Sex Addiction vs. Sex Crimes

Sexual abuse and harassment is one of the top stories today. It’s being fueled by accusations against men in the public eye ― such as Harvey Weinstein ― and by so many people, men and women, stepping out and saying, “Me too. I was harassed. I was victimized.” But in the sudden explosion of interest in the topic, there is some confusion between sex addiction vs sex crimes as well as a need for clarity about what behavior requires sexual addiction treatment and what issues must be handled by police and a court of law.

What Is Sex Addiction?

Sex addiction refers to compulsive sexual behaviors that can take many forms and have different levels of severity.  The hallmark is that, despite negative consequences, the addict will continue with the behavior. Researchers have compared it to substance abuse, and the “high” that addicts get while in pursuit of their experience has been described as a chemical reaction and even like falling in love. People who are sex addicts are not typically in the same category as sex-offending criminals and their condition will respond to sexual addiction treatment, whereas sex criminals require a different psychiatric approach. It is often divided between paraphilic behaviors and non-paraphilic, the latter referring to more typical or easy-to-obtain sexual experiences. These may include:

  • Compulsive viewing of porn
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Visiting strip clubs
  • Buying sexual experiences and hiring prostitutes
  • Chronic need for extramarital affairs

Paraphilic behaviors are more extreme. While some of these behaviors may fit in with current BDSM consensual practices, where both parties agree to this behavior, when they occur without permission ― such as man exposing himself on a train ― they are compulsive. When they affect the person’s ability to function in the rest of their lives, they fall under the heading of sex addiction.

  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • Sexual masochism
  • Sexual sadism
  • Transvestic fetishism
  • Fetishism
  • Frotteurism
  • Gerontophilia

Compulsions Can Become Crimes

Some sexual addictions cross into the world of prosecutable sex crimes. An exhibitionist can get arrested for indecent exposure and a voyeur can get in trouble for peeking into a woman’s bathroom. Men can be arrested for paying prostitutes. Any sex addiction can spiral into a legal problem; prosecution will differ from state to state. But there are some paraphilic behaviors that may begin as compulsive fantasies and urges, but, once acted out, they become sex crimes.

  • Pedophilia. This is a psychiatric disorder that usually involves males who are only attracted to small children. They have recurring and intensifying desires and seek child pornography and being around children. They become sex offenders when they act out on their fantasies by sexually abusing or enslaving children.
  • Zoophilia. This means sexual arousal around animals or a preference for thinking about them in erotic or sexual ways. It turns illegal when the urge is acted upon and it becomes bestiality, which is sexual relations with animals.
  • Necrophilia. This can be a sexual attraction to corpses that could lead to sexual intercourse with corpses, which is against the law.

What Is a Sex Crime?

Most police forces have vice squads and sex crimes units to help investigate crimes that involve sex. There are city, state and national laws that allow law enforcement to actively pursue perpetrators. These can also be among the most difficult cases because of the vulnerability of the victims and the lack of evidence needed to convict someone. For example, rape is too often one person’s word against another’s. Sex crimes include:

  • Child sexual abuse
  • Child pornography
  • Child prostitution
  • Incest
  • Aggravated sexual assault
  • Rape
  • Sexual slavery
  • Kidnapping
  • Sex trafficking
  • Indecent exposure
  • Sextortion

Sexual Harassment Is Illegal

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission describes it this way: “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Any unwelcome advance falls under the legal definition of sexual harassment. It could be that current events will bring down the proverbial casting couch.  It is up to law enforcement to define which acts by well-known persons are sex addiction vs sex crimes and it will be up to the people accused of these acts to seek help or sexual addiction treatment.


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