Sex: Addiction Dujour
Pick up just about any popular magazine these days, and you’ll probably see some mention of celebrities, government officials and sexual addiction. Much media attention is focused on the sexual antics and infidelities of sports figures, politicians, and television, movie and rock stars. While it’s humdrum these days to hear about celebrities in drug and alcohol rehab, we’re fascinated by those who admit to a sexual addiction.
It’s an impressive list of names. After being “outed” for numerous infidelities that ended his marriage, Tiger Woods completed a six week rehabilitation for sex addiction. Charlie Sheen has created a stir by his close association with known porn stars. Popular comedian Russell Brand describes his sexual antics and subsequent treatment in his recent biography. Actor David Duchovny, musician Kanye West, and former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer have all either admitted to a sexual addiction or sought treatment for it.
More recently, Congressman Anthony Weiner became enmeshed in a “sext” scandal, using Twitter to send young women suggestive texts and explicit photos. Is Weiner a sex or love addict? (more about love addiction later) From the outside, it seems like sex addiction because he had no relationship or compulsion to the “falling in love feeling” with the young women. It does indicate a strong need for validation or a craving for adoration. Is Senator John Edwards a sex or love addict? It’s hard to tell what the leading addiction is from the outside. Like Weiner he initially lied about his actions, and an addict often lies about the addiction to keep it in place. Lying is one of the hall marks of addiction. What we do know is that a dysfunction is involved with big consequences for their careers, families and relationships. Then there is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger with rumors about groping women in the past and finally surfacing that he had fathered a child with a longtime member of his household staff.
It’s not only men under scrutiny for their promiscuous behavior. Celebrity women such as porn actor Jennifer Ketcham, model and actor Amber Smith, and pageant queen Kari Ann Peniche all confessed to this addiction and became reality television stars on the popular VH1 show, Sex Addiction with Dr. Drew. It’s difficult to say with any certainty that the number of male sex addicts outweighs the number of women sex addicts, but some early research suggests that women make up about 20% of total sex addicts receiving treatment, and that number is rising. It’s common for women to call themselves “love addicts,” referring to the underlying emotional need they are trying unsuccessfully to fill for themselves. Susan Cheever, author of Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction writes, “Whenever there was a crisis, I found a man to take the edge off the feelings of helplessness and pain.”
In his recent article in Time Magazine, Sex Addiction: Real Disease or Convenient Excuse? author John Cloud writes, “When it comes to addiction, the line between morality and disease has always been blurry. But only in the past 25 years have we come to regard excesses in necessary cravings — hunger for food, lust for sex — as possible disease states.” It’s a good point. How can we tell when our behavior is addictive?
Ultimately, it’s not about sex. As with all addictions the driving force behind the compulsions is the quest to numb out and avoid feelings and at the same time fill an emotional empty hole inside. On a more subtle level, people can use their sexual energy as an escape from their feelings.
We can potentially become addicted to any number of thoughts and behaviors. Food, shopping, gambling, exercise, work, relationships and yes, sex, can all be used to avoid uncomfortable or distressing emotional states. Depression, anxiety and unhealed trauma can be temporarily soothed with endorphins released by repetitive, compulsive behavior. First, treat the addiction; next we can address the deeper feelings and thoughts that drive the addictions.
Substance abuse and addiction is widely understood and accepted, and myriad treatment programs and modalities are available. Sexual addiction, however, is a relatively new area of research. It’s only been recognized in the psychiatric community for about 25 years. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) refers to hypersexual disorder, and includes the following symptoms for people over 18 years of age:
- Excessive time is consumed by sexual fantasies and urges, and by planning for and engaging in sexual behavior.
- Repetitively engaging in these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to dysphoric mood states (e.g., anxiety, depression, boredom, irritability).
- Repetitively engaging in sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to stressful life events.
- Repetitive but unsuccessful efforts to control or significantly reduce these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior.
- Repetitively engaging in sexual behavior while disregarding the risk for physical or emotional harm to self or others.
- The significant impairment in social, occupational and other important areas of functioning because of frequency and intensity of the fantasies, urges and sexual behavior.
A sexual behavior is commonly described as masturbation, sex with another consenting adult, cybersex, phone sex, viewing of pornography and visiting strip clubs or prostitutes as a few examples. If you recognize yourself in the above list of symptoms, it’s best to consult with a psychiatric professional to explore your potential addiction and help you choose the best treatment for you.
How is sex addiction treated? As with addiction generally, therapy, counseling and education are highly effective. Twelve step programs, treatment programs and recovery centers specifically for sexual addiction are becoming increasingly available.
When we avoid anything, we are avoiding life. True freedom comes with allowing ourselves to feel and staying present with all of it. With time, guidance and practice we learn to recognize our urge to distract ourselves from our feelings. We learn to nurture ourselves and grow in our emotional awareness. We can live an adventurous life of healthy pleasures and fun! This is the ultimate freedom.
I look forward to your thoughts, stories and experiences. We’re all on this human journey together, and your comments support us all.
Posted: 7/1/2011 10:22:11 AM
Eric Benet is also among the high caliber list of these so called "sexual addicts." Compounding to the real case of sex addiction is the fact that everyone who cheats seem to use sex addiction as an alibi in the hopes of escaping public abhorrence.
Posted: 6/17/2011 7:48:42 PM
I think to a degree fantasies, sexual or otherwise, are very healthy. Not only are they an escape from our reality, but the feelings they envoke within...feelings of being wanted, being more than adequate, being in control, being desirable, attractive, etc....all lift the spirit and ego and that carries over into our reality to a degree. It adds more confidence, more "spring to our step" when we feel that way about ourselves. I think such fantasies have a very real and important place in therapy to repair depressions, hearbreaks, disappointments, lack of self confidence. Much like visualization techniques can do. This is assuming these fantasies don''t lead to harmful reality activities.
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