The Big Debate About Anthony Weiner and Sex Addiction

September 4th 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn) found himself publicly shamed once again for sending sexually suggestive photos. Only this time, his 4-year-old son was in the background.

Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, announced that she will leave him, five years after Weiner's first public sexting debacle. Weiner accidentally posted a picture of his crotch on Twitter in 2011, only a year after he and Abedin married. He eventually admitted to having sexual online relationships with several women.

Because of this second scandal, some people are questioning whether Weiner is a sex addict.


Central to that question is whether sexual addiction is a real disorder. Not everyone agrees.

The term "sex addiction" is too broad and takes personal responsibility away from the person engaging in the sexual behavior, clinical psychologist David Ley told New York Magazine's the Science of Us.

"Calling Anthony Weiner a sex addict is a distraction from the important issues of personal responsibility and mindful choice," Ley said. "It's also a sad form of slut-shaming."

"Sex is often used by men to cope with negative feelings," Ley added. The underlying issues in a person's life should be the focus to help someone like Weiner, not a label, he said.

Sex addiction is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States.

Psychiatric researcher Martin Kafka proposed new criteria for a "hypersexual disorder" diagnosis in 2009, but it was not accepted by the APA.

Experts told ATTN: that sex is nevertheless a serious problem for some people.

Some people struggle with an extremely unhealthy relationship with sex, irrespective of the existence of sex addiction as a disorder, Marc Potenza of the Yale School of Medicine told ATTN:.

"I do think that there is less debate over the statement that there are people who develop problems with sexual behavior, and it gets in the way of the function of their daily life," Potenza said. "I do think this is a clinical concern, but there is debate about how to approach it."

Hypersexual disorder should be recognized by the APA, according to Robert Weiss, the senior vice president of National Clinical Development for Elements of Behavior Health.

Weiss has developed sexual addiction treatment programs and written books on the behavior. He said that politics largely affected the move to keep sex addiction out of the DSM.

"There are people in the sexual health field who see us as people who are conservative about sex," Weiss said. "They're fearful of us being the sex police, which is really not what we do." He added that sex addiction specialists aren't trying to ban sex.

"We work to eliminate the problem behaviors," Weiss said. "I don't want people to never have sex."

On the other hand, conservatives are afraid that if sex addiction gets an official diagnosis, criminals will use it as an excuse, Weiss said.

"They're afraid that serious sex offenders will say they're addicts. But sex addiction is only about consensual behavior," Weiss said. "There's fear from the right and the left."

How do you know if someone has a problem with sex?

A woman undresses.

Sex addiction is not about the pleasure of sex, but rather is a dependency on it, according to Stefanie Carnes, the president of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals.

"They stop enjoying it, and it's basically used as a way to medicate what's going on in their lives," Carnes said. "They usually feel pretty terrible about it afterwards."

Sex addicts pursue sex for extraordinary amounts of time, despite terrible consequences to their relationships or jobs, Carnes said. The behavior also tends to escalate over time, becoming more risky.

Sex addiction is an "intimacy disorder" that's about the fantasy of sex and not necessarily the sex itself, Weiss added.

"When life becomes challenging, they'll go out to look for something hyper-stimulating," Weiss said. "They could spend a week looking for sex and only 10 minutes having it. It's about the anticipatory fantasy."

Sexting, social media, and online porn can play a role in sexual addiction.

"Sex" on a computer.

Internet porn and social media don't necessarily cause sex dependency, but they can make the materials of addiction much more accessible.

"I think just like with any addiction. When the availability of something increases, you have more problems with it: casinos, bars, meth labs," Carnes said. "Now with the internet and the social networking capabilities we have for accessing anonymous sex and quick hookups, obviously it has increased."

Internet porn and dating or hookup apps make sex constantly available in ways that it wasn't 20 years ago, Weiss said.

"If I wanted to have sex, all I have to do is pick up Tinder, Grindr, or go to Ashley Madison, and I'm going to hook up with someone one way or the other," Weiss said. He added that internet porn is everywhere.

"It's highly affordable, easily accessible, and anonymous," Weiss said. "No one is gong to see me in the video store."

Weiss encourages society to have more sympathy for people with serious sexual issues. He counts Weiner as one of them.

"He's lost his career, his wife, and probably access to his child," Weiss said. "Would you want to be that person? Obviously, he's tremendously troubled, so why do we turn to him and make fun of him instead of saying, 'Wow, this person really needs some help'?"

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