Baby, sweet baby, you're my drug
Come on and let me taste your stuff
Baby, sweet baby, bring me your gift
What surprise you gonna hit me with
I am waiting here for more
I am waiting by your door
I am waiting on your back steps
I am waiting in my car
I am waiting at this bar
I am waiting for your essence
Baby, sweet baby, whisper my name
Shoot your love into my vein
What Is Sex Addiction?
In my practice I often get phone calls asking if I treat sex addiction. It is my experience the term means different things to different people. The majority of calls come from men. Often it involves an individual who has had extra martial affairs, is obsessed with internet pornography, put himself in a sexually compromising and/or illegal position, cannot stop sexual urges or fantasies, or suffers from excessive masturbation. All of these behaviors interfere with daily responsibilities and put strain on relationships, resulting in psychological distress to themselves and their families. In some instances, it is the spouse that demands their partner seek profession help or face consequences such as separation or divorce.
The History Of Sex Addiction
Different names have been used to characterize individuals who engage in excessive and at times deviant sexual activities. Labels such as Don Juanism, nymphomania, satyriasis, erotomania, hypersexuality, impulsive disorder, overactive sex drive has been around for along time. The term “sex addiction,“ however, did not arise on the scene until the 1970s. It was originally coined by members of Alcoholics Anonymous who set out to apply their 12 step principles toward sexual recovery. In a similar vein as alcoholics, they identified those who suffered from excessive and disruptive sexual activities as being physiologically dependent. Based upon the AA paradigm, they believed that sex addicts cannot be cured; but rather their disease can only be controlled by complete abstinence. To suppress their sexual dependence, members must acknowledge the disease is greater than themselves, surrender to a higher power, participate in group meetings in order to muster up the collective power to battle the disease one day at a time. With the popularity of the 12 step movement, numerous organizations formed that follow the AA doctrine - - Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsive Anonymous and Sexual Recovery to name a few.
Is Sex Addiction A True Addiction?
As these organizations expanded and continued to help many people, its fundamental premise has been called into question by many in the mental health communities. Neither the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association nor the American Medical Association recognize “sex addiction” as a valid diagnosis. According to the American Medical Association, there is no clear evidence that “sex addiction” is a biological disease that leads to physiological dependence and withdrawal. While past editions of the American Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders had a category called Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Classified, the latest version does not. After reviewing the empirical evidence, it decided not to include the diagnosis of “hypersexual Disorder” in it’s current manual. Despite its absence, mental health professionals have found the following disregarded criteria for Hypersexual Disorder to be of diagnostic value:
For a period of at least six months:
Compulsion Or Impulse Control?
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) manual does includes the diagnosis “excessive sexual drive.” In their manual, this diagnosis is classified as a compulsive behavior and/or impulse control disorder and not an addiction. There is extensive research that suggests hypersexual disorders are of a psycho-social nature. For example, people who identify themselves as “sex addicts” often come from dysfunctional families and have a history of being abused. One study found that 82 percent of sex addicts reported being sexually abused as children. Sex addicts often describe their parents as rigid, distant, uncaring and critical. Many parents of sex addicts have similar tendencies and were also abused as children. Many of these families, including the addicts themselves, are more likely to be substance abusers.
There continues to be great disparity as to the etiological and diagnostic criteria for hypersexual disorders. Is “sex addiction” a true addiction? Is it an obsessive compulsive disorder, impulse disorder, or perhaps not even a disorder at all? Where the responsibility falls - - the addiction, the learned character traits, or the individual’s bad choices - - has significant repercussions in terms of diagnosis, treatment and how society views and treats these individuals.
The answer to these questions are not so clear cut. Perhaps individuals struggle with sexual dysfunctions for different reasons or a complex array of multiple reasons. Even if the evidence suggests sex addiction is not an addiction, this does not rule out the possibility that physiological factors can still play an important role in its constitution. The existence of a strong correlation between hypersexuality and anxiety and mood disorders has been well documented in the literature. In fact, it has been shown that the same neurological transmitters that are involved in anxiety and depression appear to play a role in obsessive and compulsive behaviors.
Like many obsessions and compulsions - - be it video games, the internet, gambling, sports, the stock market or even watching TV - - sexual compulsions can only provide temporary relief from unwanted emotions. The moment the compulsive activity stops the unwanted thoughts and feelings do return with vengeance. Individuals who identify themselves as “sex addicts” tend to act out to mask or avoid unwanted emotions such as sadness, shame, loneliness, guilt, anger and fear. Many “sex addicts” also suffer from low self-esteem, impaired occupational, educational, social, family or relationship issues.
Empathy, Acceptance And Self-Responsibility
It is important to have empathy for individuals who suffers from hypersexual disorders. One must have an appreciation of the depth of their suffering, conflicts and daily struggles, be it of a physiological, psychological or self-inflicted nature. You must be aware of their personal histories, family dynamics, current stressors, sense of self, and underlying psychiatric issues such as mood, anxiety or character weaknesses.
To overcome hypersexual tendencies, one must accept and take self-responsibility for their own limitations, dysfunctional tendencies and past discretions in order to harness their inner strength and move forward in a productive manner. In addition to the support of family, friends and
organizational groups, having a seasoned clinical psychologist as your guide on this difficult journey is important to the healing process.
Dr. Martin Klein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who practices in Westport and Branford CT. He works with children, adults and couples.