Harvey Weinstein's Supposed Sex Addiction Is Not a Real Thing, Experts Say

Harvey Weinstein fired
Harvey Weinstein isn’t the only boss accused of sexually harassing women. But despite Weinstein’s claims, experts say sex addiction isn’t a real addiction. Todd Williamson/Getty

Harvey Weinstein has reportedly boarded a private flight to an Arizona rehab center, where he'll receive treatment for his so-called sex addiction, a disease experts say has no scientific basis.

Thirty women so far have accused the movie mogul of harassment, assault or rape, providing a disturbing portrait of predatory behavior spanning Weinstein's decades-long career.

So, no, that's not a sex addiction, by any definition of the word. If even part of the allegations are true, Weinstein isn't a sex addict, but "an asshole rapist," Woodbury University Psychology Chair Dr. Joye Swan tells Newsweek.

Weinstein doesn't love sex—he loves power and intimidation, says Swan: He's just another man who craves using his "extraordinary power" to hurt women.

Over the last several years, scientists have become increasingly united in their stance that sex addiction isn't a medical condition. In 2013 Nicole Prause, an assistant research scientist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, found the brains of supposed sex addicts don't respond to sexual stimuli the way an addict's would. And just last year, American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, considered to be the "leading national body of sex experts," published a statement rejecting any classification of sex addiction as a mental health disorder, citing a lack of "sufficient empirical evidence."

Still, there is an entire field of sex therapists and counselors who believe that people can become addicted to sex just as they would any drug or substance.

"Like alcoholism, the 'sex addiction' diagnosis is based on whether that individual's behavior repeatedly creates profound problems in their day-to-day life functioning," certified sex addiction therapist Robert Weiss told CNN in December.

Scientists who have debunked sex addiction as a medical condition, however, would say that supposed sex addicts are people who have sexual urges or participate in consensual sexual behaviors they feel are beyond their control. It can be debilitating, but, medically speaking, it's no addiction.

"This is another man falling on a nonexistent sword," Swan says of Weinstein. "He's using it to excuse predatory behavior."

Doug Braun-Harvey, co-founder of sexual health organization the Harvey Institute, told Newsweek he finds it particularly disturbing that Weinstein is using the specter of sex addiction to shield himself from allegations of rape.

"I disagree with the sex addiction field, in which they lump nonconsensual and exploitive behaviors together with someone who compulsively masturbates, has multiple relationships or purchases sex," Braun-Harvey says. "That's why this is so controversial."

Science has little to say about why people commit sexual assault. But it's widely considered to be about having power and control over victims—something Weinstein, a Hollywood giant, had in spades.

Weinstein is far from the first powerful man to claim sex addiction amid allegations of nonconsensual sexual behavior. When former Congressman Anthony Weiner pleaded guilty to sending sexually explicit text messages to a minor in 2016, he told the judge, "I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse."

Braun-Harvey says he understands why men like Weiner and Weinstein would want to pathologize a behavior society finds morally reprehensible.

"When a behavior that conjures up great disgust and disdain can move into the purview of a disease, then people have more empathy for the person who behaves that way," he explains. "It tends to provoke more understanding."

Weinstein is unlikely to get any sympathy from the public, which has largely stood in solidarity with his alleged victims. But he might get some from the staff at The Meadows, the treatment center he'll reportedly attend, where he'll "deal both with sex and other behavioral issues," according to TMZ's Tuesday report. (The Meadows told Newsweek its staff could neither confirm nor deny a patient's admission to the center.)

Swan, however, says Weinstein won't get what he really needs from a facility founded on a made-up addiction.

"He needs to accept responsibility," Swan says. "If he can say, 'It's me. I did it,' then it's under his volitional control to change it or not. Without accepting responsibility…he may refrain from his behavior, but it won't change his mind-set."