Sex addiction usually raises several eyebrows and seems a far-fetched idea to many. To others, it brings to mind people such as Tiger Woods or Michael Douglas. Not many know, or want to admit, that the problem is much closer home.
Take for instance 20-year-old Prashant, a Delhi University student who dreams of becoming an IAS officer. He is neither rich nor famous but he does suffer from this ‘far-fetched’ disease. And it is threatening to cut short his aspirations. “I have been watching porn since I was 12 years old and it now controls my life. Porn provides me instant gratification but guilt follows soon enough, which is disrupting my studies,” he says.
Like most sex addicts, Prashant leads a double life. He is a good son and a friend but on the inside he is ashamed and cannot talk about his problem to anyone. He even took to extreme measures. “I used to beat myself with a belt but even that didn’t help me,” he said. But hope entered his life a few months ago when he discovered Sex Addicts Anonymous on the Internet.
“Initially, I was apprehensive and wondered what kind of people would come for its meetings. But the first session changed my life and I realised I was not the only one going through this pain and also learnt a lot from other people’s experiences. There were some whose addiction had reached a level I never want to reach,” he says.
The Delhi chapter of SAA, an organisation founded in the US in 1977 which has now spread across the globe, meets every Monday between 6.30 and 8.30 pm. Anyone is welcome to these free sessions. The Delhi chapter, however, is open to men only unlike the US.
The meetings take place in a corner room of the SPYM building with translucent glass walls. The building itself is a quaint office complex near the southern end of Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, opposite south Delhi’s Vasant Kunj.
Ramesh, the secretary of the Delhi chapter, sets the chairs in a circle in the minimally furnished room and turns on the rather dim lights as darkness starts descending outside. Slowly, members troop in and settle down.
SAA follows a ‘twelve-step’ deaddiction programme, with the first step being accepting yourself as a sex addict. During the sessions, members share their experiences.
The first to start is Manoj, a middle-aged man who works for a private firm. “I’m not comfortable talking to women. But every time I would see a woman, even a cousin, I used to get aroused. From the moment I woke up till the time I went to sleep, I used to fantasise about sex,” he says.
Despite his insatiable hunger for sex, Manoj found it difficult to have physical relations with his wife. “I was comfortable watching porn but physical intimacy scared me,” he said. He visited doctors but medicines didn’t help. “Then I heard about SAA and the sessions helped bring normalcy in my life,” he says, followed by applause from other members.
“The encouragement and support from fellow members is the key to de-addiction. For each member, we have a ‘sponsor’, a fellow addict who acts as a mentor,” says Ramesh.
One such former sex addict and mentor in the meeting is Rajat, a retired professional in his mid-60s. “I was a sex addict since I was a child. Over the years, this compulsive behaviour resulted in spiritual bankruptcy, affecting me and my family,” he says. “At one point, I was sleeping with four women every day but I was still not satisfied. Then I realised I was sick.” Rajat claims the SAA meetings have cured him completely but he attends them to help others.
“Sex addiction is a problem that affects 50% men but most don’t accept it due to social stigma. If they sought help, most sex addicts would be stopped from becoming sexual offenders,” Ramesh says. Dr. Pulkit Sharma, a clinical psychologist, says sex addiction is mostly a symptom of underlying emotional distress. He says, “People with low self-esteem can sometimes feel desirable through sexual activities. It is not a psychiatric disease and can be treated by tackling the underlying emotional pain.”
Delhi doesn’t have any sex deaddiction centres and psychologists feel support groups are the best answer. “There are few professional settings or therapies that can help. Support groups are usually a good way,” says Dr Nimesh Desai, director, Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences. As the meeting comes to an end, members stand and hold hands to say a prayer. After saying their goodbyes, they leave the building to ‘blend in’ and return to their ‘normal’ lives until next Monday evening.
Quiz: Are you a sex addict?
(A few names have been changed to protect identities)