Sex Addicts

Amy Hendel Health Guide
  • David Duchovny...Billy Bob Thornton...Michael Douglas...Eric Benet (Halle Berry's husband)....and recently Christie Brinkley's husband.....all have been labeled with the terms, "sex addict" or "porno addict."  Is this a true disorder?  Some psudoescientific label created to protect mostly men from unacceptable actions??  Here's the scoop.


    Sex addiction can vary widely in terms of the person's actions.  Sometimes a sex addict has trouble with a singular behavior; sometimes with many.  It may have started with addiction to masturbation, pornography (printed or internet based) or relationships, but over the years, it progresses to increasingly dangerous behaviors that tend to be impulsive and compulsive in nature.  The essence of the problem is that the addict feels "out of control and powerless."  He may wish to stop..and can't.  The problem ultimately becomes unmanageable with huge consequences: lost relationships, serious difficulties at work, arrests, financial problems, a loss of interest in anything not sexual, low self esteem, extreme dispair.

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    If you think about it -  sexual preoccupation takes lot of energy.  As this "energy drive" increases - you'll typically see them involved in rituals like flirting, endlessly searching the internet for porn, driving and "searching for the next conquest" and then ultimately feeling out of control - ashamed - filled with confusion and hopelessness.


    Now I know there are those out there saying, "Give me a break - we should feel sorry for them? Call this an illness? Actually offer help-support-even forgiveness?  This is such a narcissistic behavior - OK, call it disease - but seriously....they are hurting people all around them while having a grand time!!"  And some clinicians, who dispute the diagnosis because of the word "addiction" in it - say there's an additional problem with the diagnosis.  When we talk about pure addictions, it means "dependence on external substances...increasing tolerance for the substance...withdrawal when it's removed."  They feel this condition does not quite meet those stipulations.  Furthermore, they feel if you start saying sex addict - you'll also be able to say "sleep addict, eating addict, even breathing addict."


    OK, so let's agree that there's a disagreement about the diagnostic label - the fact remains there is a behavior pattern out there that is causing the person and those around him - pain, anguish, physical and mental deterioration.  The family really suffers from this one.  So experts feel there is a dual responsibility here - to treat the patient and the family with extreme compassion.  The patient will usually admit (in the words of Eric Benet) that "through a series of emotional events, troubles, challenges I made some really, really, really stupid, painful mistakes."


    Ask the average person what they think about this lastest star's behavior and the label "sex addict' and they are likely to say - "Jeez, we over-medicalize everything."  The reality is that this diagnosis has been taken seriously enough over the years and there are clinics and rehab centers, as well as a 12-step program to help these individuals gain back control of their lives and reduce the compulsion.  These facilities and the program also offer therapy for family members including de-briefing and processing techniques, as well as comprehensive support systems.


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    Of course the goal of treatment, unlike drug or alcohol treatment, which seeks to terminate the relationship with the substance, is to simply terminate the compulsive behavior.  The patient is often asked to engage in a 60-90 day abstinence from sexual behavior.  The treatment can then focus on what emotional cues might have stinulated the behavior.  Some people need to go through an in-patient situation, while others are successful with an outpatient approach, which can include the 12-step program, cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy (getting rid of emotional baggage), group therapy (so you talk to others with similar problems).  Researchers are also looking at anti-depressants as a possible adjuvant therapy.


    To bottom line it - the addict has to believe he is really in trouble, at rock bottom, ready to lose it all.  For me, I'm not sure love could conquer all, if I were faced with my husband having this problem.  I still grapple with the simple - what if my husband cheated once -  this is so way over the top for me.  I suppose it would take me having to actually face the situation - to know what I would personally do.


    How about you????


Published On: September 04, 2008