When actor David Duchovny (X-Files, Californication) signed himself in for voluntary treatment of sexual addiction, he must have sensed the ramifications of his decision. The label of sex addict will follow him for years to come. As such, he will become the focus of gossip, humor, curiosity and of course, attention.
The last time the media spotlight focused on a similar case was in the early 1990s when Michael Douglas sought treatment. At that time the mere notion of an addiction to sex was treated as something of a novelty. However, the great benefit of media attention is that it can lift the lid off issues that are poorly understood and possibly derided.
Questions about whether there is such a thing as sexual addiction are perfectly legitimate. Sex addiction is not currently recognized as a diagnosable disorder by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), so what are we left with? There are those who dismiss sex addiction as a cover for sexual immaturity, or nothing more than a personal indulgence or bad habit that is justified by becoming medicalised.
Despite the fact the APA don't (currently) recognize sex addiction as a disorder there is mounting evidence to suggest it may need to reconsider its position. Conventional wisdom states that a preoccupation with sex is likely to be an outward manifestation of something deeper. For example, depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder are all conditions where sex can manifest itself as part of the problem.
More and more people are putting themselves forward as sex addicts. Such is the extent of the problem that the Mayo clinic estimates up to 6 percent of adults in the United States are affected. The reason why some experts use the term ‘addiction' or ‘compulsive sexual behavior', is because the course and effects of the condition closely matches that of diseases such as alcoholism.
The warning signs of sex addiction start with the person being preoccupied with sex. Sex is used to escape emotional problems and to comfort a low sense of self-worth. Internet pornography provides easy access for cyber-sex activities. Sex becomes the priority and guides behavior as it is used to make the person feel better or to deaden feelings. As the addiction progresses it takes over and becomes more elaborate or extreme in order to get the same ‘hit'. More and more time is devoted to sex, promiscuity, pornography and masturbation and less to relationships, work or other activities. Eventually, sexual activities are no longer enjoyable but become all-consuming and impossible to stop. Like alcoholism, the person's life begins to collapse around them and only when they hit rock bottom might they admit to having a problem and agree to seek help.
Sex addicts do not necessarily progress to becoming sex offenders but some do. A sexual offence is the point where we as a society believe the line has been crossed. Offences range from exhibitionism, to obscene phone calls, molestation and rape. Punishment is a way to react but punishment does not offer an explanation or a treatment.
The treatment and rehabilitation of sex addicts involves getting to the root cause of the problem before addressing the addictive elements. Treatments usually involve psychotherapy and sometimes group work. As sex is a fact of life the usual aim, like overeating, is to control the situation. Sex addiction frequently has a negative impact on relationships. Couples therapy is an option which looks at ways the couple can support one another whilst highlighting the pain and anguish the addiction is having on the spouse or partner. Medication may also be used in combination, particularly where depression, anxiety, or OCD are associated.
There are also broader questions we might consider. Mark Schwartz, a psychologist and former director of the Masters and Johnson Institute has described an upsurge in sex addiction of "epidemic proportions...particularly with regards to cybersex". If sex addiction is likened to a disease should we respond like physicians by treating the effects or should we be more active in trying to prevent the cause? Teenagers are increasingly having their attitudes shaped by the images they see on the internet. The reality of relationships is less satisfying and therefore more vulnerable. Is this what we really want, or is it part of the price we pay for a liberalization of attitudes and behaviors?
Published On: September 13, 2008