What a difference a week makes. As recently as last weekend, the internet was awash with another tiresome round of sensationalized stories proclaiming that sex and porn addiction aren’t “real”. This latest flare up owed in large part to the release of a “Position on Sex Addiction” by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (“AASECT”) disputing the foundations of longstanding sex addiction therapy methods. The content of these stories wasn’t anything new. But the response to them sure was.
Spurred on by some surprisingly candid revelations by one of the AASECT statement’s architects, a chorus of sex addiction therapists, advocacy organizations, and commentators (including yours truly) responded with pointed criticism of the AASECT statement and the stories it had generated in the popular press. We pointed out the questionable motives for the statement, the logical fallacies it contained, and the dumbed-down reception it received. We questioned its seeming ignorance of a body of scientific research on sex addiction. And, most of all, we decried the shame and confusion the statement sowed among the very people AASECT claimed to want to help - those suffering from compulsive, addictive behavior involving sex and porn.
On December 14, one of the most notable responses to AASECT’s statement appeared on the web site of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (“IITAP”). IITAP is the organization principally responsible for developing sex addiction therapy methods and training sex addiction therapists. We described IITAP (accurately, we think) in our most recent blog post as AASECT’s rival in the sexuality practitioner certification marketplace.
In its response, IITAP struck a remarkably conciliatory tone. It praised AASECT for advancing sexual rights, particularly among LGBTQ, kink and polyamory populations. It acknowledged AASECT’s criticisms of IITAP’s historic deficiencies in training therapists on issues of sexual diversity. It also noted that AASECT’s “Position on Sex Addiction” constitutes a softening of AASECT’s historic stance on sex addiction, reflecting AASECT’s own acknowledgement of deficiencies in its curriculum. For instance, IITP observed that AASECT has recently introduced training for AASECT members in treating out-of-control sexual behaviors.
Most significantly (in our view), IITAP lamented the “unnecessary intellectual rock throwing” that has emerged over time between IITAP and AASECT members, resulting in “fractionalization” that prevents “integration of knowledge between groups that could easily learn from each other”. Echoing the criticism others had leveled at AASECT’s statement, IITAP noted that this needless “rock throwing” contributed to sensationalized stories in the press that do nothing but confuse and stigmatize people suffering from out-of-control sexual behaviors. In a full-throated call for a ceasefire, IITAP urged “the various sexual health organizations to come together in the best interest of [their] clients—working to legitimize and de-stigmatize this issue, so the people suffering will know there is hope and help.”
We are thrilled by IITAP’s statement. Then again, in PornHelp IITAP is preaching to the proverbial choir. What matters more is whether folks on AASECT’s side of the fence heard our collective criticism and IITAP’s call for “cross fertilization of theory and knowledge”.
Happily, it seems that at least one prominent AASECT member did. The same day IITAP’s position appeared, AASECT Board Member Dr. Ian Kerner penned this article for CNN. Though the article avoided any mention of AASECT or Dr. Kerner’s leadership position, it read like a point-by-point acknowledgment of many of the biggest criticisms IITAP and others leveled at AASECT’s “Position on Sex Addiction.” Among other things, Dr. Kerner acknowledged that many people suffer from compulsive, addiction-like sexual behaviors, that therapists from both the IITAP and AASECT camps provide valuable and valid help for those people, that IITAP rejects harmful “reparative” therapy, and that scientific evidence exists of links between out-of-control sexual behaviors and addiction.
Of course, the article wasn’t perfect. Its title, “Is sex addiction real? Depends on whom you ask” had an unhelpfully reductive ring to it. And, Dr. Kerner devoted column space to some questionable tropes (“sex addiction is about avoiding responsibility”) and suspect voices (including Dr. Michael Aaron, whose column crowing about how he used “guerrilla tactics” to push AASECT to issue its “Position on Sex Addiction” is a shining example of “unnecessary…rock throwing”). But, on the whole, we find Dr. Kerner’s recognition that many of his clients experience compulsive sexual behaviors as addictions, and his resolve to help them despite his personal doubts about the “addiction model,” refreshing. This, to us, feels like the sort of “coming together” that IITAP’s statement encouraged.
So, what’s next? We’ve seen a week of attention (finally) being paid to helping, instead of belittling, people who struggle with sex and porn addiction. Will this nascent detente between the IITAP and AASECT camps endure? We hope so. But, even if the cessation of hostilities proves short-lived, let’s hope it serves as a lasting reminder of how calm and reasoned voices of criticism and conciliation, when they speak frequently and widely enough to be heard, can lower the temperature of a heated conflict. For all of us who share the mission of helping people with out-of-control behaviors involving sex and porn, (re)learning that lesson is a victory in itself.