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The Disease of Sex Addiction and the Danger of Diagnostic Denial

Posted Nov 29 2009 11:49pm

 

Nature did not make human brains first, and then construct things according to their capacity of understanding, but she made things in her own fashion and then so constructed the human understanding that it, though at the price of great exertion, might ferret out a few of her secrets   

I believe that one of the greatest pieces of arrogance, or rather madness, that can be thought of is to say, "since I do not know how Jupiter or Saturn is of service to me, they are superfluous, and even do not exist"... oh, the presumptuous rash ignorance of mankind

~ Galileo Galilei~

Oie_mans_brain  Galileo would be appalled to know that as it pertains to the search for truth, not much seems to have changed since 1625 or so.

Now that sex addiction as a diagnostic entity has begun to venture beyond the borders of its long-lived closet, it has I am sad to say, become that caricature of itself previously relegated to the alcoholism of years past - but worse, given that sex addiction happens to have of all the rotten luck, the word 'sex' in it.  Sex ADDICTION of all things, I mean really.  Concerning the exponentially exploding misinformation at best, and outright dishonesty by way of misguided personal agenda at worst, when it comes to sex addiction the public has it all wrong and it is the experts (in part) to blame - after all, most of them have it wrong as well, and neither camp is particularly interested it would appear, in getting it right.  This must change.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Ignorance as "lack of knowledge, education, or awareness", and the Catholic Encyclopedia defines it as "lack of knowledge in a being capable of knowing".  I happen to like the later.  The argumentum ad ignorantiam, AKA the argument to ignorance, states that a logical fallacy of irrelevance occurs when one claims that something is true only because it has not been proved false, or, that something is false only because it has not been proved true.  You know - like the whole is-there-a-god thing. 

We no longer put humans to death when they disagree with us, and last I heard, heresy might get you thrown out of the Church but at least you get to keep your head. The damage however that is caused to ourselves, our immediate as well as our global community, and any hope for a better life, by spreading dis- or misinformation either through ignorance or design, is nearly as dangerous.  Especially when it concerns the health and welfare of our denizens and especially when it is completely preventable.  Few things scare me more.  Or make me angrier.

As a specie, we are not tickled pink but will tolerate if we must, the others among us that are more visually appealing.  On the whole, we are not thrilled, but will put up with those that are more physically and consequently athletically endowed.  And generally speaking, we are less than pleased with those who are lucky enough to be more talented, more secure, more diplomatic, more assertive, more socially facile, erudite, resourceful, and yes, of greater wealth.  But damn it all to hell, we are a mere microscopic few that will ever tolerate anyone who is smarter then we are, education notwithstanding. But the final insult?  The most impossible of all wounds? To know that someone who may actually be more knowledgeable and disagrees with us- well, hells bells, that just won't do at all.  It does not matter one wit if they are more expert than we might be, or the most devilish of all insults, to have an expert among experts who might disagree with ones thinking.  No sir, when it comes to ones intellectual prowess, we go out of our way to prove the other wrong, less intelligent, less worthy.  And one of the ways that one goes out of their way is to spread like the plague, dis- or misinformation that can infect ones thinking, prevent ones otherwise right action, and as in the case for sex addiction, block any possible hope to heal the millions that suffer.   In Robert Wright's The Evolution of God, he quips that "In modern "secular" societies, as in "primitive" religious ones, faith in expertise is sustained by the timely disposal of experts (2009, p.34).  And that is what might happen with the deadly disease of sexual addiction. If it were a movie it would look something like Lord of the Flies meets The Stepford Wives.

Skepticism is a wonderful thing.  Skepticism maintains that one suspends judgment or belief until and unless, through the scientific method, that one's judgment or belief proves or is most likely the case, one way or another.  It is often thought that skepticism means not believing or disbelieving.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Skeptics Society(visit them online at  www.skeptic.com ) defines skepticism in part as having a "provisional approach to claims", a sort of wait-and-see attitude similar to a fact-finding mission.  That means taking the time, expending the energy to search for the truth as we may know it to be, like it or not, which in the case for the science of sex addiction, means to actually investigate what scientists may have discovered and what credentialed related others have had to say on the matter.  The Skeptics Society in its credo holds that:

...skepticism is a method, not a position.  Ideally, skeptics do not go into an investigation closed to the possibility that a phenomenon might be real or that a claim might be true...  Skepticism has a long historical tradition dating back to ancient Greece...  Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, that involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena.  A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement.  But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions...  The key to skepticism is to continuously and vigorously apply the methods of science to navigate the treacherous straits between "know nothing" skepticism and "anything goes" credulity.

If we cannot stop confusing opinion with fact and refuting something that we have no idea what we are talking about, or because of some misbegotten personal agenda in the name of some medieval religious order or such, or because it seemed politically correct to spew, then indeed we are in some considerable trouble and on so many levels greater then the one presented here.  Countless people around the world, especially in areas where even the mention of the word "sex" is painfully taboo, will not step forward, will not reach out for help, will not cease their dangerous and more-often-than-not disease-spreading, relationship-ending, brain-damaging, psychologically-impairing, legally questionable, morally-impacting and intergenerationally-spreading behaviors.  If I read one more article on how there is no such thing as a sex addiction by those that are either ignorant of the facts, non-expert in the requisite field of study to be capable of entertaining such a statement, has obviously not done their research (I think that covers it) I might actually become a little militant.

Many in the field of sex addiction treatment have a saying that goes something like this: sex addiction is not about sex.  Sounds pretty glib.  More importantly, it is not exactly true.  Sex addiction is about sex as drug addiction is about drugs, or that an eating disorder (an addiction actually) is about food.  Of course sex addiction is about sex.  However, it is about so very, very much more.  The "sex" in sex addiction is, like the poker chips to the gambler or the alcohol to the alcoholic, merely the drug-of-choice in order to reach the desired "high" and thereby medicating or anesthetizing their feared emotional and behavioral response, which, is to avoid intimacy and attachment with anyone that they might otherwise become attracted to, at any and all costs.  If alcoholism were just about stopping drinking, well, that would be easy.  But alcoholism or any other addiction is so difficult to cease and/or control for two important reasons; the neurochemistry and hence the pleasure center of the brain, and, the behavioral component involving learning, or more specifically, learned associative behavior.

Process addictions (i.e., sex, eating, gambling, cutting) however, are not quite the same as their kissing cousin the chemical addictions (i.e., drugs, alcohol) for an even more difficult, dare I say, sinister reason or reasons.  The process addictions of which sex is among them have an added neurodevelopmental component based upon traumatic attachment and associative learning and the ensuing synaptic plasticity that results, that is not found in the chemical addictions.  I have discussed these terms in previous blogs but I will expand on them here because they are vital in understanding exactly why sex addiction is an addiction and why it is considered - or should be considered by the general pop - a neurological disease process.  Once you understand these basic reasons (and you do not need a degree in biochemistry or anything else to understand them, simply stay with me here), then you will come to understand why sex addiction is real, is a neurological disease process that is serious, has deadly consequence, and is causing mass chaos around the globe in the life and lives of millions (yes I said millions) of people.  Worse still, it is more often then not passed on intergenerationally. 

Sex addiction has biological, genetic, neurochemical, and psychological components that have at its core a sociological, familial, legal, political, and financial impact around the world.  Make no mistake, this is not a made-in-America legacy.  I continue to receive email after countless email from people around the world that have read this blog and reached out for help - from Ethiopia, The Arab Emerits, Jerusalem, Brazil and Kansas, and everywhere in-between.  From Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and some sects I have never had the privilege of knowing about.

You are encouraged to read the brief paper on my research at my website http://drsarahullman.com  that discusses the neurology and neuropsychology of this disease if you have not already.

I have spent a considerable amount of time in the past posts on this blog discussing the making of a sex addiction, or said another way, the unfortunate recipe for acquiring a sexual addiction, from a traumatic, toxic childhood, to the persistent "hook" of live and streaming internet pornography or cyberporn and the resultant adult sexual addiction.  And by the way, there is no such thing as an "addiction to cyberporn" or "internet porn addiction".  If you are compulsively hooked and out of control in your cyber porn travels, then what you have is a SEX ADDICTION, wherein your main drug-of-choice (or method of transmission) is acquired through the watching and masturbating to pornographic images and the resultant fantasy of those images that have now seared themselves deep into the synaptic recesses of your drugged frontal lobe and sex addicted brain.

Earlier I made mention of associative learning and synaptic plasticity.  This refers to something called Hebbian Learning and the Hebbian Synapse, taken from the man Donald Hebb with whom these brilliant leaps of science were attributed.  Hebb, called the father of neuropsychology and neural networks, had what is now a famous saying.  He used to say "Cells that fire together wire together".  Hebb was interested in how learning occurs in the brain, and the differences in how a brain processes information at different developmental stages.  If you have been following this blog then you know I have repeatedly discussed the developmental stages of how certain types of early childhood trauma can blossom into an adult sexual addiction. 

In sum, Hebb demonstrated that through repetitious behavior, that behavior has now become habit because two or more things have been continually repeated together until they develop a sort of life of their own.  In other words, we know that the more you do something, the more it becomes second nature to do that same thing in the future.  We know this on a behavioral level.  But on a neuronal level, deep within your brain, the reason something becomes "habit", or said another way, when we habituate to something, we do so because the cells in our brain known as neurons actually LEARN that when a certain behavior occurs, that those cells will automatically become alert and aroused (we call this "firing") on their own even in the absence of our actually continuing the behavior - we have taught our cells to initiate the behavior on its own.  Now, the neurons in your brain automatically "fire" when they have been paired with certain behaviors.  You may not walk around constantly thinking of how your legs and arms and derriere will ride on a bike, but the split second that you hop on that bike, your legs and arms and derriere have LEARNED and now automatically know how to ride a bike without you having to do much of anything other then getting on the thing - they simply DO it without so much as another thought from you.  Thinking of a bike when not riding, or seeing a picture of a bike or having someone cook a tofurkey burger (because you smelled a tofurkey burger as you were getting on the bike for the first time), will "remind" your arms and legs and derriere to know how to ride even when there is no bike around in sight.  This is the principle behind studying something or acquiring continuing education credits in order to keep a license so that you are "reminded" or kept abreast of the important things learned in your profession.  These things will "trigger" your brain (or appendages as the case may be) to remember what it had learned previously.  It is also the principle behind many of the symptoms of the much talked about PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder that so many of our soldiers are becoming afflicted with, such as "flashbacks".  PTSD flashbacks are symptomatically speaking, the same phenomena as the triggering that occurs with a sex addiction.

When specific behaviors are continuously repeated identically or near-identically, over and over and over again, the brain begins to initiate that behavior just by a mere ASSOCIATION or just by being casually TRIGGERED by something that reminds it of that specific behavior.  This is precisely why, when one has engaged in countless hours of cyberporn, the brain has been taught to store those images such that anytime something even remotely similar to the images on the screen or even to the feelings you had when watching the images on the screen, or even a certain smell, sound, or thought that occurred during the time you were watching that porn on your screen, your brain will now become ASSOCIATED with those images.  Once this occurs, once your brain gets a mere whiff of an association to those images, no matter where you are or what you are doing, you will begin to immediately RECALL those images as if you were sitting right in front of your computer screen.  And once these images have been associated with certain sights, sounds, taste, touch, or smell, you will not likely be able to "undo" those images without professional help.  And that is a learned behavior.  Learning is another word for remembering.  When you learn something it means you have developed a memory for it.  And when learning occurs, the neurons in your brain are now wired together, such that they will remember that thing you have wittingly or otherwise taught it - and herein lies the proverbial rub - regardless of whether you want to or are trying to remember that thing.  It now has a life of its own.  As Hebb said, "when neurons fire together they wire together" - like it or not.

So far we have discussed how behaviors become, through repetition, associated or learned. It tells us that sex addiction is a REAL diagnosable clinical phenomena and how it gets that way.  This does not however,fulfill the criteria for ADDICTION.  What is addiction exactly?

Addiction is a medical term and in order for something to be referred to (accurately) as an addiction, it must meet certain very specific criteria.  Addiction is operationally defined (please refer to prior blog post for a good definition) as follows:

Addiction is a progressive neurobiological disease process that includes well-entrenched aspects of compulsion, obsession, loss of control, continuation in spite of dangerous consequence, and causes a progressive neuronal desensitization and brain-based neurochemical alteration

Addiction is considered by most, to be a "disease" process as opposed to a "disorder".  What constitutes the difference between the two?  In order for something to be classified as an "addiction" it must, in addition to the above criteria, be PROGRESSIVE.  This means that unless it is treated or goes into some type of remission (and generally, even if it does remit for a period of time), it WILL progress - it will not stay at the level it was at one time - at some often definable point - it will get worse and worse until it progresses to an "end stage".  With sex addiction, the end stage may be death or at best, catastrophic and irretrievable loss.

In addition to meeting the criteria for "addiction" a sexual addiction also includes a significant disruption, neurochemically and neuropsychologically, to mood, arousal, affect regulation (or said another way, arousal dysregulation), attachment, and Executive Functioning, a product of damage to the right, left, and/or right and left portions of the right prefrontal cortex affecting specifically, the dorsolateral and orbital frontal areas of the prefrontal cortex, as well as damage to the limbic system.

Now you know.  Next time someone says there is no such thing as a sexual addiction or that maybe it is something but certainly not an addiction, after all how can sex be an actual addiction?, tell them what you learned. 

In his book Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness, author Victor J. Stenger wrote "...science and the ability to think critically, inside or outside science, can be learned only by diligent effort" (2009, p.18).  It is my hope that we can somehow, through effort and diligence, do it differently this time, that we can learn to stop using denial and fear, politics and the cloak of belief to prevent us from doing the right thing, allowing science and the scientific method to become the new gospel and help the millions of people worldwide that suffer this preventable and treatable disease. Cyril Northcote Parkinson reminds us that "delay is the deadliest form of denial".

Intellige ut Credas...


 

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