‘Sex is sex’

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LOREN BENOIT/Press Ed Dudding, a certified sexual addiction therapist, poses for a portrait Thursday afternoon at Coeur d’Alene Counseling, Inc. Dudding shared his personal and professional insights about the sexual misconduct accusations that are sweeping the country as well as the misinformation about the differences between sex offenders and sex addicts.

The constant slew of sexual misconduct allegations against public figures has started a serious conversation.

"Our culture's got a problem," said Ed Dudding, a certified sexual addiction therapist with Coeur d'Alene Counseling, Inc.

The International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) on Wednesday released a position statement titled "Sex Addiction, Sex Offending and Sex Addiction Treatment" examining the crisis. A concern for the institute is the misinformation surrounding the difference between sex offenders and sex addicts.

And that difference is huge.

"The accusations levied against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK and others for sexual assault, harassment and abuse have created righteous outrage and concerns that 'sex addiction treatment' is being used to excuse their offensive behavior," the statement reads. "It is critical to understand that sex addiction and sex offending behavior are not the same thing."

Dudding, who has worked with sex addicts since 2009, said that by definition, sexual offending involves illegal or non-consensual sexual behavior.

"Offenders know they're hurting someone," he said, using Weinstein as an example.

"These women did not give him consent to do what he did, but he doesn't care whether it bothers them or not."

Sex addicts, however, know they're hurting someone, but the pain they bring to others hurts them because their behavior is compulsive, like gambling or alcoholism, and it's something they can't control.

"Sex addiction is a disease affecting the brain and is linked to past traumas and/or abuse or neglect typically," the IITAP statement reads. "Somehow the person ... did not get enough to develop the needed resilience to manage the normal daily assaults of stress and anxiety. Most of us handle those assaults quite well. Experiences of trauma, abuse and neglect are at times difficult to identify. Qualified professionals (CSATs) have been trained to help them gently understand and with great care."

The institute said it's not uncommon for sex offenders to seek sex addiction treatment when they are struggling, although very few check into sex offender rehabilitation. While some overlap exists, such as when offenders are addicts and demonstrate compulsive and addictive behavior, the majority of offenders are not addicts.

"Most studies show that only about 10 percent of sex addicts have behaviors that constitute sexual offenses," IITAP said. "The majority of sex addicts struggle with issues like pornography addiction, prostitution, anonymous sexual behaviors, and sexual promiscuity and boundary failure."

Dudding said it does not help offenders to get addiction therapy. It takes clinical judgment to be able to distinguish the difference and recommend the proper treatment.

"From a professional perspective, sex is sex," he said. "What I mean is, it's foundational to our identity. Our sexual behavior is a core expression of who we are. Sex is also foundational to our wellbeing; our wellbeing depends on us being sexually healthy.

"Juxtaposed with that is this sort of ribbon in our culture that sex is forbidden," he continued. "You put those two together, we don't handle that well. That's one of the reasons sex addicts do not get help — what that produces is shame, and there is so much shame around the sexual addiction behavior, it takes a lot of courage to pick up the phone and call (a professional to seek help)."

Many times, these addiction issues of abuse, trauma and neglect start at a young age.

"What that means is they're coming from home environments where they're not safe," Dudding said.

He said nearly all of the patients he sees have never talked about their earliest sexual memories with trusted adults.

"The best thing for parents to do is keep their kids safe, talk to them about sex, talk to them about pornography, about how to treat the opposite sex and try to instill in them that sex is OK. It's not the enemy," he said. "If kids are growing up dealing with adult stuff with adults not engaging with them, they're left dealing with this as children and they don’t have the capacity and the tools to deal with that."

Sexual harassment, which includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other forms of harassment of a sexual nature, is one piece of this misconduct puzzle.

"It's exploitation," Dudding said. "You're exploiting another human being. It's absolutely wrong. It traumatizes the victims and sets in motion a series of responses that they didn’t ask for, for the rest of their lives. It's pure exploitation."

The American television culture doesn't help.

"It's so toxic," Dudding said. "It promotes really bad behavior."

Dudding said personally, he would like to see the culture of Hollywood shift to be productive and educational regarding sex rather than exploitative.

"Weinstein, a lot of what he produces is what he's doing in real life," Dudding said. "They're writing and producing material that reflects what's going on in real life. There is a moral issue, a character issue in all of this, speaking personally."

As a sex addiction expert, Dudding said he and other professionals in the field are taking advantage of today’s climate to gain more knowledge and provide better information. He said 12-step recovery programs for drugs and alcohol found themselves in similar situations before people understood the illness behind the behaviors.

"Offending behavior has always been here. It's never not been here; it’s not new. We go through phases where victims of this kind of behavior feel more safe to come forward, and we're in one of those stages," he said. "I’m kind of glad we're going through one of those times when all these victims feel brave enough to come forward because it's raising the issue.

"This helps reinforce the idea that sex addiction is different from sex offending," he said. "There is help for sex addiction and treating it for what it really is — an illness."

Info: www.iitap.com or www.coeurdalenecounseling.com

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