Other things which also do not actually exist: love addiction, shopping addiction, food addiction, porn addiction, Internet addiction, video game addiction, gun addiction, or any other kind of non-substance-related addiction.
Of course people can have compulsive, self-destructive, or otherwise problematic behavior related to sex, shopping, food, porn, video games, etc. There are people who use sex to get attention or to numb their pain. You can have a problem related to sex that needs treatment; hell, for that matter, you can have a problem related to sex that ruins your life. But they’re not addiction. The addiction model just doesn’t work to describe non-substance-related compulsive behavior.
There are some people in the poly-kinky community who spend a lot of time thinking about and having sex. They go to munches and orgies and the Folsom Street Fair; they’ve had tons of casual sex and dozens if not hundreds of partners; they have to hide large swathes of their lives from bosses, family, and ‘nilla friends; they have Serious Opinions about figging. It happens. But it would be absurd to consider happy. functional people with friends and jobs “sex addicts” just because their hobby happens to be sexuality.
Similarly, not everyone who occasionally masturbates for two hours is a porn addict, and not everyone who really loves food is a food addict. Nevertheless, Cosmo is talking about how ice cream is totally the same as crack you guys and Christian websites talk about addictive sexual sins. Newsflash: you don’t have to be addicted to ice cream or masturbation to want to do it a lot. People like masturbation and ice cream because they’re fun.
On the other hand, I am prone to self-destructive sexual behavior: that is, I tend to assume that my sexual partners hate me and have sex with them because the only reason anyone would put up with me is for orgasms. (For the record, my partners do not believe any of this.) But because my self-destructive sexual behavior usually comes up in long-term romantic relationships, I won’t get diagnosed as a ‘sex addict.’ In fact, the happy kinkster with Serious Opinions about figging would probably be classified as a sex addict, and I wouldn’t. That’s just fucked up.
The addiction model also offers a standard cure: abstinence. Sex addicts stop having sex; video game addicts stop playing video games; food addicts control the amount they eat. But abstinence isn’t always the solution.
To talk about my sex example again: the solution was not “Ozy stops having sex with long-term romantic partners.” (I mean, I did end up stopping having sex with my long-term romantic partners, but that was an entirely unrelated issue.) The solution was “Ozy learns to reality-check zir beliefs about relationships and to communicate zir needs for attention and validation.” The problem wasn’t my dysfunctional sexual behavior; that was just the symptom. My problem is that I keep fucking concluding people I love hate me based on no evidence. If I’d just stopped having sex with long-term romantic partners, I would have found some other horrible dysfunctional way to try to keep people I love from hating me– and I would have missed out on all the totally functional relationship sex.
And for a lot of dysfunctional and compulsive behavior, the same thing is true. Sure, there are people who play video games instead of sleeping as a dysfunctional anxiety coping mechanism. But you’re going to get a lot farther teaching them how to deal with anxiety than you will stopping them from playing video games. Sure, there are people who spend twelve hours on Tumblr because they’re depressed and numbing themselves, but Wellbutrin will help a lot more than not going online ever again.
I mean, obviously, you might treat the guy who spends twelve hours at a time on Tumblr for his depression and then he won’t spend twelve hours at a time on Tumblr anymore. But that’s a side effect, not the goal; the goal is for him to not be depressed. If you treat his depression and he’s like “actually, all my friends are on Tumblr and my hobby is creating humorous gifsets, so I’m going to continue having Tumblr marathons, thanks,” that is also okay. (Compare this with addiction, where if you treat someone for the underlying issues that make them take heroin and they keep taking heroin, the treatment was probably not successful.)
Furthermore, I don’t think that what gets classified as “addictions” is accidental. I sleep a lot when I’m depressed, sometimes fourteen hours a day; being alive hurts and I don’t want to kill myself so I just want to be conscious as little as possible. One time I lost my job because I kept sleeping through work. But no one has ever come up with the idea of a “sleep addict.”
The things that get called addictions are things that some people feel are Wrong but other people keep doing anyway. Marry diet magazines and high-fructose corn syrup and you get food addiction. The demise of old sexual standards in the wake of the sexual revolution? Sex addiction and porn addiction. The kids and their new technology that the grown-ups are scared of and are sure must be bad somehow? Video game addiction and Internet addiction.
So you don’t get “sleep addicts,” because there are very few moralists talking about how evil it is that some people want to get ten hours a night. That’s unfair to people who genuinely do have self-destructive behavior that no one thinks is Wrong, and to people who just like Wrong Things a lot and really do not deserve a bunch of people calling them addicts for it.