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Are you addicted to sex?

Is ‘sex addiction’ a medical condition or simply a convenient excuse?

india Updated: Jan 29, 2010 21:05 IST

A lot of people tend to think sex addiction doesn’t actually exist. Too much sex, experts say, whether physical or virtual, just doesn’t cut it as an addiction.

The most radical believe ‘addiction’ is merely a label to describe behaviour that does not correspond to society’s norms. Many classify excessive sex as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder and call it ‘sexual compulsivity’ instead.

No explanation has stopped the emergence of a flourishing industry to treat the disorder (if disorder it is). Dr Patrick Carnes, author of half a dozen books on the subject, has specially tailored treatment programmes to cure sex addicts. The programme includes a vow to remain celibate for the duration of the course, as well as psychiatric consultation, behavioural therapy, trauma work, relapse prevention counselling and one-to-one sessions on shame reduction and setting sexual boundaries.

There’s also art, exercise and yoga classes, as well as an apocalyptic-sounding ‘Disclosure Day’ when celebrities like Tiger Woods (who is undergoing such a programme) will have to recount to his wife Elin all of his extra-marital encounters.

Carnes believes sexual addiction exists. “Am I a sex addict?” his website asks, invitingly. “Assess your behaviour with our online tests.” Questions range from “Is sex almost all you think about?” to “Have you engaged prostitutes and escorts to satisfy your sexual needs?”, “Have you attempted to stop your online sexual behaviour?” and “Have you regularly engaged in sadomasochistic behaviour?” Carnes believes that between 3 per cent and 6 per cent of the U S population suffer from sex addiction, often to the extent that they have ended up losing career opportunities (27 per cent), partners (40 per cent) and even the will to live (17 per cent).

Paula Hall, a British sexual psychotherapist treats up to 70 people for sex addiction every year.

Opportunity plays a big part, Hall says: “Many people I treat are men who travel a lot. They have the physical and the financial opportunity to pay prostitutes, for example.” Many have suffered from some kind of abuse in their childhood that has “caused problems with modulating and regulating their emotions.”

Other experts are not so convinced. “There’s no doubt that there are accepted problems around appropriate sexual behaviour,” says consultant psychiatrist Dr Cosmo Hallstrom. “Some practices are acceptable, others not. Often it’s a value judgment.”

But not all agree. If sex addiction was really the problem Carnes reckons it to be, Dr Griffiths says, “we’d have more addiction centres and rehab clinics like the ones we have for alcohol and drugs.”

The vast majority of people who check themselves into sex addiction clinics or otherwise seek treatment for what they see as an addiction to sex are, believes Griffiths, simply “using the term ‘addiction’ to justify their behaviour.

And in the case of high-profile celebrities who are allegedly addicted to sex, “they were simply in a position where they were probably bombarded with advances, and they succumbed. And there wouldn’t, presumably, be a clinic prepared to take £ 40,000 off such celebs in exchange for a cure.”

The Guardian