We have all heard the term “sex addiction” before. The gossip magazines love to feature celebrities who are famous for their sexual addiction. Famous sexual addicts include Tiger Woods who made the news for months, not for golfing, but for his many sexual exploits and David Duchovny, whose real life mirrors his sex obsessed character on the television show, “Californication.” There is even a reality show called, “Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew” in which celebrities show their struggle to overcome their sexual addiction.
As popular as the term, “sexual addiction” is, what do we really know about it? Can this truly be considered an addiction much like an addiction to alcohol or heroin? And if this is a true addiction then why is sexual addiction not included as a diagnostic category of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders? How does depression play a part in sexual addiction? If one is considered to have a sexual addiction what can be done about it? This post will try to provide answers to these questions and more.
What is sexual addiction?
The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health gives a conservative estimate that as many as 3 to 5 percent of Americans may fall into the category of having a sexual addiction. The true percentage may be higher because many individuals with sexual addiction do not admit that they have a problem. There is no single consensus of what constitutes a sexual addiction in the literature. One definition is that a sexual addiction is any sexually related compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, loved ones, and one’s occupation. Like any addiction sexual addiction means that the individual will sometimes risk everything they cherish in order to get their “fix.”
There are a wide variety of compulsive behaviors which may fall under the broad category of sexual addiction which may include compulsive masturbation, unsafe sex with a variety of partners, or extensive use of pornography or sexual services. Despite efforts to stop, the individual with a sex addiction may find themselves continuing to engage in self destructive behaviors. As Dr. Drew Pinsky, addiction expert and host of VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab” reports, sexual addiction isn’t simply about promiscuity. He and other experts agree that sexual addiction is not about sex but is a problem with intimacy. The sex addict may be afraid of intimacy so they use sex as a substitute for human connection.
How is sexual addiction related to depression?
Depression and anxiety may be the underlying disorders which fuel a sexual addiction. Some experts say that sexual addiction is really a coping mechanism to numb painful feelings and memories. This theory seems to be confirmed in interviews with persons having a sexual addiction. In a 2004 Dateline NBC article entitled, “Battling Sexual Addiction,”one female interviewee talked about “feeling rotten” as the precipitating factor before she acted out sexually. Afterwards she would feel horrible and the cycle would begin again. Other people having a sexual addiction agree that it isn’t about the sex but more about escaping pain or reducing anxiety. The guilt and shame over their actions causes some sexual addicts to contemplate suicide just to stop the endless cycle.