In the second season of the Emmy award-winning HBO series, “The White Lotus”; Michael Imperioli plays Dominic Di Grasso, a successful Hollywood producer with a sex addiction who has destroyed his marriage by repeatedly cheating on his wife.
It is hard to separate the sexaholic-womaniser character that Charlie Sheen plays in, “Two and a half Men”, from the media’s portrayal of his playboy lifestyle. Fuelled by drug abuse and alcohol addiction, which has got him into no end of trouble over the years.
Don Draper in Mad Men, Blanche Devereux from the Golden Girls, and the infamous James Bond are all pop culture sex addict icons. It is not just screen stars that are afflicted, in the real world, Tiger Woods, David Duchovny, and Eric Benet, all entered rehab for sex addiction after getting caught in extramarital affairs.
So, is sex addiction real; a construct of the movie industry; or an excuse for those individuals engaging in promiscuous sexual behaviour or infidelity within a long-term relationship who get caught in flagrante delicto?
Yes, sex addiction is very real, and it can have a serious, and even dangerous impact on a person’s life, damaging their relationships, finances, physical and mental health, and reputation. It is described as the compulsive need to perform sexual acts to achieve a “high” or “fix”, similar to that an alcoholic gets from a drink, a drug addict gets from using drugs, or a gambler gets from placing a bet.
Categorised as an emotional intimacy disorder, this addiction is not measured or diagnosed by how much or how often a person participates, but by how the behaviour adversely impacts on the addict or those around them.
Some sex addicts have a compulsive need to perform sexual acts numerous times a day, whilst others will seek out multiple partners. Others still are driven to excessive masturbation or viewing of pornography. For many their compulsion will drive them to change their whole life to be able to participate in sexually stimulating situations, despite the ever-increasing negative consequences.
Which are numerous. Physically, it can result in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Legally, illicit sexual activities can lead to criminal prosecutions and convictions. Financially, paying for sex and online porn can cause monetary problems. Relationships will struggle with trust issues, marital difficulties, and often end in separations and divorce.
Emotionally, a sex addict regularly feels guilt, shame, and remorse over their behaviour; yet powerless and hopeless to restrain themselves. This can trigger or exacerbate depression and anxiety, with addicts frequently lonely, isolated, and at times suicidal. In addition, sufferers will regularly turn to substances, self-medicating to numb feelings of self-loathing and disgust, leading to problems with alcoholism and drug abuse.
There is often a lot of deviousness and secrecy present in those suffering with addiction, and addicts are frequently skilled at covering their movements and hiding their condition. However, certain symptoms are difficult to completely disguise from close family members and loved ones.
Here are some signs to look out for:
• Persistent, obsessive sexual thoughts and fantasies.
• Excessive amount of time spent engaging in sexually stimulating activities.
• Uncontrollable sexual liaisons with multiple partners, and/or strangers.
• Engaging in risky or dangerous sexual behaviour.
• Negative consequences as a result (finances, relationships, health).
• Lies, secrecy and defensiveness about participation in sexual behaviours.
• Neglect of responsibilities because of preoccupation in sexual activity.
• Failed attempts to try and limit, control, or stop involvement in sexual behaviour.
• Feelings of remorse or guilt, following sexual activity.
• Unusual increase in the frequency or intensity of sexual behaviour.
• An increase in mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
It is crucial to remember that liking sex and sexually stimulating activities does not make a person a sex addict, it is a normal healthy endeavour that should be enjoyed. Also, differing levels of sexual interest within a relationship does not mean that one partner has a sex addiction.
The causes of sex addiction are not fully understood. However, it is thought that they may include one or more of the following factors:
• High levels or an imbalance in brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine.
• Changes in the brain’s neural circuits or pathways.
• Medical conditions that affect the brain, including Parkinson’s, dementia, and epilepsy.
• A family history of addiction.
• Abuse: physical, sexual, or emotional abuse as a child or adolescent.
• A response to trauma or extreme stress.
Sex addiction is more common in men than women. On average, onset starts around 18 years of age, with sufferers generally waiting until mid to late 30’s before seeking professional help. It is suspected that over 75% of individuals presenting with sex addiction will have a history of other mental health conditions, including:
• Mood disorders such as depression or bipolar.
• Anxiety disorders.
• Suicidal ideation or attempted suicide.
• Personality disorders.
• Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
• Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
• Substance use disorders.
• Other addictive and impulse control disorders.
Compulsive sexual behaviour tends to escalate over time and seeking help can feel embarrassing and demoralising. A trained professional will be discreet and not judge.
It is a good idea to ask for help, if you feel your behaviour has gotten out of control, if it is harmful to you, or hurting those around you.
If you think you need help, ask yourself the following questions:
• Am I struggling to manage my sexual impulses?
• Am I disgusted or appalled by my behaviour?
• Am I hiding or being dishonest about my sexual activities?
• Is my sexual behaviour impacting on other areas of my life? (Relationships, health, hobbies, work.)
Here at our luxury rehabilitation centre, set on the beautiful Spanish island of Ibiza, we have a highly qualified team experienced in a range of therapies for treating both process and substance addiction. We also treat anxiety, depression, trauma, and other conditions affecting mental health.
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