Can You Really Get Treatment for Sex Addiction? Experts Have Doubts

“It’s not the same as alcohol and drug addition because people aren’t breaking into banks and robbing people to get porn,” psychotherapist Joe Kort tells TheWrap

The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported last week that Kevin Spacey has checked into the same pricey Arizona rehab facility as Harvey Weinstein for sex addiction, but many experts have raised doubts about whether it’s a legitimate condition that can be treated medically.

“It’s not a real diagnosis. There’s not enough research to prove that it’s real,” Joe Kort, a prominent Michigan psychotherapist and sexologist, told TheWrap.

Kort said he spent 25 years treating sex addiction before he ultimately disavowed the affliction. “It’s not the same as alcohol and drug addition because people aren’t breaking into banks and robbing people to get porn,” he said.

Dr. Nicole Prause, a neuroscientist and founder of the sexual biotechnology company Liberos, shared Kort’s skepticism about programs like those at The Meadows, the Arizona facility where the Daily Mail reported Weinstein and Spacey sought treatment.

“It’s junk science,” Prause told TheWrap. “If you talk to some of the directors from those centers, they talk about neuroscience in ways that are 100 percent false. They do not understand the brain. They don’t understand how dopamine works.”

While she said that she was not familiar with the specifics of Weinstein’s case, she noted, “To the extent that someone is causing another human to engage in unwanted sexual behavior, that is a sex offender, not a sex addict.”

Weinstein, whose career has imploded after dozens of women have come forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct, has largely retreated from public view. According to his spokesperson, he is “receiving in-patient as well as out-patient medical treatment for the next month or so.”

Both Kort and Prause noted that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) makes no mention of sexual addiction. Both also suggested that uncontrolled and compulsive sexual behavior was likely a result of other underlying problems rather than a separate diagnosable condition.

According to Kort, “sex addiction” is little more than good marketing that allows Weinstein and others — including past self-professed sex addicts Ozzy Osbourne and David Duchovny — to hide behind a supposed medical diagnosis to excuse sexual improprieties.

“I’ve had individual clients say I’d rather be a sex addict than a pervert,” Kort said. “[Weinstein] is not going to get to the root of why he’s committed these [acts] against women and doing things non-consensually.”

While “excessive” sexuality or “hypersexuality” has been documented in U.S. medical literature from as early as the 18th-century physician Benjamin Rush, the modern understanding of sex addiction can be traced to Dr. Patrick Carnes’ 1983 book “Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction.”

Carnes, the founder of International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, also currently serves as a senior fellow at The Meadows.

The treatment of sex addiction does have its defenders. Paul Kelly, a New York City-based sexual addiction therapist, noted the possibility that the disorder could be recognized by the medical establishment in the future.

“DSM-5 is revised on a regular basis. There’s a reason we’re looking at the 5 as opposed to the 4 and eventually we’ll be looking at the 6,” he told TheWrap. “What we do have currently in DSM-5 is recognition of behavioral addiction or process addiction as opposed to substance addiction.”

When the DSM was revised in 2013, he noted, the fifth edition of the manual included “gambling disorder” for the first time, suggesting a broader acceptance of other addictive behaviors as worthy of a separate diagnosis.

Other experts have expressed sympathy for related disorders, such as Anthony Weiner’s self-professed “sexting addiction.”

“Sex addiction is certainly extremely prevalent and we’re only really coming into the forefront of recognizing it,” said Kelly. “We definitely know that people can show all the same signs of classic addiction.”

But, Kelly was equally firm that addiction was “not an excuse to get out of responsibility” for illegal behavior.