Cover photo taken from Netflix. This Post Was Written By Diana Baldwin, LCSW, A Licensed Therapist With Elevated Recovery. 5 minute read.
Not Everyone Accused of Sexual Abuse Is A Sex Addict—Here Are Key Differences
by Diana Baldwin, LCSW
Sexual assault and sex addiction seem to be everywhere lately, don’t they?
These days, you can’t scroll through social media without seeing something on these topics. From Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, to countless other influential men in media named as alleged abusers, to the many survivors who came out in the #MeToo campaign, these issues are getting a lot more publicity—and it’s sparking much-needed conversation everywhere.
As a sex addiction and relationship therapist, I see most of this dialogue as a good thing. We’re shining a light on topics that are so often hidden in the dark, and we’re hopefully providing safe places for people to share their stories and get help. That’s awesome!
But, I also see a lot of confusion and misinformation in the media about these topics. The one I want to address today in the difference between “sexual addiction” and “sexual assault/perpetration.” These are not the same thing, and should not be used interchangeably. I have heard the term “sex addict” be used to minimize and make excuses for assault, and nothing about that is acceptable!
Let’s define sex addiction and sexual perpetration separately, since they are separate issues, and you’ll be on your way to spotting misinformation on your feed in no time.
A sex addict is someone who abuses, is obsessed with, or is consumed by sex. They may use it as a coping skill and in many ways, like a drug. They are controlled by it and need more and more of a “high” to get the same feeling. This doesn’t automatically make them perpetrators, or mean that they have broken the law. In some cases they do (like buying sex from a prostituted person, etc.) or maybe it escalates to that for some people, but that’s not the actual definition.
These are people who are abusing sex, not necessarily other people.
That means that the sex is usually consensual. They may use chat rooms, hook-up sites, or pay for sex, but they are not looking for their next victim, more their next “fix.”
Sexual perpetration, on the other hand, means that someone is engaging in abusive, nonconsensual, and illegal behavior. It is often more opportunistic and manipulative than it is compulsive. In other words, they may not act for a long time, and then take advantage of a situation as soon as they are able.
So while the sex addict is compulsively looking for partners, sexual encounters, porn etc. (and this is a real drive and compulsion), the perpetrator may not be engaging in anything for a while, until they find the right victim or situation to take advantage of. This means their behavior is often much more planned and calculated.
Now, of course, that’s not always the case and there are exceptions—there are impulsive perpetrators as well, but they tend to not get away with it for as long. Perpetrators also often have issues with power and may have other co-occurring issues or disorders.
Know the Difference
So just saying that someone who has 20 victims is a sex addict is not owning the abuse for what it actually is. I worked in an intensive treatment center for teens with sexual issues, and having them own their crimes in a very accountable way was a big part of starting treatment. Both for the person who committed the crime and for the victim, the act needs to be discussed in a fully accountable way.
If the perpetrator never owns what they did for what it was, which was abuse, they can never really get help or make changes.
Now, it is possible to be both a sex addict and a perpetrator, but it is definitely not always the case. The routes of treatment may also look different because the underlying causes, issues, and trauma often look very different. And because of that, treatment for an addiction will not be the same for treatment of abuse.
That makes it so important, again, to talk about these things in a very honest and accountable way.
See the differences, and why they matter?
Help is Possible
The good news is, I have worked with people in both categories that are able to make incredible changes and get real control back over their lives and urges.
It is possible. We as a society can help by calling these things what they are, holding people accountable and getting everyone the help they need. If you or someone you know falls into either of these categories, it’s absolutely worth it to talk to someone and get help.
And if you are someone who has suffered through abuse, I encourage you to please also reach out to someone and get support.
I know how hard some of these things can be to talk about, and I understand how lonely these battles can be. I want you to know that you are not alone, and it can get better.
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About the Author
Diana Baldwin is a licensed clinical therapist specializing in relationships and sexually compulsive issues. She has worked in treatment centers and clinics all over the world and is passionate about helping people live a happier and more fulfilled life. You can find her work at www.elevatedrecovery.org and check out her youtube channel.