Sex addiction: real or an excuse for cheating?

Staff ~ The Telegram
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Medical opinion

Even an expert like Jennifer Mitchell, a registered provisional psychologist, isn't sure until she has assessed a person's motives. A sex addict usually has trauma in his or her background.

"That's usually my first clue that this is going to be a real case and not just someone who has chosen to live this way," she says.

Even an expert like Jennifer Mitchell, a registered provisional psychologist, isn't sure until she has assessed a person's motives. A sex addict usually has trauma in his or her background.

"That's usually my first clue that this is going to be a real case and not just someone who has chosen to live this way," she says.

The trauma can be going to war for five years and coming back with coping skills that have disintegrated, or being raised in an abusive home.

"It sounds very cliched, but in 97 per cent of cases, these people have been emotionally abused, and 73 per cent of those have been sexually abused," she says.

Another clue is, unlike a libertine, a sex addict is ashamed of his or her behaviour, but can't seem to stop it, much like the alcoholic who doesn't want to drink, but continues to do so and pass out and hurt himself.

That's why many people describe the day they realize they have a problem as both the best and worst day of their lives, Mitchell says.

"It's the worst day, because they've either been arrested or been caught cheating, but it's also the best, because they can finally face what's going on and they see an out."

There are 10 different types of sex addicts, Mitchell says, ranging from the voyeuristic, exhibitionist type, to the seductive type that perceives he or she has power over the opposite sex.

The problem has really taken off since the emergence of the Internet, which allows people to look at anything online without shame, because they're in the privacy of their own homes. Other addicts seek out prostitutes because they need a bigger thrill, extra danger, to get their high, she says.

Some of her clients seek help after what they describe as having "snapped out of it."

"They realize they need a little extra support, they need some tools, because they haven't learned coping skills; that's why they use sex," Mitchell explains.

Once they understand what in their background is causing them to sexually act out, the need to do so goes away. "So, it's not even sometimes about the sex; it's about all those roots underneath."

Sex addicts can relapse, which is part of recovery, "although I don't want men, women, to use it as an excuse," Mitchell says.

"We try to normalize it for them, so they're not beating themselves up about it because they're already in a state of severe shame; they feel like failures. We try for the best, and if a slip happens, we're kind to ourselves."

People who marry sex addicts are often co-dependent and have problems of their own rooted in childhood, which is why Mitchell works with their partners, particularly women. When seeking help, Mitchell recommends finding a therapist who is informed about sex addiction, knows the difference between the real thing and not, and understands the treatment of trauma.

"There are a lot of people with opinions out there, and it's not really about opinion; it's about individuals and about getting a proper, thorough assessment, because not everybody who is disturbed by what they're doing has a sex addiction," Mitchell says.

The American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual does not list sex addiction as a disorder, but more and more people who work in the addictions field are starting to agree on how to start describing it. There are also studies being conducted to determine if the brains of sex addicts are somehow different, and if sex addiction is a true, measurable disorder.

"But if you're missing work, losing jobs and you'd rather be on the computer than with your wife, you have a problem," Mitchell says.

Organizations: American Psychiatric Association

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Recent comments

  • elizabeth
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    its like every thing else in this world if it feels good do it..no matter who you hurt ..people think that no one gets hurt.thats the biggest lie there is,,lots of people do get hurt for someone elses pleasure,,people have no controll anymore

  • Jerome
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Why do we always put the blame on someone else? As we mature as adults, we know the difference between right and wrong, especially if the person is married. When the thoughts first entered a person's mind, it should have never been acted on to begin with.
    They know it's wrong, so why even
    start it? It's self-pleasure obsession,
    not addiction.

  • elizabeth
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    its like every thing else in this world if it feels good do it..no matter who you hurt ..people think that no one gets hurt.thats the biggest lie there is,,lots of people do get hurt for someone elses pleasure,,people have no controll anymore

  • Jerome
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Why do we always put the blame on someone else? As we mature as adults, we know the difference between right and wrong, especially if the person is married. When the thoughts first entered a person's mind, it should have never been acted on to begin with.
    They know it's wrong, so why even
    start it? It's self-pleasure obsession,
    not addiction.