WHAT IS SEX ADDICTION?
Much like alcoholism and drug addiction, sex addiction is a serious and harmful condition resulting in significant suffering for the addict and the addict’s family. The condition is treatable: addicts and their families do find recovery.
The perception of sex addiction today is akin in many ways to the perception of alcoholism prior to the 1930s. At that time, alcoholism was considered a moral failure, and often the only “help” provided to alcoholics was commitment to mental institutions. In the 1930s, however, Alcoholics Anonymous was formed. Shortly thereafter, the Minnesota Model of Treatment for alcoholism was developed. Alcoholism gradually came to be recognized as a diagnosable and treatable medical condition. Today, for the most part, alcoholism no longer is perceived of as a moral weakness but as a disease for which effective treatment is available.
Similarly, sex addiction is not a weakness of character: sex addicts are not “bad” people who lack a moral compass. In fact, in most areas of their lives they are highly ethical – valuing integrity and justice. They are as perplexed and frustrated with themselves as others are about the nature of their behavior in the sexual area.
Sex addicts suffer from addiction in many of the same ways that alcoholics suffer from their disease. In the 1980s, Dr. Patrick Carnes began studying and writing about sex addiction. Since then, sex addiction has been recognized increasingly as a devastating, compulsive disease that over time impacts multiple aspects of an addict’s life. (For more about sexual compulsivity as addiction, go to SEX ADDICTION DEFINED).
Among the behaviors engaged in by sex addicts are:
- repeated use of pornography
- virtual sex through on-line chat rooms, instant messaging, etc.
- phone sex
- paying for sex through escort services and other forms of prostitution
- cruising for sex
- sex with anonymous partners
- sex with coworkers, family friends, family members
- compulsive masturbation
- serial monogamy – a history of short-lived, romantic, sexual relationships
- sexual fetishes
Of course, most sex addicts do not engage in all of these behaviors. Some engage in only one form of destructive sexual behavior. What is important in determining if one is addicted to sex is whether the behavior is compulsive – that is, is the person able to stop the behavior on his/her own for an extended period of time without going through intense struggle, without obsessing about the behavior, and without replacing the behavior with another addictive-type behavior?
There is no such thing as a typical sex addict. Most of the people who find their way into treatment with us are not sexual predators, nor are they “perverted” as the mass media may portray a sex addict. Rather, they are men and women who in many ways seem to have it all together. Most are solidly in the middle-class or are well-off financially. Yet each of them has a secret which has gnawed away at them for years, which has been a source of deep suffering for them, and for which they are almost desperately seeking help.