What is “Hypersexual Disorder”?
The American Psychiatric Association (APA), recognizing the increasing public and clinical acceptance of the concept of sexual addiction, has requested and received extensive Tier 1, peer reviewed research data, along with an exhaustive literature review (Shout out to Dr. Marty Kafka of Harvard!) toward its consideration of a potential DSM-5 Hypsersexuality Disorder diagnosis.
While “Hypersexual Disorder” may not be the ideal term for a problem that more accurately involves the lengthy search and pursuit of sexual and romantic intensity rather than just the sex act itself, the proposed criteria as written do point to problem patterns of excessive fantasy and urges that mirror most aspects of what we have come to know more commonly as “sexual addiction.”
In the world of addiction treatment, there are two major areas of concern: addiction to substances, and addiction to patterns of behavior. Substance addictions involve abuse of and dependency upon chemicals such as alcohol, nicotine, prescription drugs, and illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Behavioral addictions, often called “process” addictions, involve problematic repetitive behavior patterns involving potentially pleasurable or compulsive activities such as gambling, sex, working, spending, eating, etc. Some individuals struggle with both types of addiction simultaneously.
Sadly, the general public often mistakenly views process addictions as “moral flaws” or as “less serious” than substance addictions, yet those of us who treat these concerns directly witness firsthand the countless ways in which out-of-control impulsive, compulsive, and addictive behaviors wreak as much havoc on families, careers, and lives as drug addiction and alcoholism.
We also see that process addictions often contribute significantly to substance abuse relapse.
Women are catching up to – and even outnumbering – men when it comes to college admissions and earning power. Along with these advancements, women have caught up in less savory ways.
Men don’t want to admit it; women don’t want to admit it; our culture tells us it can’t be so. But research is beginning to address an increasing number of women who are also watching porn, engaging in casual and risky sexual behaviors, and cheating on significant others.
How many women cheat? Accurate estimates are hard to come by, primarily because researchers rely on self-reporting and few women are willing to risk their relationships and reputations in the name of science. Studies from Indiana University and Manchester Metropolitan University have found that roughly 20-25 percent of men have affairs compared to about 15-20 percent of women. These numbers are likely much higher for both genders, with some polls suggesting that as many as 50 percent of married women have cheated.
In some ways the holidays can be a set-up for feeling bad. Our media-reinforced expectations of a warm, loving family-driven holiday season are often challenged by very real feelings of loneliness and disappointment. Those also saddled with a history of addiction or other emotional problems may find themselves longing for tangible ways to escape the emotional tension that this period brings.
This next two weeks, perhaps more than at any other time of year, not only puts more emotional pressure on all of us, but also provides the unstructured time, endless food, candy and drink and intense family interaction, which can challenge the most health conscious and well balanced among us, For those men and women who struggle with love, relationship and sex addictions, this is relapse season.
To some it may feel like our culture has been suddenly barraged with sexual addiction books, film, media and reality TV. Films like Shame, TV shows like Bad Sex, the recent extensive media coverage of sexually troubled politicians and sports figures, combined with a recent Newsweek/Daily Beast cover story on the topic, almost seem to be converging on this issue and pushing it in our faces overnight.
But as a clinician who has been treating sex addiction and training therapists for nearly 20 years, I can reliably report what any experienced marriage counselor or addiction specialist will also tell you – that there has seen a steady escalation of addictive sex and intimacy problems ever since the Internet first came publically available in the early to mid-90’s. With every technological turn of the screw (pardon the pun), those of us who treat compulsive and addictive sex and intimacy disorders have seen an increase in clients troubled by these very issues; to us it makes perfect sense.
Think of the following in terms of the “Triple A Engine”: Access, Affordability, Anonymity…
Sex addiction access from the beginning of time – Pre-history to 1900 consisted of cave art, affairs and infidelity, prostitution and harems to compulsive masturbation to fantasy. Now add in porn shops, strip clubs, magazines and photos, and porn movie theaters which evolved dramatically from the 1900′s to the 60’s.
Following were the late 70’s to 1990, where new technology was invented such as video (VCR and BETA) – AND, it’s when phone sex became mainstream.
Then in 1990 to 2004, we began to see Bulletin Board Systems, websites, online porn, chat rooms, and online hook-ups. From 2004 to the present, much has evolved at a steady pace – sexting, smart phones with GPS locators, social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), 3-D imagery, and VirtualWorld sex. Clearly escalation in sex addiction is being fueled by exponential technology growth – which is only just beginning in the move towards virtual sex…
The abuse of sex and drugs to meet simple understandable human needs for love and affection are the underpinning of many addictive behaviors for those with an early history of physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and neglect.
Addiction professionals and recovering people need to often be reminded, that it is not enough to simply explore and resolve past trauma. True recovery also involves learning how to live and connect as adults. For many addicts, the drive to abuse both drugs and sex are fused with a belief that using is the only way to feel…a part of something, for those with little self-worth and little (they believe) to offer others. The lack of a learned ability to engage and trust deep attachments along with love can lead to lifelong problems of addiction and relapse.
Looking beyond the sad mess of Former Congressman Weiner’s recent sexting scandal, today’s as yet under-the-radar, but evolving sexnologies are about to make texing nudie pics to strangers as old-school as focusing a 35-mm camera.
Last fall while researching the effect of social network and smart-phone technologies on sexual addiction, I came across what appear to be some of the first products specifically designed and mass-produced for purchasers to engage in virtual sex. Called Teledildonics, these white plastic gadgets are described by the manufacturer as “hardware components that can, when hooked up the Wii platform, allow remote partners to simultaneously enjoy each others physical stimulations.”
As if the past few weeks hadn’t served up enough tales of savvy, political figures behaving badly, now we have a real weiner-roast of a story. Following in the wake of Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, Marc Sanford, Chris Lee, Larry Craig, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, married Congressman Anthony Weiner’s admission of his recent Calvin-clad sex-tweets sent to several woman, none of whom who happened to be his new wife, offers up yet another example of how far a man can fall in pursuit of a sexual high.
And here, as in previous high profile cases the same questions arise:
I’m pleased to introduce Sex and Intimacy in the Digital Age, a blog about sexual addiction and problems, adultery and cheating in the digital age of the Internet, smartphones, and always being connected. A day doesn’t go by where we don’t hear how the Internet and other digital media are impacting our relationships in both positive and negative ways. Porn addiction is one of a relationship’s new problems, and with ready access to sexual materials online and on the go via our smartphones, Android devices, iPads and iPhones, it’s no wonder.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is the host of this new blog. He is the founding Director of The Sexual Recovery Institute, Los Angeles and Director of Sexual Disorders Services at The Ranch Treatment Center in Nunnelly, Tennessee.
A UCLA MSW graduate, Mr. Weiss received extensive post-graduate sexual disorder’s training with addiction author and clinical leader, Dr. Patrick Carnes. Mr. Weiss is author of Cybersex Exposed: Simple Fantasy to Obsession, author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Menand co-author of the just released, Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn and Fantasy Addiction in the Internet Age, with Dr. Jennifer Schneider, along with numerous peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters.
You can learn more about Rob here. Please give him a warm Psych Central welcome, as I look forward to learning and reading more about sex addiction, intimacy, the digital age and its impact on healthy relationships.