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Can sex addiction be cured?

From Hollywood stars like David Duchovny and Michael Douglas to sports stars like Tiger Woods, sex addiction has been in the news for years now. Sex addiction isn’t just a convenient excuse to hide a person’s infidelities, but a real medical concern.

health and fitness Updated: May 07, 2011 17:10 IST
Kavita Devgan

From Hollywood stars like David Duchovny and Michael Douglas to sports stars like Tiger Woods, sex addiction has been in the news for years now. Several other celebrities have spoken out about their attempts to deal with this affliction, including British actor/singer Russell Brand, who in his autobiography, My Booky Wook, talks about the sex addiction that threatened to ruin his career.

However, sex addiction was only very recently classified as a genuine psychological disorder. And if the experts are to be believed, it’s not just a convenient excuse to hide infidelities but a real medical concern – an obsessive-compulsive behaviour to be precise. And it is more rampant than we may think.

Sex Addiction defined
“A compulsive preoccupation with any activity is called addiction. When an obsession reaches an extent that major aspects of life and relationships get affected, it is classified as an addiction. Sexual addiction therefore implies an inability to control one’s sexual behaviour despite negative consequences,” says Dr (Prof) Rajan Bhonsle, senior consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor, Mumbai.

Sex addiction isn’t just a convenient excuse to hide a person’s infidelities, but a real medical concern

“Sex addiction or hyper sexuality is a term used for individuals who suffer from repeated thoughts about sex most of the day, leading to sometimes harmful sexual behaviour. People who suffer from this affliction are so obsessed with their uncontrollable thoughts that it starts affecting their professional and personal life,” adds Dr Surbhee Soni, clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist, Fortis Hospital, Delhi.



“Like all addictions, its negative impact on the addict and on family members increases as the disorder progresses,” adds Dr Rachna K Singh, lifestyle management expert, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon.



Desire or Obsession?


According to experts, it’s not that easy to pinpoint if a person is suffering from sex addiction. “There is no set norm of a normal sex drive; it varies from person to person,” explains Dr Soni. “As long as two individuals are comfortable about their sexual activity, where it does not hinder their professional and personal lives, it is considered normal desire.”



Dr Ashutosh Prabhu Desai, consultant psychiatrist, psychotherapist and sex therapist in Panaji, agrees. “While it is not possible to quantify how much sex is normal because it varies from person to person, generally less than 10 times per year is considered inadequate while sex once or twice a week is average,” he says.



Dr Singh further explains the difference between being oversexed and addicted by saying that, “A person with a high sex drive is satisfied with sex. For such a person, when their partner says ‘no’, it doesn’t make them fly off the handle, thinking their partner is totally rejecting them.”



Finally, Dr Bhonsle adds, “The way everyone has a different appetite for food, the same applies to sex. Some people have a higher libido, and as long as their heightened sexual desire doesn’t make them dysfunctional in any aspect of their life, it is not an addiction. But if they are obsessed or have fights over it, or worse, are doing things on the sly, then it is definitely a case of sex addiction.”



The Symptoms


According to Dr Soni, the symptoms of addiction include preoccupation with thoughts of sex, indulging in multiple partners, unsafe sex, obsession with pornography, phone or computer sex, extramarital affairs, prostitution, exhibitionism, sexual harassment, rape and obsessive dating.



“People who suffer from sex addiction have no emotional attachment to their sexual partner. For them, sexual activity is just an act that brings satisfaction to their physical need and desire,” she says. “Those who suffer from mood disorders, personality disorders or extreme levels of stress can also fall prey to the problem.”



Dr Bhonsle adds that ‘masturbation addiction’ and ‘midnight porn addiction syndrome’ are very common too. “A typical person suffering from the latter will watch porn in the middle of the night for three to four hours even though he knows that he has an important day the next day,” he says. “Plus, I often come across patients with unusual sexual fixations.”



Research has also found that sex addicts often come from dysfunctional families and are more likely than non-sex addicts to have been abused in childhood. “One study found that 82 percent of sex addicts reported being sexually abused as children,” shares Dr Singh.



Experts also feel that overly authoritarian parents can be a cause of sex addiction. “Sex addicts often describe their parents as rigid, distant and uncaring. Often, they report been forced to follow their parents’ decisions regarding their own lives,” says Dr Singh. “People also use sex as an escape from a problem and as a medium to deal with anger, guilt, loneliness and failure, leading to severe addiction problems.”



According to Dr Singh, the behaviour of some sex addicts does not progress beyond compulsive masturbation or extensive use of pornography, phone or computer sex services. “For others, addiction can involve illegal activities such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, child molestation or rape,” says Dr Singh. “Treatment is essential. Denial worsens the condition.”



Achieving a Cure


Experts say that sex addiction can be cured once the person acknowledges that she or he has a problem. “Treatment focuses on two issues,” says Dr Singh. “The first is the logistical concern of separating the patient from harmful sexual behaviour in the same way that drug addicts are separated from drugs. Accomplishing this might require in-patient or residential treatment for weeks. The second and most difficult issue involves facing the guilt, shame and depression associated with this illness. It takes trust and time with a competent therapist to work through these emotions.”



Dr Soni adds, “During this period, the support of family is very important. Sessions with family on their own during the therapy is very important.”



“The multi-modal approach, the Robert Carkhuff model, a combination of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) is very effective,” states Dr Bhonsle. Dr Soni feels that it is important to identify the root cause of the problem before suggesting the treatment. She swears by behaviour modification, CBT, 12-step therapy, and family therapy.



Sex = shame. Why?


“Shame is generally learnt non-verbally or is actively taught by the family and society to reduce the incidence of promiscuity and illegitimate children,” feels Dr Ashutosh Prabhu Desai, consultant psychiatrist, psychotherapist and sex therapist in Panaji.


He adds, “Plus our religion-based society and education introduces the concept of sin and makes it a powerful phobia. The absence of discussion and education in school and homes leads to misconceptions, and sex-related issues get very strong in the subconscious minds of young people.”



Dr (Prof) Rajan Bhonsle, senior consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor, Mumbai, feels that improper, almost nonexistent sex education is the main culprit here. He signs off with the fact that sex is a gift from nature that needs to be enjoyed and not feel ashamed of.



Why low sexual desire is a problem


“The reason for low desire could be physical – hormonal imbalance, testosterone deficiency, diabetes or a neurological problem. But there are other people who have suppressed their desires and trained themselves to think that sex is wrong; it is bad, painful, and sinful. These people also need therapy,” says Dr (Prof) Rajan Bhonsle, senior consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor, Mumbai.



- From HT Brunch, May 8

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