Sexual addiction is on the rise

The term sexual addiction is becoming popularized with television shows like Sex Rehab with Dr Drew and with celebrities like David Duchovny and Tiger Woods checking in for treatment of compulsive sexual behaviour. The term remains somewhat controversial and is not yet part of the official psychiatric classification system. Nevertheless, what is not in doubt is that some people engage in sexual behaviour that interferes with their jobs, families and other interests to an extent that is ruinous. They experience it as compulsive and find it difficult to stop even when they realize that they must stop or face serious personal or financial consequences. Sexual addicts make sex a priority more important than family, friends, and work. Sex becomes the organizing principle of their lives. They are willing to sacrifice what they cherish most in order to preserve and continue their unhealthy behaviour. In this way it is like other addictions. Whether we call it an addiction or a compulsion is academic. What we need is an effective treatment.

The sexual behaviour that is engaged in can cover a wide range of possibilities including but not limited to: masturbation, pornography, serial affaires, and prostitutes. This is not to say that these behaviours are always indicative of sexual addiction. It is only when they become all consuming and clearly interfere with other functions that they become addictive.

No one knows for sure how common this problem is but we can say confidently that it is certainly not rare and is not confined to celebrities. It seems to be getting more common, most likely fuelled by the anonymity, accessibility, and affordability of pornography on the internet.

There is no one explanation for all sex addicts any more than there is one explanation for all alcoholics or drug addicts. Many have been sexually abused in childhood, many have other psychiatric disorders and many have problems with intimacy but none of these explains all cases.

There is not yet a consensus about treatment and insufficient controlled trials on different treatment approaches. Most therapists are approaching it like an addiction and using methods that have been helpful in other addictions. A 12 step program fashioned after Alcoholics Anonymous (Sex Addicts Anonymous) is available and a period of abstinence from sexual behaviour is usually recommended while the patient and therapist explore the genesis of the behaviour and develop a treatment plan. Because of the shame associated with this disorder many find it difficult to seek help. Ironically the internet may provide the solution in online forums and chat rooms for sex addicts that are beginning to appear. Here one can find understanding and compassion in a truly anonymous setting.

There are local groups in many communities for Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) and these can be very helpful for those who have the courage to seek them out. As with other addictions the first step is to recognize the problem, admit ones irrationality and powerlessness over it and seek help. As with other addictions or compulsive behaviours, this can be overcome with sufficient motivation and effort.


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