Is Compulsive Sexual Behavior a Mental Disorder?

Early this month our team had a chance to interview Dan Gray for Episode 3 of our Podcasts. There you can hear the conversation between Dan, Thom Harrison, and Ken Krogue or you can download the written transcript.

Dan Gray, Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist is a licensed clinical social worker. Holding a master’s degree in social work, he is also certified as an addictions counselor with the National Association of Forensic Counselors. He maintains a busy private practice, lecturing regularly and providing training and consultation to numerous civic, religious, and professional organizations throughout the country. He is the clinical director of the LifeSTAR Network program, which provides help for individuals and couples who are dealing with problems related to sexual addictions and compulsive behaviors. He has co-authored and edited 2 books: Confronting Pornography: A Guide to Prevention and Recovery for Individuals, Loved Ones, and Leaders and Discussing Pornography Problems with a Spouse: Confronting and Disclosing Secret Behaviors.

Twenty years ago, joining forces with Todd Olson, Gray and he formed LifeStar to help bring “hope, healing, and recovery to individuals, families, and spouses affected by unwanted compulsive sexual behaviors and the powerful grips of sex addiction.” He and Olson developed a treatment protocol that they have been using ever since, and they have expanded their treatment programs to nearly 40 Cities in both the U.S. and Canada. All with the goal of helping “individuals, spouses, and families heal from the devastating effects of pornography addiction and other sexually compulsive behaviors.”

With the pervasive availability of pornography on the internet, both Olson and Gray were running men’s groups in the mid-nineties. But he said, “When we combined our forces, we saw that we were dealing with a lot of individuals and families and couples that were struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors and addictions.” He continued, compulsive “sexual behaviors, were kind of stimulated by the Internet.”

Thom and Dan discussed how growing up, if anyone wanted to see pornographic material, they had to work at finding it. It was a more protected era, but now days, Dan reported that today’s youth “are being exposed at a very early age. In fact, some of the latest data is that most youth have first access and exposure to pornography around nine to eleven years of age.

“Now, that doesn’t mean that they become addicts by any means. But with that first exposure, some see it and go, ‘oh, this is awful. This is weird. I don’t feel right.’ But others are curious.”

“The curiosity is what then initiates the experimentation with more information, more access. So now they have access to their phones, their computers, their parents’ laptops and so forth. They can access it very, very quickly.”

“So experimentation takes place very, very early. With some, the experimentation doesn’t gravitate to habitual behaviors, but for many it does and they start with the habit of using the material.”

“Now invariably, when we meet with new clients that are coming in, that are in that millennial age bracket (some of them single, some of them married) coming in because they have problems in their relationships with their wives, because they are so totally focused on their pornographic use and the stimulation that occurs with that.”

“As we then look at their history, they regularly share with us that it started back when they were looking at their phones when they were a teenager. When they’re 12, 13, looking at their phones. The social media that’s there, then, the gaming. They many times report that gaming was kind of their gateway into the pornography because there’s a lot of solicitous material that are in the games themselves.”

“Now, much like with the use of drugs, alcohol, they start using it as a way to manage and cope with life. So they have stresses at work or at school and with their friends, they feel lonely. They will turn to these materials in order to kind of self medicate. Then that leads to addictive patterns, which is now what we see.”

“Well, that’s another part of the debate as to, whether or not it becomes an addiction. A debate even within our own profession as to whether or not we can call it an addiction.” However he said, “a lot of the science and research is indicating…that those areas of the brain that are activated that then helps to secrete the hormones of the neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins, adrenaline, those are all activated during sexual arousal and stimulation. That then becomes a part of the body functioning that a person can rely on in order to escape pressure or stress, rather than turning to alcohol or drugs. So, whether it’s called an addiction or compulsive sexual behavior, the result is exactly the same. A person becomes dependent upon it in order to manage and cope.”

These days, Dan says, that while there has “been a difference, there’s much more of a merging [in the] diagnostic manuals are indicating now that we can call compulsive sexual behavior a mental disorder.”

As Dan left the interview, he said this, which stuck with me. In working with his client group, which often is comprised of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, he has found something in D&C 121:45–46 that he calls the “rhythm of recovery” for addictions. It is this rhythm of recovery he wants to share with others.

To learn more about this disorder, listen to the podcast: Episode 3: Dan Grey on Sex Addiction. You can also hear Dan speak at the Eternal Core Conference, March 29–30. 2019 at Salt Lake City’s Little America. Register Today!

Thom Harrison on Getting By, but Not Getting Better

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