Until recently, sex addiction seemed like a disorder that was exclusive to the rich and famous: Michael Douglas, R&B singer Eric Benet, David Duchovny, baseball analyst Steve Phillips, and most recently Tiger Woods. But is sex addiction a real disorder, a true addiction or just an excuse for behaving badly? How much sex is too much? What are the true signs and symptoms of sexual obsession and compulsion? When does sexual preoccupation cross the line into pathology?
Is There a Definition for Sexual Addiction?
The term sexual addiction is used to describe a set of behaviors by a person who has an unusually intense sex drive or an obsession with sexual behaviors or exhibitions. Sex and thoughts of sex dominate the sexual addict's thinking and behavior. These thoughts are characteristically distorted, and are frequently an attempt to rationalize or justify their behavior. There is a strong denial by addicts that they have any type of a problem whatsoever; they are simply manly men acting manly. If confronted, they will frequently blame others. The addiction invariably progresses and escalates; eventually resulting in negative consequences for the addict, his career, personal relationships, and even legal and financial problems.
Many mental health professions liken sexual addiction to any other type of addiction; urges, cravings, patterns of sexual planning and behavior, followed by a sense of relief and elation. The pattern is cyclical: the addict will go through withdrawal and then be lured back by the obsessions, compulsions and cravings.
Sex addiction was listed in the official "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III" in 1980. It was removed from the DSM IV in 1994, related to a belief that only substances, not behavior, could be addictive. A task force is considering restoring it to the DSM V due in 2012, but it could be a long debate.
So who are these so called sex addicts? They are predominately male. Men with sexual compulsive disorders outnumber woman by about 5 to 1. The National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity estimated that 6%-8% of Americans are sex addicts, which equates to 18 to 24 million people. The percentage has ballooned in recent years due to the Internet's accessibility, affordability, and anonymity concerning pornography. 25 million Americans visit cyber-sex sites between one to ten hours per week. Another 4.7 million in excess of eleven hours per week. Sex is the #1 searched topic on the Internet.
Signs and Symptoms of Sexual Addiction
The sexual addict experiences impulses that are so intense, he truly believes that they are beyond his control. Generally, a person with a sex addiction achieves little satisfaction from the sexual activity. He forms no true type of emotional bond with his or her sex partners.
- A lack of control over the behavior, despite negative financial, health, social, and emotional consequences
- Using compulsive sexual behavior as an escape from other problems; loneliness, depression, or anxiety
- Compulsive masturbation, as often as 10 to 20 times a day
- Multiple sexual partners or extramarital affairs
- Anonymous sexual partners: daily ads or the use of prostitutes
- Consistent use of pornography
- Unsafe sex: continuing to engage in risky sexual behavior despite serious consequences, such as the potential for getting or giving someone else a sexually transmitted disease, or an unwanted pregnancy
- Excessive phone or computer sex
- Complaints by others of sexual harassment
- Engaging in types of sexual behavior that you would not have considered acceptable: masochistic or sadistic sex, pedophilia, bestiality, rape
- Anxiety about the secrecy and being discovered
Causes of Sexual Addiction