Sex addiction: Is it about more than being unfaithful?

May 17, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

When it comes to addictions, the perception is that drugs and alcohol are the usual suspects.

But what happens when the drug of choice is sex?

Celebrity scandals and the latest in reality TV fare such as "Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew" chronicling celebrities' challenges with recovery and begs the question: What makes something an addiction?

Or to put it plainly: Is sex addiction a legitimate addiction?

"I definitely think it's valid," said Courtenay Chamberlin, clinical social worker at Behavioral Health Services of Washington County Hospital.

Therapist Carl Benedict elaborates.

"When people are in pain, people want to do what gives them relief," said Benedict, who heads a free, weekly support group at Behavioral Health Services for family members who are affected by a loved one's addictive behavior.

Benedict said if the pain is bad enough, people might do any thing to try to ease it in the short term, sometimes despite the long-term consequences. He gives the example of a person having a bad day at work.


"Bad day at work? Grab a beer. Feel better," Benedict said.

A person crosses the line from unhealthy behavior to addiction when the short-term "fix" becomes a person's fixation.

Benedict said when the person loses control and continues the behavior despite the negative consequences - breaks the law, hurts loved ones, hurts themselves, sets responsibilities aside - he or she has veered into addiction turf.

This includes sex.

Sexual addiction and compulsivity affects 3 percent to 5 percent of the population, according to the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH), a Georgia-based nonprofit group whose mission is to promote public awareness about sexual addiction. SASH reports that the percentage might be higher because not all sex addicts seek treatment.

Sexual sobriety may differ from person to person because recovery isn't as simple as not using a drug. Benedict said part of the treatment requires self-reflection from the recovering addict, which can be done with the help of a therapist.

"Be aware of why you're doing it," Benedict said.

Chamberlin said for the addict, sexual sobriety may mean being monogamous or not engaging in illegal activity such as prostitution.

"Stopping whatever those behaviors were that were out of control," Chamberlin said. "For a person to lead a functional life and no longer obsessing about sex."

Three questions

Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health uses three basic questions to define a sexual addiction.

1. Do I have a sense that I have lost control over whether I engage in my specific out-of-control sexual behavior?

2. Am I experiencing significant consequences because of my specific out-of-control sexual behavior?

3. Do I feel like I am constantly thinking about my specific out-of-control sexual behavior, even when I don't want to?

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