Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 1–19 | Cite as

Inventing Sex: The Short History of Sex Addiction

  • Barry ReayEmail author
  • Nina Attwood
  • Claire Gooder
Original Paper


This article takes a critical look at the recent history of the concept of sex addiction, an archetypal modern sexual invention. Sex addiction began as a 1980s product of late twentieth-century cultural anxieties and has remained responsive to those tensions, including its most recent iteration, “hypersexual disorder.” Its success as a concept lay with its medicalization, both as a self-help movement in terms of self-diagnosis, and as a rapidly growing industry of therapists on hand to deal with the new disease. The media has always played a role in its history, first with TV, the tabloids, and the case histories of claimed celebrity victims all helping to popularize the concept, and then with the impact of the internet. Though it is essentially mythical, creating a problem that need not exist, sex addiction has to be taken seriously as a phenomenon. Rarely has a socio-psychological discourse taken such a hold on the public imagination—and proven an influential concept in academic circles too. We argue that this strange, short history of social opportunism, diagnostic amorphism, therapeutic self-interest, and popular cultural endorsement is marked by an essential social conservatism—sex addiction has become a convenient term to describe disapproved sex. Sex addiction is a label without explanatory force.


Sex addiction Internet Hypersexual disorder Sexual conservatism Cybersex 


  1. Aronowitz, R. (2008). Framing disease: An underappreciated mechanism for the social patterning of health. Social Science and Medicine, 67, 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atkins, L. (2003). He’s gotta have it. The Guardian 16 September. Google Scholar
  3. Attwood, F. (2006). Sexed up: Theorizing the sexualization of culture. Sexualities, 9(1), 77–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brand, R. (2009). My booky wook: A memoir of sex, drugs, and stand-up. New York: It Books.Google Scholar
  5. Brand, R. (2011). Booky wook 2: This time it’s personal. London: Harper.Google Scholar
  6. Brickell, C. (2012). Sexuality, power and the sociology of the internet. Current Sociology, 60(1), 28–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brutsman, J. (2001). Diary of a sex addict. Nu Image Films.Google Scholar
  8. Carnes, P. (1993). A gentle path through the twelve steps: The classic guide for all people in the process of recovery. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.Google Scholar
  9. Carnes, P. (2001). Out of the shadows: Understanding sexual addiction. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.Google Scholar
  10. Carnes, S. (Ed.). (2011). Mending a shattered heart: A guide for partners of sex addicts. Carefree, AZ: Gentle Path Press.Google Scholar
  11. Carnes, P., Delmonico, D. L., & Griffen, E. (2001). In the shadows of the Net: Breaking free of compulsive online sexual behavior. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.Google Scholar
  12. Cheever, S. (2008). Desire: Where sex meets addiction. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, K. (2008). Loose girl: A memoir of promiscuity. New York: Hyperion.Google Scholar
  14. Coleman, E. (2003). Compulsive sexual behavior: What to call it, how to treat it. SIECUS Report, 31(5), 12–16.Google Scholar
  15. Coleman-Kennedy, C., & Pendley, A. (2002). Assessment and diagnosis of sexual addiction. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 8, 143–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cooper, A., Delmonico, D. L., & Burg, R. (2000). Cybersex users, abusers, and compulsives: New findings and implications. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7(1–2), 5–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cooper, A., & Marcus, I. D. (2003). Men who are not in control of their sexual behavior. In S. B. Levine, C. B. Risen, & S. E. Althof (Eds.), Handbook of clinical sexuality for mental health professionals (Chap. 18). New York: Brunner-Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Corcoran, M. (2011). A house interrupted: A wife’s story of recovering from her husband’s sex addiction. Carefree, AZ: Gentle Path Press.Google Scholar
  19. Cryle, P. (2009a). Interrogating the work of Thomas W. Laqueur. Sexualities, 12(4), 411–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cryle, P. (2009b). Les Choses et les Mots: Missing words and blurry things in the history of sexuality. Sexualities, 12(4), 437–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Davis, L. J. (2008). Obsession: A history. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  22. Dodge, B., Reece, M., Cole, S. L., & Sandfort, T. G. M. (2004). Sexual compulsivity among heterosexual college students. The Journal of Sex Research, 41(4), 343–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Edwards, S. R. (1986). A sex addict speaks. SIECUS Report, 14(6), 1–3.Google Scholar
  24. Edwards, W. M., Delmonico, D., & Griffin, E. (2011). Cybersex unplugged: Finding sexual health in an electronic world. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.Google Scholar
  25. Foucault, M. (1979). The history of sexuality, Volume 1: An introduction. Trans: R. Hurley. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  26. Gilliland, R., South, M., Carpenter, B. N., & Hardy, S. A. (2011). The roles of shame and guilt in hypersexual behavior. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 18(1), 12–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gold, S. N., & Heffner, C. L. (1998). Sexual addiction: Many conceptions, minimal data. Clinical Psychology Review, 18(3), 367–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Griffiths, M. (2001). Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for internet sex addiction. The Journal of Sex Research, 38(4), 333–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Grov, C., Parsons, J. T., & Bimbi, D. S. (2010). Sexual compulsivity and sexual risk in gay and bisexual Men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 940–949.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hardy, S. A., Ruchty, J., Hull, T. D., & Hyde, R. (2010). A preliminary study of an online psychoeducational program for hypersexuality. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 17(4), 247–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Henley, J. (2010). Are you addicted to sex? The Guardian 22 January. Google Scholar
  32. Hook, J., Hook, J. P., Davis, D. E., Everett, L., Worthington, E. L., & Penberthy, J. K. (2010). Measuring sexual addiction and compulsivity: A critical review of instruments. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 36(3), 227–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Irvine, J. M. (1995). Reinventing perversion: Sex addiction and cultural anxieties. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 5(3), 429–450.Google Scholar
  34. Jagose, A. (2010). Counterfeit pleasures: Fake orgasm and queer agency. Textual Practice, 24(3), 517–539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kafka, M. P. (2010a). Hypersexual disorder: A proposed diagnosis for DSM-V. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 377–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kafka, M. P. (2010b). What is sexual addiction? A response to Stephen Levine. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 36(3), 276–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kalichman, S. C., & Rompa, D. (2001). The sexual compulsivity scale: Further development and use with HIV-positive persons. Journal of Personality Assessment, 76(3), 379–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Klein, M. (2003). Sex addiction: A dangerous clinical concept. SIECUS Report, 31(5), 8–11.Google Scholar
  39. Klein, M. (2010). Our addiction to Tiger Woods’ “sex addiction.” Psychology Today 20 February.Google Scholar
  40. Laqueur, T. (2003). Solitary sex: A cultural history of masturbation. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  41. Laqueur, T. W. (2009). Sexuality and the transformation of culture: The Long Durée. Sexualities, 12(4), 418–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Laurance, J. (2008). Sex addiction: The facts from the fruity fiction. The Independent 30 April.Google Scholar
  43. Lee, T., Mars, M., Neil, V., & Sixx, N. (2002). Motley Crue: The dirt—Confessions of the world’s most notorious rock band. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  44. Levine, S. B. (2010). What is sexual addiction? Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 36(3), 261–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Levine, M. P., & Troiden, R. R. (1988). The myth of sexual compulsivity. The Journal of Sex Research, 25(3), 347–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McCall, C. (2011). Should parents who are sex addicts tell their children? Psychology Today 1 June:
  47. McNair, B. (2002). Striptease culture: Sex, media and the democratization of desire. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Palahniuk, C. (2002). Choke: A novel. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  49. Parsons, J. T., & Bimbi, D. S. (2007). Intentional unprotected anal intercourse among sex [sic] who have sex with men: Barebacking—from behavior to identity. AIDS Behavior, 11, 277–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Quadland, M. C., & Shattis, W. (1987). AIDS, sexuality, and sexual control. Journal of Homosexuality, 14(1–2), 277–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Reid, R. C., & Carpenter, B. N. (2009). Exploring relationships of psychopathology in hypersexual patients using the MMPI-2. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 35(4), 294–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Resnick, R. (2008). Love junkie: A memoir. New York: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  53. Rogell, G. (2011). In Louie, Season 2, Episode 9, “Eddie,” FX TV, 11 August.Google Scholar
  54. Ryan, M. (1995). Secret life: An autobiography. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  55. Salkin, A. (2008). No sympathy for the sex addict. New York Times 7 September.Google Scholar
  56. Sbraga, T. P., & O’Donohue, W. T. (2003). The sex addiction workbook: Proven strategies to help you regain control of your life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.Google Scholar
  57. Scherrer, K. S. (2008). Coming to an asexual identity: negotiating identity, negotiating desire. Sexualities, 11(5), 621–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schwartz, M. F., & Southern, S. (2000). Compulsive cybersex: The new tea room. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7(1–2), 127–144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Silverman, S. W. (2001). Love sick: One woman’s journey through sexual addiction. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  60. Skegg, K., Nada-Raja, S., Dickson, N., & Paul, C. (2010). Perceived “out of control” sexual behavior in a cohort of young adults from the Dunedin multidisciplinary health and development study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 968–978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Steffens, B., & Means, M. (2010). Your sexually addicted spouse: How partners can cope and heal. Far Hills, NJ: New Horizon Press.Google Scholar
  62. Sussman, S., Lisha, N., & Griffiths, M. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34(1), 3–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Tyler, S. (2011). Does the noise in my head bother you? A rock ‘n’ roll memoir. New York: Ecco.Google Scholar
  64. Vesga-Lopez, O., Schmidt, A., & Blanco, C. (2007). Update on sexual addictions. Directions in Psychiatry, 27(12), 143–157.Google Scholar
  65. Weiss, R. (2005). Cruise control: Understanding sex addiction in gay men. Los Angeles: Alyson Books.Google Scholar
  66. Williams, L. (2004). Porn studies: Proliferating pornographies on/scene: An introduction. In L. Williams (Ed.), Porn studies (pp. 1–23). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Wilson, M. (2007). Hope after betrayal: Healing when sex addiction invades your marriage. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.Google Scholar
  68. Wyman, B. (1990). Stone alone: The story of a rock ‘n’ roll band. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  69. Wysocki, D. K., & Childers, C. D. (2011). “Let my fingers do the talking”: Sexting and infidelity in cyberspace. Sexuality and Culture, 15, 217–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Young, K. S., Griffin-Shelley, E., Cooper, A., O’Mara, J., & Buchanan, J. (2000). Online infidelity: A new dimension in couple relationships with implications for evaluation and treatment. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 7(1–2), 59–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Zahedi, C. (2006). I am a sex addict. New York: IFC Films.Google Scholar
  72. Zizek, S. (2004). The ongoing “soft revolution”. Critical Inquiry, 30(2), 292–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations