As powerful, international figures Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger deal with the fallout of their various sexual exploits – ranging from sexual assault to chronic infidelity – the question “is it just bad behavior or a real disorder” often comes barreling to the forefront.
Another common thought is: sex addiction sounds like the kind of problem most guys would love to have.
Well, here is the truth about living with shame, secrecy, narcissism, and other words that accompany the behavior of someone with sexual addiction and intimacy disorders: for the sex addict is about as much fun as alcoholism is for the alcoholic. Many adults enjoy drinking now and then; and while some people drink socially, others drink a bit at the end of the day to relax and some even get drunk once in a while (New Years, etc). For these people, which means most drinkers, drinking alcohol is both fun and optional.
But there are others for whom drinking is neither fun nor optional: people who have no control over where their first drink will lead them AND who have a history of negative consequences related to past alcohol abuse. We call those people alcoholics, and for them (estimated at 6-8% of the population) alcohol is not a good thing. These individuals have to be very careful and persistent about not drinking because, if they start, alcohol will eventually destroy their lives.
Similarly, most healthy adults enjoy sex – many as a form of recreation or distraction. Both single and married adults may occasionally or frequently view porn, have sexual dalliances, affairs or even see prostitutes without it being a problem for them. Right or wrong it’s not anyone’s job to call these people ‘sex addicts’ or to judge their sexuality or relationships. However, for approximately 3-8% of the adult population, having recreational sex is not a good thing. Single, dating or married, when these people begin having disconnected intense sexual experiences, particularly sex that involves secrecy or shame, they also begin to experience negative consequences.
Once these particular individuals start using sex as a means of emotional distraction they have trouble putting the breaks on their behavior. In the behavioral health and addiction treatment industry, we call these people sex addicts; unlike the rest of us, when sex addicts have sex primarily for recreation and emotional distraction their sexual choices can end up destroying their families, careers, reputations and relationships. These particular individuals have to be very aware of how they live their lives around sex, romance and intimacy so they don’t return to the kinds of sexual situations and patterns that can very quickly ruin the good things we all work so hard to create and maintain.
So, all of that being said – it is my belief, as well as all sex addiction treatment professionals and those that accept sexual addiction as a valid diagnosis – living a life of secrecy (a “double life”) is not fun, NOR is claiming to be a sex addict an excuse for bad behavior; rather it is the acknowledgment that there is an aspect of one’s life they cannot control and they need treatment in order to regain what has been lost or displaced because of their addiction.
Photo by Steve Jurvetson, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.