Many sex therapists feel as though sex addiction treatment is simply SOCE in disguise. They cite several evangelical therapy groups who say they treat homosexuality as a sinful, problematic attachment disorder. Identifying and exposing SOCE groups and organizations is important to do. This leads to progress, and moves our therapeutic communities away from allowing these practices to take place.
Sex therapists must remain cautious before equating sex addiction treatment and SOCE. It is important to identify reparative therapists and advocate against them. However, the real reasons that SOCE exist are because of the shame that gay men live with, and because it is legal in most states, not because of sex addiction. All therapists (and all people) hold some responsibility for the mistreatment and shaming of gay men. Pointing fingers and endless arguing only add to the problem by shutting down lines of communication.
The sex addiction community needs to continue to identify areas where they can continue to grow in sex addiction treatment for gay men. Although IITAP has worked to develop its education on diversity, working with their gay community members can help to identify other important areas of growth. Many sex addiction treatment organizations do not include sexual education on sexual orientation diversity. This should become an increasingly important part of all legitimate sex addiction training.
Both therapy communities need to stay out of an attack-defend cycle. Sexuality is very complex, and no one has all of the answers. Better diversity protocols can be created out of good research. This research can also help us gain a better understanding of sexually compulsive behavior. The best research would include members from both communities.
Therapists from both communities also need to advocate for self-determination in gay clients. This is also true for clients who are seeking SOCE. Although therapists should never work to change a client’s sexual orientation, these clients need to have a safe space to gain understanding of this part of who they are. Therapists have to practice validating this process in their clients, while remembering that different people process through this differently. A therapist might genuinely feel that homosexuality is a normal sexual expression, but should also accept that their clients are struggling when they say that they are. This will give these clients an opportunity to move through their struggles, rather than avoid sharing them with their therapist.
Finally, the arguments of the existence of sex-addiction need to transform into discussions, rather than debates. Regardless of what the problem should be called, clients regularly come into therapists’ offices identifying problems with out of control sexual behavior. When the sex therapy and sex addiction therapist communities become fixated on arguing about this, clients pay the price. I’m not saying that definitions of addiction and sex addiction shouldn’t be assessed, defined, or refined. Instead, I’m advocating for open dialogue over endless, closed debating.
Gay men deserve help from a unified professional community that can practice what it preaches to the clients that it works with. We teach our clients to practice listening skills, self-regulation, self-worth, kindness, and shame resilience. When these men are able to get the help that they need, and accept who they are, reparative practices are likely to fade into the past, because there will be fewer men for SOCE to prey upon. When sex therapists and CSATs learn to work together, greater understanding of sexually compulsive behavior can enhance the treatment of this problem.
American Psychological Association. (2016). Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, & School Personnel. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/just-the-facts.aspx
American Psychological Association. (2016). Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/policy/sexual-orientation.aspx.
Spitzer, R.L. (2012). Spitzer Reassesses His 2003 Study of Reparative Therapy of Homosexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Retreived from http://www.spolekmedikuceskych.cz/dokumenty/Spitzr_apology.pdf.
Michael J. Salas is a counselor in Dallas, Texas who specializes in relationships and sexuality. Read more about his specialties and counseling perspectives at vantagepointdallascounseling.com.