of different normals to choose from. How much “thinking about sex” is too much is very akin to “how many drinks a week are too many” (not I hasten to add in danger to other drivers, though that can be true too, but just pointing out that relativity is always in play and the answers are culture dependent. My Wisconsin relatives who own a bar will answer this differently- just as you answer the sex question differently. Doesn’t mean there is no such thing as excessive alcohol consumption- or sexualizing life to a point that interferes with many other things a person values.) The debate over “pathologizing” ethical and social choices is an old one- at least 50 years and it really heated up in the 80’s. It is wonderful fodder for your blog, of course, but this is not very new or useful- adds nothing to the conversation in my view, but hey, if you got off, that’s what counts. Haven’t read the second one yet, maybe you get hot about the fact that 12 steps groups are para religious organizations. Go to town! I was big on that when I was using. As I enter my seventh decade and look back on a lot of “deviant” behavior I recall that the glee with which I lampooned sensible conventional society was actually part of another kind of issue altogether of which SOME of my behaviors were symptomatic. May not be true of you, but then again it could be. Anyway, it is a long life if you’re lucky and perhaps you will look back and find all this posturing kind of silly, at best, and sad, on the down side. Have at it.

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