Book Review: The Myth of Sex Addiction by David Ley

mythI promised this review some time ago and I’m finally getting to it!  I had a chance to finish reading David Ley’s book The Myth of Sex Addiction. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. Ley takes an objective look at how the concept of sex addiction has come about and the lack of actual scientific evidence to support it.

I agree with one of Ley’s key points. The creation of a psychological diagnosis is a complicated process that requires reliable criteria that supported scientifically with rigorous research. What the general public doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that there is no actual accepted diagnoses of sex addiction in the mental health or scientific community. On top of that, there is no reliable and consistent definition nor is there research to support such a definition.

In Ley’s words, “The concept of sex addiction reflects complex social, economic, and moral influences far more than it reflects the influence of science or medicine.”  Ley goes on to say, “it is not my burden to prove that sex addiction doesn’t exist. Instead, the field of sex addiction must prove scientifically that it does exist.”

I also really resonate with Ley’s discussion about the connection between the idea of sex addiction and our societal views about masculinity. Sex addiction is overwhelming applied to men.  Ley points out that ” The sex addiction label is, at least in part, an expression of fear and anger at the fact that males naturally have different sexual desires than women.”

Ley feels that the concept of sex addiction is an easy way for powerful males to excuse bad behavior. He suggest that instead, “When we overattend to sexuality, we lose sight of the issues of ethics, responsibility, dignity and leadership that we should address in our leaders and male role models.” And, “We must return to a focus on the positive qualities of men, including an acknowledgement of the unique aspects of male sexuality, and encourage, and even require, that men integrate their sexual desires within the framework of personal responsibility that is the hallmark of a true man.”

Ley makes a lot of other great points. The book is full of great research and facts about sexuality and desire.  I heartily recommend it for anyone working with or an interest in sex and sexuality.

About awentherapy

I am Jay Blevins, LMFT ( I am a licensed systems therapist with a private practice in Madison, WI. While I work with individuals and partners around a wide variety of issues, my primary focus in on alternative relationship structures, alternative sex and sexuality, and power dynamics. I am a contributor to various relationship and sexuality blogs and publications and have been a frequent presenter at alternative lifestyle events and psychotherapy conferences.
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9 Responses to Book Review: The Myth of Sex Addiction by David Ley

  1. I have not read the book, but based on your overview it seems sadly lacking. The hallmark of sex addiction is the shame and lack of connection with other people, the isolation and self-loathing experienced by the sex addict. There is actually quite a lot of research in the field, and it appears to be more an intimacy disorder than a true addiction, and is definitely not a sex drive. Most addicts don’t go around having sex. They masturbate to the point of self-harm, very compulsively, for example. They weave intricate webs of lies out of the very deep self-shame, they hide their acting out in that shame. They truly loathe themselves, have no true connections with other people. It is extremely common in men that were molested or sexually abused as children (read the book Victims no Longer by somebody Lew … sorry, don’t recall his first name… for the male/female psychosocial differences post sexual trauma in childhood). Read anything by Patrick Carnes.

    Like you, I doubted the existance of sex addiction, thought it was an excuse to cheat. Then I learned my husband was a sex addict and have been up to my ears in the research, as well as living with him. I read primary literature far more than books. Cheating is only one possible symptom of the disorder. I highly doubt that sex addiction is a true addiction, I think it is far deeper and more complex than ‘addiction’ implies, but whatever it is called, it definitely exists.

  2. @peregrinerose – thank you for your response. What confuses me is that I believe you make exactly implies. You said, ” I highly doubt that sex addiction is a true addiction, I think it is far deeper and more complex than ‘addiction’ implies…” I agree. I’m unclear why those deeper problems are being identified as being about sex. The real issue is those deeper issues, not sex. For example, we don’t label people who are depressed as “sleep addicts” if they have one of the typical symptoms of sleeping and inordinate amount.

    You also seem to assume that I haven’t read other books on the issue. That’s not the case. I appreciate that you have done significant reading on the topic. For me a key issue is that I have not seen a definition of sexual addiction that differentiates itself reliably from other diagnoses. That is one of crucial elements of diagnoses, that you can differentiate them.

    Thank you to the link to the review. I would argue that they take a more balanced view in their review. However, I see nothing that makes that review any more objective than mine. They are both rather subjective.

    Again, thank you for your thoughts.

    • Ley, according to your review at least, seems to imply that there is no condition, whether called ‘sex addiction’ or something else entirely at all, only people with morality problems rather than true mental health issues. That does not seem to be the case at all. Sex actually is a huge part of the deeper issues, as sexual development seems to be interrupted on a normal basis in such a high number of those with the addict diagnosis… a vast majority having been the victims of childhood sexual abuse. That inherently does make it directly related to sex and the connections and relationships therein.

      Based on your words alone, and your response, you have the notion that ‘sex addiction’ is indeed a Myth, as does the author. The other review I posted is far more middle ground, of the perspective of someone who has no apparent stance or judgement either way.

      You may find and interesting.

      I tend not to go for books that are blatantly editorial in nature, so will pass on that one. If you read my blog, go to the “Pick a Box” post, as it is also a book review on a very ‘pissing match’/’my theory is right’ type book on the codependent vs. trauma model of the spouses of sex addicts. Had I known the premise of the book, I wouldn’t have bothered with that one either.

  3. @peregrinerose – I can see where you might take that from my brief review. In my opinion Ley is clear, and I agree, that there many issues underlying some individuals’ use of a wide variety of activities in an unhealthy way. In your example, why aren’t those people diagnosed as trauma and abuse victims instead of sex addicts. Again, labeling them as sex addicts deflects from dealing with the actual underlying issue.

    I understand your point about middle ground, but that means that no book that takes a stance will ever be credible. I actually seek out people that take a stance so I can use my own judgement about whether or not I find there arguments credible. I have opinions, yes. But I have also changed my opinions in the face of convincing evidence. Only getting a middle of the road view doesn’t support that as well.

  4. Any statistic and fact can be manipulated. Reading books with a slant means reading skewed data, which inherently undermines the validity of any conclusions that the reader may draw. Hence, why I read almost exclusively primary research rather than books. The data, the numbers, the stats, and the references are all laid out, objectively, for my own interpretation… rather than interpreting someone else’s interpretation.

  5. @peregrinerose – I agree. On the other hand, I also enjoy reading other people’s interpretations because I know there are many more perspectives in the world than just mine. It allows me to see things I might not have seen from just my perspective.

  6. Matthew Chiglinsky says:

    If something (sex) is potentially dangerous and you don’t need it to survive yet you engage in it anyway simply because it gives you so much pleasure, I think that’s the common-sense definition of an addiction.

    Scientists are so wrapped up in jargon that they often overlook common sense.

  7. Why is it potentially dangerous? Is football an addiction? It is very dangerous and we certainly don’t need it to survive. So are driving, flying, bungee jumping and on and on. Scientists are precise because it matters in science. It might not in casual conversation but if you are choosing treatment strategies and trying to study and understand things it is important to be precise and detailed. Not to mention the stigma that is caused by giving mental health diagnoses.

    It is interesting that when the general public is asked how often they’d like to have sex it is that same number of times per month that the average “sex addict” has sex. Maybe this is really just jealousy.

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