Is Sex Addiction real?
Or despite its new status as a medical condition perhaps it’s just a convenient excuse used by people to explain infidelity….
Surrounded by colleagues at a conference, all high-flying engineer Andrew Brookes could think about was having sex with the beautiful brunette he’d just spied across the room. In fact, if he got lucky she would be his fourth conquest that week and one of dozens of notches on his proverbial bedpost. Though it may sound like the unpleasant behaviour of a self-styled lothario, Andrew (not his real name) had an obsession with sex, the result of a clinical addiction, though he didn’t realise it at the time.
“I lost my virginity at 15 and by the time I was 20 I had slept with 50 women,” says Andrew, a Londoner who’s now 35 and has, astonishingly, been married for a year and monogamous for two. “By the time I had treatment for my addiction in 2008 I’d slept with more than 100 women, many of them countless times on a casual basis. The saving grace is that I practised safe sex.
“I’d spend my days at work consumed by thoughts of sex with beautiful women, ugly women, colleagues, even the sisters of my friends. One of the lowest points was sleeping with a friend’s mum. “But in the throes of passion it didn’t matter to me. I had an all-consuming need for sex because it made me feel good about myself for the short time it took to charm my conquests and get them into bed. Afterwards I’d feel ashamed and irritated with myself for treating women like objects but before long that powerful need for another conquest to boost my self-esteem would re-emerge as strong as ever.”
Incredible though it may sound, experts agree that such an addiction is a medical condition which can cause as much physical and emotional affliction as being hooked on drugs or alcohol, with many British rehab centres offering treatment for it. This week it was even reported that the NHS may soon reconsider sex addiction as a genuine disorder after the American Psychiatric Association added it to its main diagnostic manual – considered the definitive guide as to what constitutes a genuine psychological disorder as opposed to something long derided as a convenient excuse for philandering men, women and celebrities.
Last year Tiger Woods sought treatment for sex addiction when tales of his sordid extra-marital liaisons appeared in the world’s media. Famously Hollywood actor Michael Douglas, X-Files star David Duchovny and comedian Russell Brand were also treated for sex addiction and TV presenter Ulrika Jonsson confessed she, too, was hooked unhealthily on sex.
But isn’t this all really a convenient label for shallow, bad behaviour? Tracey White is a senior therapist at Sober Services (sober-services.com), an organisation offering treatment for various addictions including sex and says it’s important to draw a distinction between those who play the field spectacularly and those who are driven compulsively to sex.
As TRACEY says: “A sex addict is someone who is spurred by sexual compulsivity and whose recurrent behaviour and impulses lead them to a pattern of thinking constantly about or trying to obtain sex, followed by a cycle of unsuccessful efforts to stop, reduce or control these urges. “It’s about compulsion and obsession, resulting in dangerous and reckless actions which lead to feelings of emptiness and despair. It is both a mental and an emotional problem, the mental being the obsession and the emotional, the inability to deal with feelings.
“While men often crave the power of the physical act of sex, often female sex addicts have a desire for intimacy and to feel a closeness created through seduction. That wanting and needing of attention and adoration is more often about love addiction.” Like cocaine and other drugs, sex increases levels of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain, so those with addictive personalities get hooked on the high. Often those with one addiction are prone to another.
Although Andrew says giving sex addiction the NHS stamp of recognition could help some people hide behind their own behaviour he’s in no doubt about his own addiction. Incredibly he lived with three separate women in his 20s and early 30s for periods of up to three years. Inevitably each relationship ended because, as he puts it, “I couldn’t keep it in my trousers. I measured my worth and my enjoyment of life in terms of sexual conquests”. Most people will consider this is simply the behaviour of a philanderer and doesn’t need to be labelled as a medical condition.
Andrew disagrees, pointing out that although he and his friends set off on a mission to have as much sex as possible when they were teenagers, he was the only one still chasing conquests a decade later. “My friends were typical men and of course they wanted sex but they weren’t obsessed about it the way I was. They weren’t so focused on it that they felt the need to cheat on their partners. We all like to experiment with sex and different partners in our late teens and 20s but I was using sex to make myself feel momentarily manly and commanding
and I began to see that wasn’t healthy.
By my early 30s my friends were disgusted by my behaviour because we couldn’t do anything or go anywhere without me obsessing about who I could have sex with. They started to mistrust me because I treated women like objects for my own selfish needs.” Finally it was a platonic female friend’s disapproval which finally led to Andrew seeking help for his addiction. “We were at a party and she shot me a look that spoke volumes about what she thought of my relentless obsession. In that moment I realised that her friendship meant more to me than any conquest and that I didn’t want to lose it. We had a frank conversation in which we both got a bit emotional and she told me I needed help to sort myself out.”
FOR the next four months Andrew had weekly one-to-one counselling sessions at Sober Services. Typically, treatment for sex addiction is less about the 12-step programmes often associated with drug or alcohol rehabilitation and more about encouraging a person to open up. “My therapist encouraged me to talk and it opened a whole Pandora’s box,” says Andrew. “Slowly I understood that I’d been obsessing about sex because of a subconscious desire to be loved and wanted. I was brought up by very caring parents but I was one of four Children and I suppose I’d often felt a bit lonely, vying for attention with my sister and two brothers.
Perhaps that’s where my neediness stemmed from. Tracey taught me about self-esteem and instilled in me values about monogamy. “I was disrespectful and hurt a lot of people and I was never, ever happy no matter how much I chased the next sexual experience. Now I feel normal and free of that addiction and I can’t articulate how liberating that is.”
Read more: Daily Express Wednesday March 16th 2011