Sexual Anorexic Addiction: Is My Husband’s Sexual Interest Normal?

Reader’s Question

My husband was recently diagnosed with sexual anorexic addiction. His unusual sexual interests were not disclosed all at once but rather information dribbled out slowly. I have learned that a major part of his addiction involves using porn. Recently it came out that he was into “barely legal teen” porn. It has become obvious to me lately, and I have noticed his constant ogling of teen girls. He recently took the Abel Screening which says his sexual interest in teen girls is high. His interest in teens didn’t appear as high as in adult women but close. My husband is 42 and I’m a mother of three — a 20-year-old male, 15-year-old male, and 8-year-old female. I am a middle school teacher. My husband’s apparent sexual interest in teens does not seem in the least bit normal to me and is very disturbing given my life is surrounded by large numbers of teenagers at work and at home. How concerned should I be? Am I over-reacting? Any other advice is appreciated.

Psychologist’s Reply

It is not particularly abnormal for a man to experience sexual arousal to or gaze fondly on teenage females. Screening tests used to measure the strength of arousal to various stimuli confirm this. However, whenever sexual interest of any type becomes obsessive, focuses on activity that is regarded as inappropriate or illegal, or interferes with maintaining a healthy, intimate relationship with an appropriate partner, it can definitely be problematic.

There is a fair amount of debate within the professional community regarding the validity of concepts like “sexual anorexia” and “sexual addiction.” Proponents point to certain patterns of behavior that appear to cluster together, create distress, impair mature relationships, and interfere with several areas of normal functioning. Critics point to a lack of empirical evidence regarding both the validity and usefulness of the concepts. “Sexual anorexia” is described as a fairly obsessive and distressful avoidance of sexual activity and “sexual addiction” is described as an obsessive desire to engage in some kind of sexual activity that consumes so much time, energy, planning, etc. that it interferes with normal functioning in other areas of life and causes great distress for the person if the obsessive behavior can’t be engaged in.

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There is a term for a person who struggles with an unusual sexual attraction to teens. The term is alternately spelled ephebophilia or hebophilia and differs from pedophilia in that the term pedophilia generally refers to the sexual attraction to children who have not developed secondary sex characteristics (e.g., body hair and musculature for boys, breast development for girls, etc.). Such interests can involve one sex only or both sexes and can either be a primary sexual interest or a secondary one. Although some individuals with pedophilia or hebophilia never molest children (because their intact consciences are mature enough and solid enough to keep them from acting on their desires), some individuals, especially those unable to gain sexual satisfaction in any other way, engage in subtle “grooming” activities to gain access to potential partners. These are the kinds of individuals that make most of us very uncomfortable and make us worry about our kids, the neighbors, etc. Fortunately, such individuals are relatively rare.

Of course it’s not possible to make an accurate assessment of your situation remotely, but the circumstances you report suggest that you would need the counsel not only of a professional experienced in sexual behavior problems but also in relationship issues. Performing a complete assessment requires substantial, reliable information not only from the individual with the sexual problem but also from collateral sources. It’s also not uncommon for individuals with such problems to engage in significant denial and distortion about the full extent and nature of their problem. So, it’s important to set firm limits and expectations for truthful and full disclosure as well as faithful adherence to treatment recommendations.

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