Well apparently, according to the online test provided by the International Institute for Trauma and Addition Professionals, I am. I guess this means that I should probably be more honest while taking these surveys, but I’m going to accept this verdict as a professional diagnosis and show the results to my boyfriend—I’m sure it will probably make his day.
Except…I’m not. Sexual addiction, like all forms of addiction, is actually a very serious issue. Psychologist Patrick Carnes estimated that sexual addiction afflicts an estimated 12% of the total population, with males making up a generous portion of that hypersexual global slice.
Stereotyped consensus has portrayed the life of a sex addict as one prolonged sybaritic adventure in 50 cent’s candy shop. For those who haven’t see the music video, it essentially depicts 50 cent strutting around in a gangsterly fashion in his own personal brothel. In rooms that look like they have been designed by a 15 year old boy playing Sims, viewers see girls with four-dimensional butts breaking out in choreographed dances or pouring chocolate over each other in a seductive manner. This is a more accurate description for the environment of a nymphomaniac, which has no clear definition but according to Urban Dictionary is someone who is pretty much just horny all the time.
Sexual addiction, however, is far from a rollicking good time. The daily challenges of a real sex addict are crippling and are rooted in the same types of issues that lead to other addictions such as alcoholism or compulsive gambling. Addicts will engage in behavior like excessive masturbation, hiring prostitutes, having affairs outside of a relationship, exhibitionism, and even sexual abuse or rape.
Patrick Carnes, a psychologist in the late 1970s, was one of the first to identify hypersexualism as a real form of addiction rather than a voracious appetite with a happy ending. Like other types of addiction, such as alcoholism, the object of abuse becomes a means of escaping feelings of anxiety, boredom, or insomnia. Carnes also found that sex addicts were likely to be victims of childhood sexual abuse. More recent studies confirm this to be true up to 80% of the time.
Sexual addiction may even be coupled with alcoholism, drug abuse, and eating disorders as a supplementary way of dealing with pain. Carnes explains, “the addict has learned to rely on sex for comfort from pain, for nurturing, or relief from stress.” Addicts may also attempt to neutralize feelings of shame by punishing themselves with degrading sexual acts—often so degrading they feel too mortified to talk to anyone and consequently, don’t seek help for a long time. Suicidal tendencies are often associated with more severe cases.
Another striking similarity that sexual addiction shares with other more “mainstream” types of addiction is the periodic commitment with trying to “cold-turkey” the addiction into oblivion. Essentially, this is when the addict switches from sexual release to sexual control in a futile attempt to quell the addiction. This inevitably fails and the addict lapses back into sexual release in a cycle that generally can only be ruptured by professional help.
Sexual addiction has been fortified by the advent of the Internet, which has become the ideal venue for addicts to assuage their frustrations. The Internet provides them with secrecy, anonymity, and a virtually infinite repertoire of fantasy material to avoid boredom. This limitless playground quickly facilitates the escalation of the addiction. In a way, this can be a deceptive benefit since it allows the addict to reach their breaking point and face the consequences more quickly, meaning they will seek help earlier on than addicts searching for release through different mediums.
The Internet, with its indiscriminate arsenal of erotic material, has done its part to level off the male-dominated bias in sexual addiction. According to Kelly McDaniel, a professional counselor in Texas, pornography has become increasingly appealing to women and is “gender-neutral” in terms of its addictive capacity. Teenagers are also opting for porn as they develop their sexuality, making it more difficult for them, at an earlier age, to derive sexual pleasure from a relationship. This crystallizes a response mechanism that is activated only from pornographic stimuli—which creepily reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s lethal Entertainment (from his novel Infinite Jest), a movie that’s so chemically captivating that its incapacitated vegetating viewers can’t stop watching it. In other words, sex addicts who derive satisfaction from certain types of porn are learning to become sexually attached to objects rather than people.
The recovering sex addict might find him/herself in a 12-step program fashioned in the mold of Alcoholics Anonymous. However, although these are the most commonly used treatment regimes, according to psychologist Dr. Sam Alibrando from California, they seem to be less successful for helping sexual addicts. Dr. Alibrando suggests that this may be because sex is more difficult to give up than other substances. Sex therapy also aims to lessen the amount of sex that addicts are having, as well as reconfiguring the way they think about it. The goal is to learn how to have sex in a relationship, rather than complete abstinence.