Understanding Sex Addiction

By Kaitlin Vogel for ReWire Me

I admit that Samantha is my favorite character from Sex and the City. She’s confident, free-spirited and lives her life on her own terms. But one of the major parts of her character is her obsession with sex. I often consider what she would be like as a real person. On the show, her antics are portrayed as funny and cute, but what would happen if someone engaged in the same sexual behavior in real life?

How do you define “normal” sexual behavior in a culture where casual sex and “friends with benefits” is glorified by the media? Where do you draw the line between someone who enjoys sex and someone who abuses it?

Sex is normal and healthy, but like anything in life, there can be too much of a good thing. For some people, sex can be all-consuming and destructive.

Dr. Patrick Carnes coined the term “sex addiction,” in his book Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction (Hazelden, Third Edition), which is defined as “any sexually-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work environment.”

However, unlike an addition to drugs or alcohol, there is no formal diagnosis for sex addiction. Given this controversial new aspect of human sexual expression and treatment there are varying terms to define it. Some experts use the term “sex addiction” while others use “hypersexual disorder,” “CSB” (compulsive sexual behavior) and “OCSB” (out of control sexual behavior).

“What distinguishes someone with out of control sexual behaviors is that the person is not enjoying the sex they are having,” says Dr. Joe Kort, certified sex and relationship therapist. “It’s like someone with an eating disorder who overeats. It’s not about the food anymore; it is about obsession and suffering.”

Dr. Patti Britton, Clinical Sexologist and Sex Coach, Co-Founder of Sex Coach U and author of The Art of Sex Coaching: Expanding Your Practice (Norton Professional Books), breaks it down into three questions:

  1. Are you doing something that you wish you could stop?
  2. Does it make you feel shameful or guilty when it’s over?
  3. Do you keep doing it anyway?

For a more in-depth analysis, take this quiz.

Dr. Britton adds that a lot of sex addicts’ unhealthy behaviors manifest while using porn to fuel their addiction. Many men are drawn to it because it’s non-demand, non-pressure sex. They need a release where they don’t have to “perform.”

“The problem is that porn is often taking someone away often from either a) normal sexual development and evolution, particularly as a male or b) stealing time, energy and attention away from a primary relationship,” says Dr. Britton.

The goal for sexual educators and therapists is to try to get people out of the performance mentality and view sex as a pleasurable experience and opportunity for connection. When it comes to treatment, experts recommend finding a therapist who can not only help stop the behaviors but also teach you about healthy sex.

“Treatment for sex addiction is not black and white,” says Britton. “We want people to find a healthy middle ground. For example, you can’t masturbate in front of a computer for six hours at night and sustain a relationship. You also can’t deny yourself sex because it’s ‘wrong’ and might lead you down a black hole. It’s our job to create a healthy bridge to sex.”

If you’re concerned that your partner might be a sex addict, Mavis Baird, certified sex addiction therapist, recommends Al Anon’s 12-step formula. Its success has been proven by numerous studies, and is even more effective when paired with programs such as COSA and S-Anon.

“The best results were seen for those who pursued a combination of 12-step work along with specialized partners’ treatment with a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) or similarly trained professional,” says Baird.

 

For more information on treatment, check out:

The International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals

American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kaitlin Vogel is Senior Editor of Rewire Me. With a professional background in journalism and marketing and a degree in psychology, she is following her passion for mind/body wellness as part of the Rewire Me team. She lives in Astoria and enjoys the beach, exercising, and traveling.

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