18 February 2010

A take on sex addiction

Counsellor Joanne Brodie shares her views on sex addiction, why it happens, and what could be done about.

I believe that sex addiction has increased. I do not have figures but the fact that it is the number one addiction in the States would probably mean that we are probably following suit.

It is difficult for sex addiction to be taken seriously. One of the factors that contribute to this is the way we as a society normalise and endorse excessive sexual behaviour, as evidenced by, e.g. a female client who has a major sexual addiction and goes to see a therapist – the therapist says that she needs to get in touch with her sexuality!

A male pornography addict whose addiction has had major consequences on his life and his marriage goes with his wife to see a psychiatrist in Pretoria. The psychiatrist says “Boys will be boys and she needs to accept it and maybe she should consider watching with him.” And it’s not a problem and he doesn’t need to stop.” I mean seriously – maybe he himself has a problem?

Sexual addiction is not just about going out and having as much sex as one can. It manifests in a number of ways. And it does not necessarily have to involve physical sex – it can involve fantasy only. But it is mostly, in my experience, a largely misunderstood, misdiagnosed and a denied problem.

Depending on sex
Contrary to being able to enjoy sex as an affirming source of pleasure, the sex addict has learned to depend on sex for comfort from pain so it is his or her primary mood regulator in much the same way that the alcoholic relies on alcohol and the drug addict on drugs.

Contrary to love or intimacy, the illness transforms sex into the primary relationship for which all else may be sacrificed including family, partners, friends, health and work, not necessarily in that order. As life unravels, danger becomes normalised and the addict cycles between despair, shame and hopelessness.

No one personality profile makes up a sex addict although a number of characteristics can be identified:

  • exhibits a number of preferred sexual behaviours (some for which one may get arrested), including voyeurism and exhibitionism and actint them out obsessively
  • continues to act out obsessively despite serious consequences including health, severe financial risks, injury, loss of family, even death
  • attempts to control or curtail sexual behaviour even to the point of self-mutilation or severe hardship
  • spends a lot of time in fantasy and trance
  • experiences severe withdrawal symptoms that parallel that of opiate addicts

In addition, a number of preconditions have been identified which contribute to an individual’s vulnerability to sex addiction. These risk factors include:-

  • A high probability of having been sexually abused as a child although the addict may not recognise the abuse or see its connection to current behaviour
  • A high probability of having been raised in a dysfunctional family in which sense of self has been damaged resulting in severe problems with intimacy and dependency (whom to trust)
  • A history of emotional and physical abuse, intensifying a sense of unworthiness and fear of abandonment
  • Sex addiction or other types of addiction among parents, siblings and other family members

In terms of pornography, a lot of people, including the professionals are saying that pornography is ok!

In terms of trends, my concern is that I believe that addiction in the form of internet users affect younger people more and more. Access has never been easier and I understand that there is heavy demand for bestiality sites, child pornography sites as well as bondage/sado/masochism sites.

Porn everywhere
We are surrounded by “soft porn”. Porn has become increasingly respectable perhaps posing as ‘erotica’ but no – I believe it's pornography and I believe it's dangerous, gratuitous and potentially addictive.

Is porn ok? Are we sure? What about the deeper effects of pornography? Are we prepared to look deeper? Or have we become so used to instant gratification that we do not and cannot go there. When we are presented with the “out of controlness” of so- called “sex addiction” we breathe a huge sigh of relief and say “well, that happens to other people”.

Of course, the alternative to this is not easy because it involves being in reality as opposed to fantasy and pursuing intimacy as opposed to buying into illusions and masks.

It also involves the nurturing and nourishment of real relationship – the coming alive and being present in your body.

For me, that is the gift and that is the healing. - Joanne Brodie




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