Sex addiction. Is it a thing? Dr. Drew Pinsky bet his showbiz career on it. But David Ley, a New Mexico-based clinical psychologist specializing in sexual health, begs to differ.
Ley holds forth that the concept of sex addiction is nothing but a myth, and a dangerous and reprehensible one at that. He wrote a book, critics took him to task, and major controversy (and vitriol) ensued. He is colorful, charismatic, and he takes a strong stance. I spoke to him at length about sexual proclivities and social mores, and what it really is that gets our collective panties in a twist.
Have you always focused on issues of sexuality? What got you interested in sex in the first place? Professionally speaking, that is.
I’ve always been interested in sexuality, professionally. I started working with sexual offenders, many years ago, but over time, people and colleagues started bringing me lots of sex-related issues, even those that didn’t involve crime or abuse. The reality is that most therapists and doctors receive very little training in sexuality, so it’s easy for them to run into issues that are beyond their understanding or competence. Gradually, I learned that there were lots of people who needed help, but couldn’t be open with their therapists for fear of being judged about their sexual behaviors, desires, kink, or alternative lifestyle. I try to help those folks. Besides, with the name Ley, I was either destined to be a politician involved in a sex scandal or a sex doctor. I think I made the best choice.
Totally. You’ve been widely criticized for calling sex addiction a myth in your book, aptly titled, The Myth of Sex Addiction. What was the catalyst for taking this position?
I come from a very traditional scientific and clinical background. There, sex addiction is simply regarded as pop psychology with little substance or merit. After I wrote my first book, Insatiable Wives, I was invited to speak about it, but people were more interested in the stance I took against sex addiction in one case study I described. I was frankly surprised to find that so many people considered the concept of sex addiction to be worthwhile. Now, I try not to be arrogant, so I spent some time exploring whether they were right and I was wrong. Ultimately, after reading all of their writing, their poor research, and interviewing sex addiction clinicians and their patients, I came to the conclusion that not only was this concept unfounded, but that it was unhelpful therapeutically, and actually damaging to patients. I believe that the concept of sex addiction, and the industry that supports it, represents the worst of sexually suppressive, stigmatizing biases and morals.