The Myth of
David J. Ley
Rowman & Littlefield, 2012
much science do we need to distinguish order from disorder? Where do we draw
the line between our own values and genuine illness? How much sex is too much,
and are any of us in a position to judge? To what extent do our answers to
these questions reflect unacknowledged cultural values? With so much
controversy encircling the DSM-5 revisions, the current state of civil
commitment, and the most effective treatment methods, these are important
this breach steps David Ley, who observes what so many others have: the idea of
sexual addiction has become more popular, more widespread in the media, and
more lucrative. His book examines the available science and presents numerous
ethical concerns. These concerns extend well past the celebrity who gets into
trouble and blames their misbehavior on being “addicted” to sex. They encompass
perspectives on sexuality and gender of cultures across time around the world.
volume begins with a history of addiction and provides new insights into how
definitions of “addiction” have changed over time. The historical information
is important, as it betrays just how elastic the concept of addiction has been
in various locations and in recent decades. Those who believe they “know an
addict when they see one” will find many reasons to reconsider.
next considers why we should examine the concept of addiction. After all, why
would we not embrace it if it were a helpful construct for leading a more
responsible life? Ley argues that this is a false and potentially harmful perspective
that lacks actual scientific support, undermines personal responsibility, and
too frequently casts male sexuality in an unhealthy and dangerous light. He
uses a number of case examples to illustrate how what appears to be sexual
addiction may be little more than a mismatch of libidos between the client and
his or her partner.
book’s exploration of the available science will fascinate any reader. Beyond
observing that there is no credible body of evidence to support the notion of sexual
addiction, he describes many historical problems in attempting to define it.
Ley argues that even seemingly obvious metrics, such as number of orgasms per
week and level of subjective distress related to sexuality have proven
disappointing. By one measure, as much as 40% of males (and 21% of females; p.
24) might meet criteria for a proposed cutoff of number of orgasms. In other
instances, what has separated “sex addicts” from other men has been the level
of distress they experience and the nature of the men’s relationships more than
the actual amount of sex they were having.
further argues that by emphasizing “addiction” and powerlessness, professionals
risk taking away the things that all adults should live up to: personal
responsibility, integrity, self-control, independence, accountability,
self-motivation, honor, and respect for others. Although many professionals in
the field of treating sexual aggression have voiced similar concerns, Ley
unpacks each of these points, illustrating them with research studies and case
examples. Of past scientific efforts to define sexual addiction he concludes that,
“if these smart, well-meaning, well-funded folks can’t generate clear
definitions in three decades, then maybe the problem isn’t in the terminology,
but in the process and the goal. The reason why clear medical terminology
cannot be created is . . . because this is not a medical issue but a moral and
social one” (p. 28). Ley argues persuasively that we should all be concerned
that it is simply too easy to pathologize and stigmatize those who evoke our
ambivalent beliefs about sex and sexuality.
recent years, as neuroscience has come to the front of our attention, many
professionals have made conclusions about possible biological markers of sexual
issues such as pornography usage. While the scientists themselves are uniformly
cautious in reporting findings, it can be easy to draw unrealistic conclusions
from the testimonials and fascinating brain scans at web sites such as “your
brain on porn”. Ley’s argument is that conditions such as schizophrenia and
bipolar disorder have received far more neuro-scientific research attention,
and are still not diagnosed by biological markers.
there are many possible sexualities. Some sexual behavior is clearly illegal
and harmful. Some aspects are statistically associated with re-offense risk
among those who have abused (e.g., sexualized coping). The challenge for
treatment providers is to separate science from morals and fact from fiction.
When Sexaholics Anonymous proclaims that “any form of sex with one’s self or
with partners other than the spouse is progressively addictive and destructive”
(p. 115), it should be clear that this is based far more on values than on research.
Certainly, anyone wishing to ascribe to this belief on their own time should be
free to do so. A chief reason why Ley’s book is indispensable to practitioners
treating sexual aggression is that our clients typically do not have the luxury
of selecting a treatment provider and can quickly find themselves in legally
tenuous situations should they hold different beliefs than their therapist.
writing style is highly accessible and entertaining. The structure and layout
are excellent. He is meticulous in providing citations for his assertions,
often preferring direct quotes to summaries. The Myth of Sexual Addiction will seem an easy read, but readers will
find themselves putting it down for extended periods to think about its
implications. For this reason, it will be invaluable for those considering the
ethics of our work.
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