The Health 202: Science puts sexual aggressors squarely on the hook for their misdeeds

The Washington Post

November 28, 2017

By Paige Winfield Cunningham

The science is in: Men who engage in sexual misconduct really can help themselves.

Despite the excuses you might hear from leaders in the political, entertainment and media worlds who are accused of sexually harassing women (and some men) — a list that seems to grow daily — advances in brain imaging have recently revealed that these kinds of behaviors are simply not addictive in the same way drugs or alcohol might be.

Here’s how researchers identify when a behavior is addictive: When that behavior starts lighting up the part of the brain connected to need instead of pleasure. That’s what occurs in the brains of people struggling with substance abuse. But the same thing doesn’t occur in people who say they have sexual urges they can’t control, researchers said.

“Now that we start to look at the brains of people and see what is going on, [sex addiction] doesn’t fit the criteria of a mental disorder,” Joye Swan, psychology chair at Woodbury University, told me.

Psychologists have become so convinced of this that most of the leading scientific bodies have recently released papers or statements saying that what is called “sex addiction” isn’t actually an addiction. Last year, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists said there’s insufficient evidence to support classifying sex addiction as a mental health disorder. In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association removed “sex addiction” from DSM-5, the handbook of mental health disorders.

The science is something to keep in mind in the #MeToo era, as more and more women have the courage to speak up about their experiences with rampant harassment and misconduct — and the cultural stigma begins shifting from the victims to the alleged instigators.

There’s an increasingly crowded stage of powerful men facing such charges — most recently Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who yesterday took to the mics to claim he doesn’t recall instances where four women say he touched them inappropriately — but also Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) (the latest charge is here), comedian Louis C.K., media figures Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose, actor Kevin Spacey and many others. President Trump has also been accused of sexual misconduct by 13 women.

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