Sex Addiction

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As a breed, swingers would probably say they have a healthy sex life. Ideally the social and sexual elements combine to give both singles and couples a spicier lifestyle. But it seems that not everyone can keep things in perspective...

The prurient nature of the press and the public's obsession with the cult of celebrity have conspired over recent years to bring our attention to every infidelity, every extramarital dalliance, stray text or phone message and flirtation among the famous... all with the now customary disregard for the feelings of those involved. The label 'sex addiction' has been applied, but is it a new phenomenon or has it always been there - a problem of compulsive, out of control sexual behaviour?

The tabloid press had a field-day with Bill Clinton's White House indiscretion, and revelled in the distress of the Beckhams when Ms Loos announced that she was providing more than PR services for 'Goldenballs'. But I'd venture that these were instances of two horny men who failed to resist temptation when it showed up.

But there are those in the public eye whose serial promiscuity has led them to be dubbed 'sex addicts' - certainly in America it's the exotic dysfunctional disease of the rich and famous.

High-profile sufferers

In recent years more and more celebs have succumbed - one of the first being Michael Douglas. In 1994 his wife of eighteen years, Diandra, filed for divorce, citing his womanising as the cause for the breakdown. He'd demonstrated addictive behaviour in the past, and two years before had checked into the Sierra Tucson clinic in Arizona to be treated for alcohol addiction. But his sexual behaviour was apparently beyond his control too. Following his divorce, he was treated for 'sex addiction', and now refers to himself as a 'recovering addict'.

He even put his money where his mouth was when drawing up the pre-nuptial agreement with Catherine Zeta-Jones. As an article in the US National Review stated in December 2000, 'Assuming - as pretty much everyone does - that this will end in divorce, Zeta-Jones will get $1.5m for every year she has stayed married to Douglas.' She'd apparently wanted $5m a year, but settled for less in the interests of romance. Douglas instead paid an undisclosed sum up front and agreed to hand over a $5m 'straying fee' if he reverted to type and cheated on her. Zeta-Jones' concern was justified - her husband-to-be had been serially unfaithful before and, despite receiving therapy, put his foot in it again (age 62) when he revealed he had a crush on Kim Basinger and praised Eva Longoria's 'fantastic butt' in an interview to promote his 2006 film, The Sentinel. 'Sex,' he explained, 'is like a wave that just sweeps over me.' Oh dear... poor chap.

So who else has careered off the rails of the sexual roller-coaster? More recently the lovely Sienna Miller publicly accused errant fiance Jude Law of being addicted to sex. After the break-up of his marriage to Sophie Frost (infidelity cited), Jude took up with Sienna, who found him in bed with the nanny. Among, I'm sure, numerous other suggestions, Sienna ventured that he should get treatment for his sexual behaviour.

However, you've seen Jude Law - and if, as a bloke, you looked that good, wouldn't you be tempted to milk it just a bit? And, as a girl with a pulse, if he came on to you, would you say no? Not sure that qualifies as sex addiction in need of therapy...

Girls could be addicts too

Ulrika Jonsson, however, seems a worthier contender for the term. Ironically (or not?) Channel 4 recently asked her to investigate the growing problem of sex addiction for a documentary. She, of the well-publicised abusive liaison with footballer Stan Collymore, two divorces and the welldocumented affair with Sven Goran-Ericsson, reached the conclusion during her research, that she was indeed the very animal she'd been investigating.

In what she called 'a devastating journey of personal discovery', she found she ticked all the boxes. Prior to this, she owns that she wasn't even sure she believed there was such a thing as sex addiction. She certainly didn't think it applied to women - in fact, she said, 'I was inclined to write it off as an invention to excuse the behaviour of the selfish and immoral.' The words 'pot', 'kettle' and 'black' lurk temptingly close by... Ms Jonsson's initial instinct was probably spot on.

Ms Jonsson's research

The definition of a sex addict, gleaned from among the therapists across the Atlantic, surprised Ulrika. It's a person 'whose sexual behaviour damages their life'. Suddenly a shred of salvation beckoned. 'Given that, I suppose thousands of us, who believed we were just unlucky or ill-used, might fit the bill,' she mused.

She continued to use the evidence she gathered to justify the diagnosis. Didn't lose her virginity until she was seventeen; had fewer sexual partners than average; 'and while I may have hurt others, the person hurt hardest was me.' [I'm soooooo sooooo sorry. Ed]

Therapists confirmed that it's an intimacy disorder, usually formed early in life - abuse, trauma, loneliness or rejection could be responsible. For Ulrika this would have been her four years alone with her father after her parents' separation - he apparently had a large and unconcealed library of porn, and was unconcerned at being discovered having sex with various girlfriends by the pubescent Ulrika.While not claiming this as abuse, she attributes to it her failure to connect love and sex, and said it made her feel unworthy of love or respect.
A therapist confirmed that, feeling unvalued by her parents, she was trying to prove them wrong by making people desire her, and thereby give herself a feeling of worth. I think it's easier to see the wood for the trees from a less personal and subjective source. So for now I'll simply mention two other famous 'sex addicts', actors Billy Bob Thornton (who even tried to seduce his therapist), and Rob Lowe - and I'm sure there are loads of other victims out there among the stars.

The bald facts

The truth is that there IS such a thing as sex addiction, which is every bit as damaging and destructive as the more commonly recognised addictions to alcohol, drugs or gambling. It's also the least understood of addictions in this country - naturally in the States, it's higher profile... more therapists, clinics, etc - and they invented the term in the 1970s as a recognised disorder.

It is a genuine addiction, and it can grab and destroy ordinary people.We're not talking about indivisuals who have a high sex-drive - nor is it about perversions, fetishes or people who simply like a lot of sex. It's indicated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders by 'compulsive searching for multiple partners, compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner, compulsive masturbation, compulsive love relationships or compulsive sexuality in a relationship.' It's not the sexual activity itself, but how the addict approaches it mentally, and how it takes over their lives. Compare it, if you like, to the narcotic hit of smoking, or the high of drugs or alcohol. The need for the buzz, the orgasmic high or even the anticipation - increases and takes the addict beyond normal behaviour to get their fix. This leads, eventually, to a depersonalisation of sex, so the addict views themselves as just an object - having sex with another object. This is very bad news for partners, as real intimacy and friendship become immaterial. The compulsion takes over and leads to obsessive, repetitive behaviour, which in its worst form can bring the sufferer to an almost trance-like state.

They lose the judgement to make rational decisions, run up bills on sex chat-lines, spend more and more time surfing the net for porn and immersing themselves in chatrooms. The internet, you may say, has a lot to answer for... but maybe without it, addicts could resort to worse risks...

An ordinary man's addiction

One case study - by his own admission a textbook case for the way he descended into full-on addiction - went from sex-line to internet porn, to chat-rooms and arranged meetings - a seamless escalation with no sense of what was happening to him.

This man was no Hollywood Adonis with lots of time and money (and opportunities) on his hands - far from it. He, like other addicts, had plenty of other things which should have occupied his mind - job, family, responsibilities and commitments - but he was willing to risk all this, and his relationship suffered accordingly.

At the far end of the scale, the addict throws caution to the winds to get their kicks, perhaps downloading porn at work, coming on to inappropriate people, having sex in public places, crossing legal lines or ignoring the basic tenets of safe sex. It's a spiral that affects all stabilising factors in their life - partner, work and health.

What can be done?

They've been running clinics in America for ages - but here we've been more cautious. We've no accurate statistics but it's likely ther are around 4 million sex addicts in the UK - in a ratio of about 2:1 - men to women. It is being treated with real concern - in 2005, Dr Glyn Hudson-Allez had ten addicts under treatment at her private Bristol clinic, and she postulated about the causes. She pointed out that the sex addict gets little pleasure from actual physical contact - but they engage in sex they don't really enjoy to boost their low self-esteem and prevent loneliness.

It's hard for these people to form normal relationships - they, like all addicts, are powerless to control their behaviour, even when they see the damage it's doing. There are two extremes - at one end of the scale 'in a relationship and greedy and needy', and at the other, a person alone, who is aloof and unwilling to risk closeness at all for fear of rejection.

Dr Mike McPhillips, a leading clinician at Roehampton's Priory Lodge Programme has treated people of all ages, from sixteen to sixties - not just people who put themselves about a lot or spend too long ogling internet porn, but people whose sexual behaviour has run seriously and damagingly out of control. At the PLP, twenty per cent of patients in 2005 were sex addicts, but significantly, these people had previously been treated for other addictions.


Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) started in the UK in 1991 to help ordinary people who can't afford expensive clinic therapy. Treatment is designed to work like Alcoholics Anonymous group therapy - but not to the point of effecting total abstinence.

What they have to learn is how to remain monogamous and restrict themselves to 'normal' sexual activity. Some do respond by adopting total abstinence - but like anorexia for slimmers, it's a bad overreaction - albeit better than continuing with humiliating or illegal behaviour. It strikes me as a very cogent comment with which to end this feature. Professor Mark Griffiths of the Psychology Department at Nottingham Trent University, an expert in behavioural addictions responded to the accusations of sex addiction levelled at Jude Law: 'I, personally, don't believe that someone like Jude Law can be described as a sex addict. A lot of celebrities are very egotistical and are surrounded by sycophants who do everything for them. That can lead them to think they can get away with certain behaviour because of their celebrity status. They receive more offers of sex than the average person, and if most men in a stable relationship were faced with the barrage of propositions that a film star gets, they would be tempted.' So there it is, from the horse's mouth.What is it with these Americans? I suspect that if they were really manifesting the sort of symptoms our UK centres are treating, they'd be less keen to own up to their addict status. Along with Professor Mark Griffiths, I too suspect that these celebrities are boys behaving badly - men with a weak will... and an even weaker 'won't'.

Our In House Expert

Psychologist Martyn Gough has his own slant on the phenomenon. 'I believe the jury's still out on the whole sex addiction matter. Isn't it really just an excuse for promiscuity when you've been caught out? Such behaviour is natural to most animals, who subconsciously go into mating mode to spread their genes and procreate their species, as most eminent psychologists will confirm. I'm reminded of the story of the young bull and the old bull. "Look down there in that field - all those cows! Let's rush down there and shag one of them!" to which the old bull replies sagely, "No - let's amble down slowly and shag them all."'

'There is money to be made by "therapists" - particularly in California - by offering "treatment" for conditions and syndromes that may or may not exist. Increasingly, in our society, people look to explain away what could be viewed as their unacceptable behaviour by saying, "it's not my fault - it's something that's happened to me over which I have no control - HELP ME!" Call me cynical if you like - I prefer to call it "pragmatic"...'

Vould You be an Addict and What Can You Do

Sexaholics Anonymous provides a concise online test to enable you to check your 'sex addict' status - it's a simple twenty-question questionnaire, but can give a good pointer as to whether or not you need help. It begins, 'Have you ever thought you needed help for your sexual thinking or behaviour?' and proceeds to work through all areas where addiction could manifest itself. L

ike the Alcoholics Anonymous approach (they are an offshoot of AA), there are meetings across the UK (and 39 countries worldwide). The website offers meeting details, information, reading matter, and support for both addicts and their families/partners.
Contact details:
Sexaholics Anonymous, PO Box 1914, Bristol BS99 2NE
Helpline: 07000 725463
Web: - and
Best time to telephone: 24 hours