Are you a sex addict?                       To Home Page

 

Ten signs that point to a problem

* A pattern of out-of-control behavior

* Severe consequences due to sexual behavior

* Inability to stop despite adverse consequences

* Persistent pursuit of self-destructive or high-risk behavior

* Ongoing desire or effort to limit sexual behavior

* Sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy

* Increasing numbers of sexual experiences because the current level of activity is no longer sufficient

* Severe mood changes around sexual activity

* Inordinate amounts of time spent in obtaining sex, being sexual, or recovering from sexual experiences

* Neglect of important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of sexual behavior

SOURCE: Don't Call It Love: Recovery From Sexual Addition by Partick Carnes

 

 

Sex and Love Addiction

 

The symptoms of a person with an addiction to sex and love are varied but usually center on several issues.  According to Griffin-Shelley (1991), the "high" or "fix" for sex and love addicts is found in "cruising" (looking for another), "intriguing" (fantasizing), and "chasing" (attempting to initiate a relationship).  Individuals are regarded as sex and love addicted when they engage in behavior that is experienced as disgusting, demeaning, and against their better judgment; is ritualized, obsessive, and causes duress if interrupted; and is void of joy and emotions.  

 

Twelve Questions About Sex Addiction

This quiz is from a newsletter published by the National Association On Sexual Addiction Problems, and is highly regarded by most sexual addiction support groups.  An affirmative answer to any of these questions might indicate that a sexual addiction problem exists.

1.  Do you sense that your sexual thoughts and behaviors are causing problems in your life?

2.  Have your sexual thought/behavior interfered with your ability to function at home, school or work?

3.  Do you fail to meet commitments or to carry out responsibilities due to your sexual behaviors or thoughts?

4.  Do you struggle to control your sexual thoughts/behaviors, only to find that you've failed time and again?

5.  Do you spend more money that you can afford on sexual activities or on sexually explicit materials?

6.  Do you feel guilty or shameful after engaging in sexual activity or fantasy?

7.  Do you risk danger by not taking precautions or by going to unsafe places in order to have sex?

8.  Has an important relationship in your life ended because of your inability to curtail sexual activities in or outside of the relationship?

9.  Do you engage in sexual activities in places where you are likely to bee seen by strangers?

10  Have you ever been arrested as a result of your sexual activity?

11. Has your pursuit of sex become more compulsive and ritualized?

12.  Do you resort to sex to escape, relieve anxiety or just to cope with problems?

 

 

Characteristics of Sex and Love Addiction

1.  Having few healthy boundaries, we become sexually involved with and/or emotionally attached to people without knowing them.

2.  Fearing abandonment and loneliness, we stay in or return to painful destructive relationships, concealing our dependency needs from ourselves and others, growing more isolated and alienated from God, ourselves, and loved ones.

3.  Fearing emotional and/or sexual deprivation, we compulsively pursue and involve ourselves in one relationship after another, sometimes having more than one sexual or emotional liaison at a time.

4.  We confuse love with neediness, physical and sexual attraction, pity and/or the need to rescue or be rescued.

5.  We feel empty and incomplete when we are alone.  Even though we fear intimacy and commitment, we continually search for relationships or sexual contacts.

6.  We sexualize stress, guilt, loneliness, anger, fear, and envy.  We use sex or emotional dependence as a substitute for nurturing, care, and support.

7.  We use sex and emotional involvement to manipulate and control others.

8.  We become immobilized or seriously distracted by romantic and sexual obsessions or fantasies.

8.  We avoid responsibility for ourselves by attaching ourselves to people who are emotionally unavailable.

10.  We stay enslaved to emotional dependency, romantic intrigue or compulsive sexual activities.  Our lives become unmanageable.

11.  To avoid feeling vulnerable, we retreat from all intimate involvement, mistaking sexual and emotional anorexia for recovery.

12.  We assign magical qualities to others.  We idealize and pursue them, then blame them for not fulfilling our fantasies and expectations.

 

What is Acting Out?

Acting out is becoming involved (or re-involved) with addictive "bottom-line" behavior.  Addictive indulgence is hallmarked by loss of control over rate, frequency, or duration of bottom-line behavior.  This loss of control always leads to negative self-destructive consequences which, over time, continue to worse.  Acting out patterns, and therefore "bottom-line" behavior, can differ markedly among individual sex and love addicts.  This acting out behavior can run the range from obvious promiscuity, involving countless individuals; to solitary acts such as compulsive masturbation, voyeurism, and exhibitionism; to obsessive commitments to fantasy and romantic intrigue.  It may include hyper-dependency problems involving one (or many) individuals.  Some acting out patterns can involve all of the above, but more often a "bottom-line" acting out scenario highlights one or two major areas.

 

Signs of Recovery

Individual patterns of sex and love addiction vary, therefore patterns of recovery also vary.  Generally, recovery from bottom-line behavior is the return of choice, sanity and personal dignity.  Here are some of the signs of recovery:

1.  We seek to develop a daily relationship with a Higher Power, knowing that we are not alone in our efforts to heal ourselves from our addiction.

2.  We are willing to be vulnerable because the capacity to trust has been restored to us by our faith in a Higher Power.

3.  We surrender, one day at a time, our whole life strategy of, and our obsession with, the pursuit of romantic and sexual intrigue and emotional dependency.

4.  We learn to avoid situations which may put us at risk physically, morally, psychologically or spiritually.

5.  We learn to accept and love ourselves, to take care of our own needs, and to put responsibility for our own lives first.

6.  We become willing to ask for help, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and learning to trust and accept others.

7.  We allow ourselves to work through the pain of our low self-esteem and our fear of abandonment and responsibility, thereby learning to feel comfortable in  solitude.

8.  We begin to accept our imperfections and mistakes as part of being human, healing our shame and perfectionism while working on our character defects.

9.  We begin to find honest instead of self-destructive ways of expressing emotions and feelings.

10.  We become honest in expressing who we are and in developing true intimacy in our relationships with others.

11.  We learn to value sex as a by-product of sharing, commitment, trust and cooperation in a partnership

12.  We are restored to sanity, on a daily basis, by participating in the process of recovery.

From:   The Augustine Fellowship, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Fellowship-Wide Services, Inc., Boston.

 

 

Sexual Disorders

Links

bulletYahoo's Sexual Disorders Links
bulletDr. Ruth Online - Get advice from the inimitable Dr. Ruth, with tips, a Q&A section, details of her favorite books, videos, and web sites.
bulletGo Ask Alice! - From Healthwise at Columbia University, with FAQs, information, and email advice on sexual health, sexuality, and relationships.
bulletHealthGate Healthy Sexuality - Nicely presented zine with loads of informative and interesting articles on sexuality, relationships, dating, and sexual health.
bulletImpotence - Erectile Dysfunction - Comprehensive site which includes the anatomy of the penis and physiology of erections, info on Peyronie's disease, and advice about treatments.
bulletKinsey Institute - Institute devoted to the research of human sexuality. Features a library and a catalog, research projects, training info and clinic links.
bulletPlanned Parenthood - Resources on sexual & reproductive health, contraception, family planning, abortion and STDs, including HIV.
bulletSex Education for Women - Info from the Univ. of Toronto Sexual Education Centre. Contains FAQs about pelvic examination and resources female anatomy.
bulletSexual Database - A glossary of terms and meanings and an encyclopedia on sexuality, anatomy, and sexual health. Includes hot topics and search facility.
bulletSexual Health InfoCenter - Find comprehensive sexual-health and sexuality advice. Includes lovemaking, a safer-sex guide and an overview of sexuality and aging.
bulletSexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. - Sexuality Information and Education Council affirms sexuality as healthy, and presents details of programs and resources for parents.
bulletSex Addiction Recovery Resources - Sex Therapy - Books, videos phone-counselling and counselling in his rooms are on offer by this sex therapist in Texas.
 

 

Addiction to Pornography

(Written by a recovering sex addict)

Introduction

You have an addiction. It isn't a public addiction, like alcoholism. With alcoholism, the last person to know he is an alcoholic is the alcoholic. Support groups exist for alcoholics. If you go to Alcoholics Anonymous, people support you because they know you are seeking help.

But you are addicted to pornography, and pornography addiction is a secret thing. You may be the only one who knows you are addicted. If you went to a support group for pornography addicts, and your friends found out, or if your spouse found out, they might be very disappointed in you. You might hurt feelings, break hearts. Friends and family probably don't know you're addicted to pornography. They probably think you're a fine, upstanding, loving man. You know what? They're probably right.

You see, pornography addicts come from all walks of life. They're blue collar laborers and white collar executives; they're handsome and they're homely; they're Christian, Jewish, and atheist; they're all races and creeds. They're single, they're married and they're fathers. They can be lazy couch potatoes, and they can be diligent community volunteers.

Some want to control their addiction and some do not.

You want to control your addiction.

I say "control" your addiction, because you need to realize you will never "eliminate" your addiction -- you will always be addicted. When I refer to breaking your addiction, I mean it in the same sense you might break a horse. Breaking a horse means you gain control over it -- it submits to your will. You don't take it out and shoot it.

You're like a diabetic. Diabetes won't go away (at least no one has found a cure yet), but it can be controlled.

"But that's not fair," you say. "Why do I have this addiction?" It isn't fair. Diabetes isn't fair either. It's just one of the inconveniences of being human. Some people get it, some people don't. But just because you get it, doesn't mean you should give in to it. And you've got pornography addiction. You always will -- it won't go away. But you can control it. And by control, I don't mean you can reduce the amount of pornography you look at. I mean you can stop looking at, listening to, or seeking out pornography all together. But it is going to take effort. It is going to take commitment. It is going to take resolution that you won't give up, no matter how discouraging it gets. It is going to take prayer. It is going to take time.

Most addicts have been controlled by pornography most of their lives. That's a lot of programming to overcome. In fact, you may want to seek professional counseling for your addiction. The only challenge with counseling is that some therapists don't have the experience to help you, and many do not even think you need help. Many professionals don't consider pornography addiction a problem. Certainly not to the degree that you understand it to be. Oh, and one more thing: professionals can cost $125 an hour.

So I'm writing this little brochure because I think it can help you. It's short. It's to the point. It contains what has worked for me, and I hope and pray it works for you. You see, I'm addicted to pornography too. But I was lucky; after years of praying and searching, I found a counselor who understood my desire to control my addiction. Like me, he believed that at the very least, pornography made it difficult to get close to God and to live the type of happy life I was seeking.

It's taken several years, hundreds of dollars in therapy fees and lots of prayer, but today I am in more control than I have ever been. Using what I have learned from my therapist and incorporating my own experience, I have developed a very simple plan that helps me get through each day, one day at a time. I hope it can help you.

Dealing with the Guilt

Chances are, you are probably extremely hard on yourself. Your addiction can be discouraging, and can seriously damage your self-esteem. You may go for a few weeks or months without a problem, and then -- Whammo! -- you fall in the hole again. And when you're in a hole, it's easy to feel very worthless.

All I can say is, don't beat yourself up! You aren't perfect. God knows what you are trying to accomplish here. You are trying to overcome an addiction, an addiction that didn't develop overnight. Don't expect to gain control over your addiction overnight. I didn't develop my plan in one day; I developed my plan after years of trying, failing and learning. Give yourself a break.

Think of it this way. You are taking steps to change your life for the better. You are going to feel closer to God during this process of change than you have in a long time. As you prayerfully seek his assistance in changing your life, you might also ask him to help you keep your progress in perspective. Are you seeking out pornography every day? Then going two days without seeking it out is a major accomplishment! Recognize that, because God certainly does.

He wants you to succeed, and he'll help you get to the point where you have control of your life again. But right now, he knows your weaknesses. He loves you more than you can understand, despite your mistakes.

Being clean three days does not excuse sinning on the fourth, but you need to understand that you have actually accomplished something positive. And you can do much better next time.

My personal plan helps me focus on the goal, much more than on the problem. That's why it works for me, and I hope it works for you. I think it will. When you focus on a goal, and reward your own successes, you are going to experience an increased sense of self worth. Determine at the outset that when you occasionally stumble (because you will -- at first), you will pick yourself up and not give up. Your own plan might need some adjustments, but DON'T GIVE UP! If you've been addicted ten years, it's going to take a long time to change patterns. Start again, one day at a time.

Each day that you succeed will increase your self worth, and give you added strength to succeed tomorrow. So don't worry about succeeding tomorrow. Just worry about succeeding today, and rewarding yourself tonight.

Controlling Your Thoughts

Pornography addiction begins in your mind. Some people think about it and some people don't. For many people, pornography doesn't interest them, just like auto mechanics or gardening might not interest you. But for the pornography addict, pornography is extremely interesting.

You might not be someone who spends a lot of time thinking lustful thoughts. Lustful thoughts can certainly increase your desire to find pornography. But that might not be your particular spark.

Maybe you associate feelings of insecurity or loneliness with sex. Some people, when they're feeling lonely, turn to masturbation or pornography. Such simulated sex makes them feel un-lonely, at least for a little while. If that's your situation, you need to realize that loneliness is part of life. Even the most happily married man in the world feels lonely once in a while.

Create an action plan for the times you are alone. Learn to enjoy being alone. Do housework, or study, or exercise. Get out of the house and get your heart pumping. Don't worry about whether you'll be tempted again when you get back. You're not exercising to keep from seeking out pornography -- you're exercising because you enjoy it, you are alone and now is the perfect opportunity.

Find things you love to do, that you can do when you're alone.

Controlling your thoughts is like driving down the freeway. Have you ever driven at a high speed and suddenly heard your tires thumping over the reflectors on the lane's dividing line? You hadn't noticed yourself swerving out of your lane, but now you hear the warning of the bumps under your tires. So what do you do? Probably, without even thinking, you correct your steering and pull away from the line.

That's what you are trying to do with your thoughts. Whenever you get in a situation that might tempt you to indulge in pornography, you need to make adjustments in your thinking and actions to get you away from danger. At first that will take a great deal of effort, but as your instincts improve, you'll find yourself steering clear of hazards with hardly any thought at all.

Let's say you are staying in a hotel that offers adult programming on television. Well, most hotels also allow you to disconnect adult programming. You probably need to call the front desk the moment you arrive in your room and ask them to disconnect the service. Even though you aren't tempted when you arrive, late at night you might be, and you want to make sure it is unavailable. You may have to do the same thing 20 years from now, even though it's been two decades since you've sought out pornography -- remember, you're an addict; you will always be addicted. You will always have to take precautions.

You are an addict. You have a disease. You have to take efforts every day to avoid pornography. Maybe you have to cancel your World Wide Web account.

There are things that you aren't strong enough to resist. You'll get stronger and wiser, but right now you may have to deny yourself some things. Listen to your thoughts. Are you rationalizing? Pay attention to the things you rationalize -- they're probably the very things where you are weakest.

Fill your mind with something uplifting when you catch an unpleasant thought creeping onto the stage of your mind. Maybe you can sing a sacred song to yourself, or recite an inspiring poem or scripture.

Just remember, every day for the rest of your life, you need to actively resist pornography. So, here is my plan.

One Day at a Time

Start today. My plan works best if you start today and don't put it off. Make sure you have gotten rid of any pornography in your home. Throw it out. If it's around, you will fail. Remember, right now you are weak. You have to resist each day.

When you've finished reading this paper and understand the plan, take time to pray. You need to appeal to a higher power if you hope to succeed. Prayer draws you closer to God and will give you extra strength. In fact, at times God will come to your aid and intervene to protect you if he knows you are sincerely trying and depending on him.

Don't worry that you don't feel worthy to talk with God. He still wants you to pray to him. So, if you aren't a praying man, become one. And if you feel like you've come to him so many times already, let him know that you have a new plan, and you want his help in accomplishing it.

I believe that a personal prayer, rather than a recited one, is more powerful. In your own words, explain to God that you're addicted to pornography, and that you will do everything you can to control your addiction, but that you need his help to make up the difference.

Pray in whatever way you are most comfortable, but if you don't know how to pray, you might try this process:

Address Heavenly Father
Thank him for the blessings he has given you
Confess your sins and ask his forgiveness
Ask for what you need. Ask for his help in controlling your addiction
Close in the Lord's name and say "Amen"

Now, determine how much you can afford to pay yourself each day. Fifty cents? A dollar? Two dollars? It depends on your personal budget, but what you are doing is saving for a big reward. Pay yourself each day that you avoid pornography.

Your goal is to give yourself something great after your first 100 days. And it needs to be something totally extravagant that you would never spend money on otherwise. Maybe its in-line skates or a day of skiing.

Your goal will increase. Your first goal is to go 100 days. After you've made it, your next goal will be to reward yourself after 250 days. And then reward yourself once a year. So each year you will have $365 to spend on something purely fun.

Every night, after I say my prayers, I take a one dollar bill out of an envelope I keep in my sock drawer, and put it in my bank. It's a great feeling. Every once in a while I take the money out of the bank and count it. That's how many days I've gone without seeking pornography. And I keep a tally of when I spend it so I know when I've gone more than a year in a row successfully.

But what happens when you fail? Well, you have to give the money away. Pick a charity. Maybe it's your church, maybe it's your political party, maybe it's a local arts group or a service organization. But pick a charity. When you fail, you're going to send them all the money in your bank.

AND THEN YOU ARE GOING TO START AGAIN!

That's all there is to it. That's my plan.

Eliminate all the pornography in your home
Pray for help
Determine how much you can afford to save each day
Pick a reward for yourself after the first 100 days
Make or buy a bank to save your money in
Pay yourself each day that you successfully avoid pornography
If you stumble, give all the money in your bank to your favorite charity
After 100 days of success, reward yourself
After the next 250 days, reward yourself
Reward yourself each subsequent year for the rest of your life

Don't beat yourself up when you stumble. Remember that what you are trying to accomplish is a major undertaking. You can do it. And as you progress, God will bless your life with incredible joy. You will become more self disciplined, and you will be happier than you have ever been. God bless us all with success.

 

How do I know if I'm addicted to pornography?

The following questions are excerpted and adapted from Hope and Recovery-A Twelve Step Guide for Healing From Compulsive Sexual Behavior. These questions do not constitute a standardized test designed to diagnose addiction. Those who answer yes to many of these questions will find that they have common experiences with pornography addicts. It is the hope of the authors of these questions that those who answer "Yes" to any of these questions will carefully consider the effects their sexual thoughts and behaviors have on their lives today. Those who do have concerns about their sexual thoughts and behaviors need to know that they can get help and support.

 
 Yes No  
    Do you sense that your sexual thoughts and/or behaviors are causing problems in your life?
    Have sexual thoughts interfered with your ability to function at work or at school?
    Do you worry that your sexual thoughts and/or behaviors are more powerful than you are?
    Do you sometimes think that you are the only person who has certain sexual thoughts or engages in certain sexual behaviors?
    Do you fail to meet commitments or fail to carry out responsibilities because of your involvement with pornography?
    Do you struggle to control or completely stop your thinking about or viewing pornography?
    Do you view pornography in order to escape, deny, or numb your feelings?
    Do you think about sex more than you would like to?
    Do you spend more money than you can afford to spend on pornography?
    Does it seem as though there is another person or force inside of you that drives you to pornography?
    Do you have two standards of fidelity -- one for yourself and one for your spouse or partner?
    Do you feel empty or shameful after viewing or masturbating using pornography?
    Have you ever promised yourself that you would never again view pornography?
    Do you use pornography to deal with, deny, or avoid problems in your life?
    Do you risk legal problems in order to view pornography?
    Do you anxiously anticipate or fear trips out of town because of what you think you might do sexually while you're away?
    When you have child care responsibilities, do you put a higher priority on masturbating or being sexual than you do on the welfare of the child(ren) in your care?
    Do your sexual thoughts and/or behaviors interfere with your spiritual or religious life? Do your sexual thoughts and/or behaviors cause you to believe that you don't deserve to have a religious or spiritual life?
    Have you lost a job or risked losing a job because of your involvement with pornography?
    Do you scan printed material (novels, newspapers, magazines) or change channels on the television set just to find something that will stimulate you sexually?
    Do you regularly view pornography or engage in fantasies involving self-abuse or other kinds of physical abuse?
    Do you dig through other people's garbage to find pornography?
    Would you rather masturbate than be sexual with a partner?
    Do you drive around unfamiliar neighborhoods (cruise) hoping to find places where pornography is available?
    Do you look at pornography or masturbate while driving?
    Have you replaced a collection of pornographic material after destroying one collection and vowing never to purchase pornography again?
    Has an important relationship in your life ended because of your inability to stop looking at pornography?

 

 

"Sex Addiction"    from The Advocate

Author: Ted Gideonse
Issue: May 26, 1998

 

Whether it's an addiction or a compulsion, some people can't stop having sex--and they're finding the repercussions last far past the orgasm

When George Michael was arrested April 7 on a charge of engaging in a lewd act in a park bathroom in Beverly Hills, the tabloids went wild. The New York Post's April 9 cover screamed DOWN AND OUTED IN BEVERLY HILLS, and the banner for the article inside was ZIP ME UP BEFORE YOU GO GO. Much fun was made, mostly because Michael had always been coy about his sexuality, never really making a firm statement about which gender he preferred. Boy George told Michael not to be ashamed. "We are sisters under the skin, " he wrote in an open letter published in The [London] Express after the arrest.

The shock, though, was not so much that Michael was gay. Rumors about that had been circulating for years, and in an interview last year he talked about his love for a male Brazilian fashion designer who died of a brain hemorrhage in 1993. What everyone kept asking was, "What the heck was he doing in a bathroom?" This is a wealthy, talented, attractive man. If he was doing what he is accused of, if he was trying to pick up a man in a public rest room, then how down on his luck must he have been that a toilet stall was his best bet for human hip? A few people wondered aloud, Is George Michael a sex addict?

When Michael talked to CNN a few days after his arrest and said he is gay, he also implied, without coming right out and saying so, that he has a problem. "I think it was the danger of the situation that must have compelled me to do it, because it was absolutely compulsive, " Michael said to interviewer Jim Moret. Earlier in the interview Michael had said, "I won't even say that it was the first time that happened. You know, I have put myself in that position before. I can only apologize. I can try to fathom why I did it, to understand my own sexuality a bit better, but, ultimately, part of me has to believe that some of the kick was the fact I might get found.... I feel stupid and reckless and weak for having allowed my sexuality to be exposed this way."

While it is impossible to know what is going on in Michael's mind, his words are similar to those used by many sex addicts to describe some of their worst actions and how they felt when they hit bottom.

Reaction to the Michael incident epitomizes a recurring debate among gay men and lesbians concerning differing interpretations of sex addiction and sexual freedom. Talk to therapists and self-identifying addicts, and they say Michael must be a sex addict. Talk to Keith Griffith, Web master of www.cruisingforsex.com, the site that described the park in Beverly Hills as having "an exceedingly cruisy men's room," and you'll hear anger. "The question I wish the cops would be asked," Griffith says, "is why they waste so much tax money on this type of activity."

Griffith and many other gays, such as members of Sex Panic!--a free-sex advocacy group established in 1997--see public sex as the solution to centuries of sexual repression. But equally as many gay men and lesbians equate public sex with something quite different--addiction. By relegating sex and love to the literal gutter, they say, bathrooms and sex clubs are the ultimate repression.

As an idea, sex addiction arrived with political baggage. Events of the 1960s and `70s, when gay men and lesbians first started to come out in large numbers and when so many people were fighting in the sexual revolution, led to the disappearance of some so-called sexual mental illnesses--namely, homosexuality and nymphomania--from the bible of mental health, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as the DSM. Other problems that involved having too little or insufficiently pleasurable sex, such as impotence and premature ejaculation, were added. But then, with the epidemics of venereal diseases such as herpes, syphilis, and, later, AIDS, there was a reaction against the free and easy sexual lifestyle--the lifestyle that gay men and lesbians came out into and historically consider part of their golden age. People were having too much sex, and bad things were happening.

"In the `70s sexual behavior didn't represent pathology," says sociologist John Gangnon of State University of New York at Stony Brook. "But in the `90s, because of the AIDS risk, having a large number of partners is [considered] wrong. This seems to me to be the wrong construction."

Still, sexual addiction is a concept that took hold. And it may have been helped along in the backlash atmosphere of the early `80s by Patrick Carnes's seminal book on the subject, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. To Carnes, sex addicts have a "pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience." They can't stop having sex; they can't stop seeking it out, thinking about it, doing anything within their power to get off all the time.

"Sex was the only thing that was important to me," says Ken, who has been in recovery for sex addiction for ten years. "It was like trying to eat only sugar. It may fill you up, but you starve anyway." Addicts, experts say, will continue their behavior even when faced with horrible consequences, such as the loss of their family, jobs, freedom, and lives. They are out of control and feel powerless. "I was starving," Ken says, "and I was on the verge of suicide."

The causes can be many, experts say. Sexual abuse at a young age, emotional abandonment by one or both parents, shame over homosexuality--or just sexuality in general--can all lead to psychological spirals that end up in sexual addiction. It's often compounded by other addictions. Many addicts begin looking for approval or love or affection through sex, then end up needing it so much that sex becomes their only goal in life.

Self-esteem problems and childhood trauma ran be primary causes, but a culture that propels sexuality into all corners of life and peers who encourage or, to use the self-help term, "enable" are also partly responsible. Some activists say this is especially true in the gay and lesbian community, where free and easy sex is almost a rite of passage. For Eric, a 28-year-old resident of West Hollywood, Calif., his sex addiction, which had at first been based in masturbation, mushroomed after he moved to Los Angeles and became involved with a man who frequented sex clubs and bathhouses. "These activities are obviously very common for gay men," Eric says. "But I was using them as tools to isolate myself and shut myself off from the important people in my life, most importantly my boyfriend." He began going to orgy clubs and bathhouses all the time and eventually began to hire prostitutes. He finally admitted something was wrong when he tested positive for HIV in December. Although he soon found it was a false positive, he calls it "the straw that broke the camel's back." He ended up at a clinic and has been "sober" for five months.

Bathrooms and parks, bathhouses and bars, chat rooms and sex lines are our meeting places. And as Gabriel Rotello, pointed out in an October 15, 1996, Advocate column, some AIDS charities raise money by promoting and sponsoring circuit parties that exist primarily as delivery devices for disco drugs and anonymous sex. "The gay culture is so encouraging of that behavior that the person who might be questioning it doesn't really have the support, resources, and access to say, `Maybe this isn't OK; maybe there's something wrong with this,'" says Robert Weiss, clinical director of the Sexual Recovery Institute of Los Angeles, who studied under Carnes and served on a police commissioner-appointed committee to discuss public sex and related arrests in Los Angeles. (It was as a reaction to recent criticism of the highly sexed state of gay male culture that activists formed Sex Panic!)

Still, it isn't just the gay community that sometimes takes issue with sex addiction. The term itself hasn't hit the right chord with all psychiatric professionals either. Sex isn't a substance, and one can be addicted only to a substance, many addiction specialists will say. It should be considered sexual compulsion, sexual impulsivity, or a variation on obsessive-compulsive disorder, they say. Gangnon won't go even that far. "I'm against the medicalization or psychologizing of people's behaviors," he says. "It seems to me people do things for a lot of reasons. Nobody would have thought about unsafe sex among gay men as an addiction if HIV wasn't out there."

But some experts on sex addiction say it does involve a substance--brain chemicals that bombard the body during orgasm. "It's a psychobiological process that involves arousal and a neurological high," Weiss says. "In strict psychiatric terms it is not a compulsion. Sexual compulsion is really a misnomer. Compulsions are things that people do over and over again that don't give pleasure, like hand washing or checking to see if the stove is off. Addictions are behaviors done repetitively that cause detriment and bring pleasure." The disagreement over what to call this behavior is apparent in the absence of sexual addiction from the current DSM; there is only the category "Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified."

Society, though, sometimes moves faster than professional publications. After 1983 sex-addiction recovery groups started springing up all over the country. Each group is slightly different, and they each have different cultures, but they all basically follow the same guidelines and principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

As much as their affliction is debated, sexual addicts' stories are compelling. Tom, who lives in Oregon, talks about how sex was a substitute for the love he really wanted. "My first introduction to sex," he says, "was cruising the men's rest room. It was easy and safe to casually glance over to the other men who were using the rest room legitimately. It was not long before I found men who were willing to `act out' sexually with me. When I did engage in sex with these people, I felt I was cared for and loved. Soon I began cruising for sex in public rest rooms whenever I had the free time away from school and family."

After he graduated from high school, Tom met the man who is now his partner. They were living together, and during the "honeymoon" period of the relationship, Tom says, he was able to keep his addiction under control. But he soon found himself in the bathrooms again. Tom admitted he had a problem when he could no longer have sex with his partner. He went to counseling, and it didn't work. "I merely lied and continued to act out," he says. When he hit bottom last April, he went to a 12-step group as a "last-ditch effort." So far it's worked, he says. "Sex addict ion would have eventually killed me and my partner too, because I was unwilling to disclose to him what I was participating in. I would have contracted HIV and given it to my partner, and then we both would have died. Period."

For those for whom a 12-step group is not enough (or for those who have enough money), sexual addiction has spawned a number of in-patient recovery clinics, such as the Sexual Recovery Center of Los Angeles and River Oaks Hospital in New Orleans. "Sexual addiction, sexual compulsion--it's pretty much the same thing," says Carol Ross, a sexual-recovery therapist at Sierra Tucson in Arizona, one of the best-known clinics. While several kinds of therapy are used--including cognitive-behavior, body-image, and movement therapy--most of the treatment revolves around group activities and group therapy. "Sex addiction is a way to isolate oneself from other people," Ross says. "While on the surface they're involved with a lot of people, they're involved only to a very limited extent. They don't allow [the other people] to see much of themselves below the surface."

Recurrence is common, even after clinic stays or years in a 12-step program, as illustrated in Carnes's 1991 book Don't Call It Love: Recovery From Sexual Addiction. He tells the story of a patient, a successful psychologist, who was so addicted and anxiety-ridden by his addiction that on the way to a support group meeting, he stopped in a park and had unsafe oral sex with a stranger. Driving to Carnes's office, he became so distressed and scared by the event that he forced himself to vomit up the semen. While vomiting he lost control of his car and crashed into a truck.

This is an extreme example, to be sure, but just take a look around any gay bar in America at closing time and watch the men spinning around the pool table desperate for attention, affection, and sex--the same men night after night. You'll probably ask yourself why they don't just leave. The answer is much more difficult than many of us are willing to admit.

 

RELATED ARTICLE:  Lesbian sex parties and clubs Pushing the envelope

"As a rule the whole culture of cruising in public spaces doesn't exist for women," says New York--based sex writer Tristan Taormino. Nor is sex addiction a big lesbian issue. For lesbians who simply enjoy public sexual outlets, the search takes energy. If a gay woman doesn't mind being with men, she can tap into the mixed "swing" scene. But these parties may not be queer-friendly, even though women get it on there. While "bi-curious" women bound, a women may be welcome only with a male partner. ("I being a gay male friend along," says Taormino.)

What about women-only options? "In the '80s lesbian sex clubs would open and then close," says San Francisco-based party promoter Karlyn Lotney (a.k.a. Fairy Butch). "Sex isn't as much of a function for us as for men. We have too many lookers and not enough doers." But lesbians do flock every two weeks to the In Bed With Fairy Butch parties at San Francisco's CoCo Club, where sex advice, naked dancers, and a dating game create a campy but sexually charged atmosphere, "We succeed at setting up dates because we have lost of audience participation and no attitude," says Lotney. I'll go out of my way and debase myself to ensure that."

Taormino agrees that erotic dating nights, also held at venues like New York's Meow Mix, are the new wave of lesbian sex culture. "Dating games are an attempt to get women to interact sexually in public spaces. It's a signal that we want to push it."

 

RELATED ARTICLE:  Inhibition: A silent plague, The flip side

To assume all gay men are wildly sexual would be a gross exaggeration. In fact, complex forces can often interfere with a gay man's acting on his sexual feelings. While many people use sexual activity to help define and strengthen their identities, the young gay man raised in an area where homosexuality is condemned, for example, or where gay people are taunted may well fear acting on his sexual feelings.

Gay men raised with strong religious or cultural prohibitions about sex in general may have great inhibitions about acting on their sexual feelings. While some men do act like kids in a candy shop--and have as much sex as possible--when they first come out, others are shy, fear approaching others, expect rejection, repress their sexual feelings, or suffer sexual problems when they do attempt to have sex. Impotency, premature ejaculation, and pain during anal sex are just examples of the many sexual problems that may limit sexual activity.

Guilt--whether from fear of family disapproval or religious, cultural, or ethnic factors--is a great turnoff. Drugs, which many gay men use to overcome that guilt and fear, are another turnoff in that they increase desire but cause impotency.

 

All gay men are not created equal, and all are not sex machines. But many gay men believe they should be and are afraid to talk about sexual problems or seek medical or psychiatric help. Still, sex can be put in a balanced perspective, especially after the last vestiges of internalized homophobia are removed.

Cabaj is a San Francisco psychiatrist and author and coeditor of the Textbook of Homosexuality and Mental Health and On the Road to Same-Sex Marriage: A Supportive Guide to Psychological, Political, and Legal Issues.

 

SUPPORT GROUPS FOR SEX ADDICTS

* Sex Addicts Anonymous: (713) 869-4902, National 12-step program that encourages participants to define their sexual sobriety through a "sex plan" evolved by working with other members.

* Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous: (617) 332-1845. National 12-step program for people who find themselves in abusive, non-nurturing relationship as well as sex addicts.

* Sexaholics Anonymous: (615) 331-6230. A 12-step program that uses the most restrictive definition of sexual recovery: "No sexual behavior outside a committed marital relationship."

* Sexual Compulsives Anonymous: (800) 977-4325. Twelve-step program attended primarily by gay and bisexual men and some women.

* Sexual Recovery Institute Web site: www.sexualrecovery.com