When we hear stories of sex addiction in the media and even in addiction literature, we frequently hear of a particular type of sex addict—a man, usually white, probably of middle or higher income. But the truth is that sexual addiction does not discriminate. You do not need to be financially well-positioned to fall prey to sex addiction; it can happen to the poor or the rich, to the young or to the old. It can happen to soccer moms as well as young, single guys. It can happen to anyone. It is estimated that 3 percent to 6 percent of Americans suffer from sex addiction, accounting for fantasy sex, seductive role sex, anonymous sex, paid sex, traded sex, voyeuristic sex, exhibitionist sex, intrusive sex, exploitive sex, pornography addiction, chronic masturbation, etc. While some worry that a diagnosis of sex addiction has become the label du jour—that celebrities and ordinary folks alike might be using it to “excuse bad behavior”—more people than ever are reaching out for help for this sometimes debilitating problem. There is a distinction between those who make the mistake of cheating, for example, and those who have legitimate compulsions they cannot control.
Technology and Sex Addiction
Smartphones that provide access to texting and email, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and dozens of other social networking sites, make connecting to others fast and easy. Dating sites of every variety provide mobile apps for phones, so that you can check your Grindr, Tinder or OkCupid account right from the office. And even parents are observed taking and sending “selfies.” Technology is no longer the domain of a few; it has become a cultural phenomenon. Everybody’s doing it. Jonathan Alpert, psychotherapist and author of the New York-based advice column, “No More Drama,” has said, “Technology has made sex more accessible, and as a result, can fuel sex addiction.” These devices and the social networking sites they make so accessible can compound the problem for individuals who already have a problem with impulse control, because the use of technology itself can become habit-forming for many. Addiction to cybersex, which falls under pornography addiction, involves a “non-contact sexual episode through private chats, either with or without a video connection.” Younger and younger children are being exposed to pornography via the Internet (the average age a boy views pornography in the U.S. is now 11), increasing the odds for pornography addiction, especially because (due to an undeveloped pre-frontal cortex in the brain) young people have less impulse control, and therefore a greater likelihood of becoming addicted.
Speaking the Truth About Sex Addiction
“Sex sells,” as they say in advertising, and so we see sex all around us—in magazines, on billboards, in TV and movies, in song lyrics: it’s everywhere. Despite our nation’s puritanical origins, or perhaps because of them, we have become obsessed with sex and sexual imagery. Strangely, information about sexual compulsion is scarce; individuals who find themselves repeatedly acting out sexually, who can’t stop, are often unaware they have a problem. There is a growing sense of cultural awareness around alcoholism and substance abuse, but problems with sex remain in the shadows. No one wants to talk about these things, despite how intriguing they may be in the movies. This has made sex addiction difficult for people to understand and hard for professionals to diagnose. In her practice, Connie Stapleton, a psychologist and author in Augusta, Georgia, says that a “yes” answer to the following question may indicate sexual addiction: “Has your sexual behavior caused problems in your life—for example, negatively affected your personal relationships, resulted in legal charges, resulted in termination from your job—and if so, have you continued the behavior, knowing the problems were caused by, or made worse by, your engaging in that behavior?” To those who do not suffer from compulsive sexual tendencies, these negative consequences may seem so painful as to make any behavior unthinkable. But for addicts, it can feel like there is no other choice. The urge, the craving, the addiction, rules—nothing else matters. There is a ray of light amid these heavy grey clouds. As with alcoholism, substance abuse, gambling or overeating, there is treatment for sexual addiction. Addicts can recover. The biggest hurdle, as with any other addiction, is in breaking through the dense wall of denial that shields the addiction and finding that long-needed moment of clarity—and within it, to see finally the truth: I am a sex addict. The truth is so powerful, more powerful than any addiction. It will take you where you need to go to be well, but only if you’re brave enough to hear and speak it.