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Sex addiction: Reality or excuse?

SexaddictionEvery time a celebrity is caught up in a sex scandal, it seems that sex addiction is to blame. While some are sceptical about whether such a condition exists, Maria Schindlecker offers evidence to suggest it does.

10 April 2011

Tiger Woods has had it, so has David Duchovny and even Australian cricketer Shane Warne has claimed to suffer from it. It seems sex addiction has become widely publicised with big-name stars claiming to be suffering from the disorder.

But does it exist?  Even world-renowned ‘Playboy’ Hugh Heffner had come out and slammed the addiction as being an excuse when people are caught out.

I for one was sceptical about the reality and legitimacy of the addiction, as I know were some if not most of my friends.  I remember every time something would come up about Tiger Woods or other celebrities claiming to have sex addiction we would roll our eyes and poke fun at them.

Being stuck in a world where sex is on your mind nearly 24/7 may sound great to some. But for others the urge to express their sexual desires consumes their every move and is a debilitating disorder that has impacted on their lives financially and socially.

It has put a strain on many relationships including family, friends and work, for those suffering from it. Financial strain can be incurred when sex addicts continually pay for sex either via internet porn or paying sex workers.

Sexologist Vanessa Gore from NSW Sexology Services says there is no gender discrimination when it comes to the addiction.

“Sexual addicts come from all socioeconomic backgrounds and include both men and women of all sexual orientations and gender identities”.

However while it encompasses both genders there has been more of an inclination for the addiction to affect males more so. There has been no definite statistical data to show the actual number of people that suffer from the addiction in Australia, but it is estimated that 8 to 10% of males suffer from the addiction with much lower numbers from women.

According to Gore other specialists have stated that from research conducted the numbers can be as high as up to four in 10 adults being considered as sexually addicted. In the US the percentage of people that have been diagnosed with sexual addiction or claim to have it has been up to 5 percent of the population.

Gore has seen first hand what the addiction has done to people.  “Time and time again I’ve seen the negative impact it has on a lot of my clients. I am somewhat opposed to the 'great sex' model that gets flaunted in the media a lot,” she says.

Celebrities have given the addiction attention by bringing it to light through their personal troubles that have shown how sex addiction can destroy relationships and careers.

The media has shone a spotlight on the addiction, the best example being with the Tiger Woods fiasco making worldwide headlines. But why has it only been men that have been the centre of the media attention given to sex addiction?

Gore says that the media have focused more on men being treated for the addiction but she has worked with women that also suffer from it.

“There may be more men than women with sex addiction but it is equally destructive for both men and women living with the condition”.

From the research she has carried out in the field she believes that the addiction hits partners hard as well.

Generally she has found that the partners of sex addicts are co-dependant, and often grew up in families that had bad relationship models, neglect, abuse and poor boundaries.

Sexual addiction is as real as any other addiction.  And just like any other addiction there are signs that demonstrate a person may have it. These signs will vary depending on the person. Gore says there are 10 signs that reflect sexual addiction these are:

1)  a pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior, often occurring over several years;

2)  the suffering of severe consequences as a result of sexual behaviour, including legal, medical, relational, and familial problems;

3)  the inability to stop out-of-control sexual behavior despite these negative consequences;

4) the persistent pursuit of self-destructive or high risk sexual behavior;

5) the desire or effort to limit sexual behavior;

6) the use of sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy;

7) the need for ever increased amounts of sexual activity in order to attain satisfaction;

8) severe mood changes around sexual activity;

9) the spending of inordinate amounts of time obtaining sex, being sexual, or recovering from sexual experience;

10) the neglect of social, occupational, or recreational activities because of sexual behaviour

Other than the signs that show the destructive nature of the addiction there are patterns of sexual behaviour that also may indicate that a person is a sex addict. People with the addiction usually suffer from three of the 11 broad categories of behaviour.

These categories are: fantasy sex, seductive role sex, anonymous sex, paying for sex, trading sex, voyeuristic sex, exhibitionistic sex, intrusive sex, pain exchange sex, object sex and sex with children. However the sexual behaviour extremities vary immensely from person to person. And there is no suggestion that everyone who engages in these practices is a sex addict.

So what causes a person to become a sex addict? Those that often suffer from sexual addiction have in most cases suffered previous traumas such as having been abused in their childhood.

Growing up and going through puberty and developing sexual wants and needs are part of everybody’s life experience. And even though masturbation is a part of human nature, for a child that has been neglected or has feelings of loneliness or rejection it can lead to a sedative-like experience where the person’s inner pain or loneliness is relieved. This later become a replacement for other needs like escaping boredom and anxiety.

Paying for sex is one of the ways a sex addict gets their fix. Working in the sex industry, some working girls would most likely come across people that demonstrate some of these behaviors and characteristics.

Haley* a voluptuous blonde bombshell has been a working girl for seven years. She has seen many of her clients on a regular basis. “You get guys coming back, quite a bit, once a week also sometimes twice a week”.

Most of these clients tend to want the same sort of sexual scenario every visit.  Haley recalls, “There was a client that I had, who I used to see regularly when I first started. And he used to come in and he liked me having stockings on all the time.  He’d like to lie there and touch the stockings and touch you and then he’d come”.

Haley felt at times that some clients showed some sort of signs of remorse or embarrassment when they had finished. “When he’d come in he’d be all salivating and gross and talking dirty to you and saying dirty stuff. As soon as he’d come he’d be like a light switch and he’d be this shy timid man and he’d just wanna get dressed and go”.

I asked Haley what she thought of her clients’ behaviour and she described it as a junkie waiting to get their fix and then once they got what they wanted they would become a different person altogether.

This change in mood in a person’s behaviour is one of the characteristic signs of a sex addict. They feel shame about what they have done immediately after they’ve engaged in the act.

Reasons for their shame are generally because the person feels that the sexual act they engaged in has violated their standards. Haley says that some clients would try and give her justifications after they had sex with her. They would tell her that they loved their wives or partners and try and justify their actions and get up dress quickly and leave.

The need for sexual arousal on a constant basis is debilitating.  Imagine not being able to function on a daily basis doing normal daily things like going to work and socially interacting with people because you’re like a junkie wanting to get your next fix.

Except your next fix isn’t drugs or alcohol it’s sex. This is what its like for people suffering from the addiction. Sex addicts will generally make their world revolve around sex in the same way that a cocaine addict’s world will revolve around cocaine.

This need overrides all other aspects of life and consumes the person. People can experience a sense of lack of control, mood swings and social withdrawal. In most cases people also experience substance dependency, loneliness, depression and can have suicidal tendencies.

However, there is help. Treatments are available to assist people that suffer from the addiction and can vary from person to person depending on their circumstances and the intensity of their addiction.

“Treatment of sexual addiction focuses on controlling the addictive behavior and helping the person develop a healthy sexuality”, says Gore.

Different treatments are available from a 12 step program and counselling, which could include marital and family to refraining from sex for a period of time.

The celibacy method of treatment is common. The treatment means that the person refrains from all sexual activity including masturbation for periods that can range from three to six months. “The idea is to let him or her create some distance from sexual behaviour and obtain a more objective perspective” says Gore.

This particular way of treating the addiction may work, however as with all other addictions there are withdrawal symptoms that patients have experienced.  People have experienced nausea, chills, sweats, headaches and itchy skin.

These symptoms are experienced because there is possibly a lack of neurochemicals that would normally numb the body while it’s usually experiencing high doses of them when they are engaging in sexual activity. And these are only the symptoms experienced by people when they begin their treatment.

Having abstained from any sexual activity and experiencing similar withdrawals that are common with other addictions can be hard enough. But there are other consequences and challenges that a sex addict may experience with the celibacy method.

It can also bring on other psychological changes and conditions. According to the research and work Gore has done they include insomnia, irritability, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and anxiety. These symptoms tend to last anywhere for up to two weeks but have in some instance lasted up to 10 weeks.

But there is another treatment and the model that Gore prefers to use for treating people. Not all sex addicts need to achieve celibacy to achieve recovery. The focus should be on the person’s strengths not weaknesses this is a positive approach model. “Building skills with the person with a sex addiction (and their partner) in their capacity for intimacy, resilience, giving and receiving pleasure, positive regard and feelings for other, giving and receiving love, open communication, handling disappointments and coping with change usually increases the likelihood of a long term positive outcome for a person with a sex addiction,” says Gore.

There are also other problems posed to diagnosing a sex addict. “For many people living with addictions sex is usually the primary addiction,” Gore claims.

Sex addiction is often misdiagnosed with other addictions such as alcohol and gambling being diagnosed and treated first before the sex addiction is treated. “Sex addiction starts earlier, usually, early adolescence before substance abuse, in life than other addictions and often lasts longer before it is addressed,” she says.

Sex addiction is a real addiction, just as real as drug and alcohol addiction. And in some cases can be the underlying addiction that leads to these addictions.  The media have brought it into the spotlight by highlighting the live of celebrities like Tiger Woods and David Duchovny.

However there is a positive outcome to ousting these celebrities. Gore says that while people with sexual addiction do tend to seek help when their addiction has led to them having a crisis in their lives “certain 'celebrity sex scandal' headlines do lead to an increase in referrals for sexual addition”.

For people that are suffering from sexual addiction there are websites and support groups that can help and put you in contact with the right people. For those that are not to sure about whether they have a problem there are self-assessment tests available.

Websites such as South Pacific Private and Elijah Counselling are based in Australia and may assist you in discovering if you have a problem of sex addition. However medical consultation is always advised.

Maria Schindlecker has a Master of Journalism and Communications from the University of New South Wales.

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