On 11/29/2016, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, & Therapists (AASECT) released a formal position statement on Sex & Porn Addiction. The official AASECT position reads as follows:
AASECT recognizes that people may experience significant physical, psychological, spiritual and sexual health consequences related to their sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors. AASECT recommends that its members utilize models that do not unduly pathologize consensual sexual problems. AASECT 1) does 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 delivery, counseling or therapy.
Extracting the core of the statement, AASECT:
...does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction or porn addiction as a mental health disorder
...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 delivery, counseling or therapy
Both of AASECT's two primary statements, along with their conclusion, are problematic - for multiple reasons.
On its face, the first statement in their formal position is about how the problem should be diagnostically categorized; or, to be more specific, about how it should NOT be categorized. An unfortunate problem with the statement, however, is that it is being headlined as “Sex Addiction & Porn Addiction DO NOT EXIST”. This statement is based on multiple logical fallacies, and is an overreach when also considering that AASECT is not a scientific research organization, but rather an advocacy group and certifying body for people in the field of sexual health; Sex Therapists (clinicians), Sexuality Counselors (e.g., an HIV counselor), and Sexuality Educators (teachers). As such, AASECT is not qualified to countermand actual scientific organizations such as the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), a professional medical organization, who maintains an academic/medical journal on the topic of addiction, and offers an Addictionology Board Certification/Fellowship for medical doctors only. ASAM’s detailed interpretation of the science can be found in their formal definition of addiction, which includes sexual behaviors as able to activate addiction neurocircuitry. Unfortunately, AASECT relies on the logical fallacy of “appealing to authority”, by putting its name on such a pronouncement. Furthering the problem is the fact that the AASECT statement is being bandied around the media with overbroad application. For example, “Are Sex Addiction and Porn Addiction Really a Hoax? According to the experts. (Maybe.)”
Their second statement is equally problematic; that AASECT “... does not find the sexual addiction training and treatment methods and educational pedagogies to be adequately informed by accurate human sexuality knowledge”. What does this mean? Parsing the language, they are stating that sex addiction training & treatment methods are not “...adequately informed by accurate human sexuality knowledge”. Keeping in mind again that AASECT is not a scientific or research organization, but rather a collection of “sexual health advocates”, it is not necessarily surprising that their focus is on “human sexuality knowledge”. Regardless, their apparent intent is to undermine/discredit the formal sex addiction training programs, the clinicians they have certified, and private treatment programs ("rehabs”). I understand the concerns behind this perspective, and for the purposes of this particular blog post I will not address the professional side of the debate, as it is being addressed elsewhere, such as by multiple professional organizations (IITAP, APSATS, SAT), non-profits such as PornHelp, Fight The New Drug, and blogs on sites such as PsychCentral, Psychology Today, and LinkedIn. What I am addressing here is the fact that while attacking/discounting training organizations, other clinicians, and private rehabs, AASECT also uses over-broad language, and cognitive distortions (i.e. "black & white thinking") by discounting all “treatment methods”. In fact, it raises a huge baby/bathwater problem that I will discuss below.
The stated conclusion of the AASECT pronouncement is that they consider that “…problems related to sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors to a porn/sexual addiction process…cannot be … a standard of practice for sexuality…therapy”. I actually agree 100%. I don’t think a sex addict should seek help from a sex therapist any more than I think someone suffering with vaginismus should seek help from a sex addiction therapist! So, what is the concern I am raising here? The following….
Where does the AASECT statement leave the 12-step programs?
While the AASECT position statement acknowledges that “…people may experience significant physical, psychological, spiritual and sexual health consequences related to their sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors”, AASECT also states that operating from a sex addiction-therapeutic model is unhelpful, if not downright harmful. Ian Kerner, AASECT’s Chair of PR, stated in a recent Playboy article “The position statement does not make a comment about [...] usefulness of the metaphor of addiction for revealing, describing or finding hope for change.” I disagree. The problem is that there is a tremendously robust 12-step community that has formed around the problem of compulsive/out-of-control sexual behavior that uses the addiction model. These are free & peer-based meetings. In a recent CNN article he wrote, Ian himself acknowledges awareness of the fact that "In any given week, there are well over 1,000 Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings across the United States.” Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) is but one of multiple 12-step programs for sex addiction, and to be specific, their International Service Office recently reported that SAA has 1,716 weekly meetings registered. Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), another example of a highly active and well attended sexual addiction recovery fellowship, also has daily support meetings all around the world. So, how does saying “sex addiction isn’t real” and “current treatment models are insufficient” not translate to have the following direct negative application:
The AASECT blanket statement discounts/disenfranchises the literally thousands upon thousands of people who self-identify as sex-addicts, their families, and all those who find relief via 12-step programs!
Denouncing other professionals and organizations is one thing, but it’s entirely another to make an over-broad statement that has a reasonable interpretation of invalidating the thousands upon thousands of successful peer-based programs. What does the AASECT statement say to the thousands of active 12-step programs for sex addiction and their active members? Their words have so much potential to cause more harm than good, as, put together, the AASECT statements essentially say:
- You regular attendees aren't really sex addicts
- You are doing it (recovery) wrong by going to meetings and working the steps.
AASECT stated that the purpose of the position statement was to “establish standards of care supported by … public health consensus and the rigorous protection of sexual rights for consumers seeking treatment for problems related to consensual sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors.” How does blanket invalidation of thousands of successfully recovering people (and their families) protect consumer sexual health and sexual rights?
I think it is important to remember that Sex Addiction & Porn Addiction are no more about sex than alcoholism is about alcohol. One doesn't need to be trained in the details of ethanol in order to work with alcoholics. Similarly, one doesn't need to be trained in the intricacies of the human sexual response cycle in order to work with a recovering sex addict. These are peer-based programs; aka, "people helping people."
So having said all this, I have a question for AASECT: What do you expect to happen now? Should these meetings disband? Continue meeting despite existence invalidated by your “professional organization?” Should the thousands of people living fundamentally altered for-the-better lives start their transformations over? I think AASECT owes it to the recovering community to provide an answer!