Anthony Weiner Reportedly Checked In to Sex Addiction Rehab. What Does That Mean Exactly?

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Anthony Weiner is seeking help. (Photo: Getty Images)
Anthony Weiner is seeking help. (Photo: Getty Images)

Anthony Weiner has reportedly checked himself in to an in-patient addiction center in the wake of his most recent sexting scandal.

The rehab center, which has not been identified, has a counseling program for people who are addicted to cybersex, exhibitionism, anonymous sex, and pornography, the Daily Mail reports. We reached out to the Hillary Clinton campaign for confirmation or comment and will update with any new information.

Reportedly, electronic devices are banned at the facility, and patients are segregated by gender, which is common practice for most rehab facilities.

Weiner, who is estranged from his wife, top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, has a storied history of sexting. His first scandal in 2011 caused him to resign his position as a congressman for New York’s 9th district. In 2013, Weiner ran for mayor of New York and was rocked by another sexting scandal — this time for sexting with a woman as recently as April 2013, more than a year after he left Congress and publicly swore that he had changed.

Then, in August of this year, Weiner was busted for sexting another woman, including sending her an explicit photo of himself while lying in bed with his 4-year-old son. The next day, Abedin announced in a statement to the New York Times that she was leaving her husband.

In September, the Daily Mail alleged that Weiner had been sexting with a girl he knew was 15 years old. He is currently being investigated by the FBI.

This isn’t his first attempt at getting help. In 2011, Weiner took two weeks of paid leave for treatment,but later told the New York Post, “I didn’t go to rehab anywhere.” “A couple of days I worked with a therapist in Texas I was referred to,” he said. “Two days, twice, for a total of four days. Or it might have been three.”

Weiner clearly has a compulsion with sexting, but experts are hesitant to call it an addiction. “This is a major area of controversy in the field of sexuality,” licensed psychologist Rachel Needle, PsyD, of the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Even just the term ‘sex addiction’ is controversial in itself.” Needle says there is little scientific evidence to support “sexual addiction” — including cybersex addiction — and neither are recognized in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (known as DSM-5), the handbook used by health care professionals to diagnose mental disorders, including sexual disorders.

That doesn’t mean the behavior of someone who self-identifies as a sex addict isn’t harmful. “The impact of the behavior can be devastating to the individual and their loved ones,” Needle says.

Sex expert Jessica O’Reilly, PhD, creator of the Sexual Pro Series, agrees. “Sex and porn can obviously be alluring and distract from real-life sex in some cases, but the label of ‘sex addict’ is often scapegoated to avoid personal responsibility and accountability,” she tells Yahoo Beauty.

David Ley, PhD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in sexuality issues and author of Ethical Porn for Dicks: A Man’s Guide to Responsible Viewing Pleasure, tells Yahoo Beauty that there is “no scientific evidence” to support sex addiction. “Even more importantly, there is also no scientific evidence that sex addiction treatment has positive effect,” he says. “In today’s world of evidence-based medicine, this is stunning — particularly when you have many sex addiction residential programs that charge very high daily rates, which are not covered by insurance — because the diagnosis is not accepted and the treatment is not supported.”

Ley calls these treatment centers “exploitative” of people who can’t manage their sexual urges and are desperately looking for help.

Sex addiction treatment programs typically utilize a model taken from the Twelve Steps, the program created to offer social support for substance use problems, says Ley. “This actually raises very real concerns,” he says. “Increasingly, research reveals that twelve-step programs suffer from great variability in effect, are inherently faith/religious based, can be extremely shaming, and may have harmful effects for people mandated into them.” Also, he adds there is “no scientific evidence” to show that the twelve-step model applies to sexuality.

O’Reilly agrees: “This is just one model, but it’s one some of my clients have come across with little success.”

However, more therapists are beginning to use more sex-positive approach to treating out of control sexual behavior, Needle says. “For some, this includes focusing on the individual as a whole rather than just their sexual behavior and seeing sex as a symptom or behavioral problem that is a part of normal sexual expression,” she says. “In addition, this type of treatment approach is compassionate, reduces shame, focuses on the complexity of sex, and supports the individual in being more conscious, mindful, and less impulsive in all areas of their life.”

Ley says there are good, effective treatment strategies in cognitive behavioral therapy and psychiatry to address the issues that typically underlie sexual behavior problems — they’re just not typically used by sex addiction treatment centers. “Sex addiction treatment focuses on the sexuality issues, as opposed to addressing the multitude of other causes,” he says. “Consistently, sexual behavior problems such as inappropriate sexting, or chronic infidelity, are indicative of other personal issues, involving personality, and relationship issues … around sexuality.”

O’Reilly says she doesn’t believe there is an addiction to overcome with people who identify as “sex addicts,” although people who struggle with sexting could be suffering from some degree of compulsion that can be remedied. “At the same time, if you don’t want to overcome it, you don’t have to,” she says. “You simply can’t have your cake and eat it too; decide whether you want to be monogamous or would rather have sex with multiple partners — and then be honest with your partner(s),” she says.

For people who actually want to change, Needle says it can happen: “Understanding and reducing out of control sexual behavior is possible and is more likely if we shift the focus of treatment away from just sex and onto the individual as a whole.”

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