By David J. Ley
A few weeks ago, a woman came up to me after a presentation I had given, on why I believed sex addiction was a dangerous myth. She was in tears, as she told me about her son whom she had lost about a decade ago to the ravages of alcoholism. She told me that near the end of his life, her son was in a very expensive private-pay treatment facility, and called her up to ask if he had ever been sexually abused.
As this mother told me this story, and disclosed this part, a look of anguish creased her face. “I told him that I didn’t think he ever was, and he told me that at the facility, therapists had told him that not only was he an alcoholic, but that he was a sex addict as well. And that his sex addiction must have come from being sexually abused.”
The lady’s son sadly died a few weeks after that, from complications related to his severe substance abuse. For a decade, this poor woman has lived with tremendous fear and guilt, guilt that her son might have been sexually abused, something she didn’t prevent, or even know about. She was anguished that the unknown abuse, and her apparent unknowing neglect, might have contributed to her son’s tragic life and loss.
I was the first person this woman ever heard, who said that sex addiction was a myth, a moralizing and unsubstantiated label that people throw around callously and casually. I gave her some peace, she told me, because for the first time in a decade, she could see that her son probably hadn’t been abused, and wasn’t addicted to sex. These therapists were merely riding the train of sex addiction, throwing that diagnosis at anything they could lasso with it, regardless of the consequences. If they could convince her son that he wasn’t just an alcoholic, but a sex addict too, what did they get out of it? Who knows? Maybe money. Or maybe they just saw every problem in the young man’s life as a form of addiction, and threw that label around to impress themselves.
A few decades or so ago, therapists believed they could recover memories of abuse, uncover buried memories of sexual, physical and even satanic abuse, in their patients. Because they saw symptoms they thought were related to a history of abuse, it didn’t matter that the patient said “Hey, I wasn’t ever abused.” But it turned out the patients were right and the therapists wrong. Lives were ruined, people went to jail and families were devastated because of the therapist’s well-intended arrogance.
They thought they were helping. But hundreds of lawsuits and settlements have now shown that those therapists hurt people. The myth of sex addiction hurts people too. This is why I’m challenging it every chance I can get. To demand that these therapists be responsible with the power they wield over people’s lives and fears.
David J. Ley is a clinical psychologist in practice in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He provides clinical and consultative services in numerous other states. Dr. Ley currently serves as Executive Director of a large outpatient behavioral health agency in Albuquerque and maintains a current caseload of clients. He is the author of The Myth of Sex Addiction and Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them.