Voyeurism, pornography and the ceaseless compulsion to copulate – if this sounds like you then you may have a problem. Saadiya Ahmad reports
Male sex addiction has come under the spotlight due to the recent British film Shame, which starred Michael Fassbender as the sex-addicted Brandon, who holds down a decent day job while prowling variations of anonymous debauchery at night. From prostitutes to a random encounter with a woman picked up on the train, to his pornography collection at home, his entire life becomes consumed by his ferocious obsession to copulate.
“Sex addiction describes the behaviour of a person who has an unusually intense sex drive or an obsession with sex in many forms,” explains Dr Raymond H Hamden, a clinical and forensic psychologist at Human Relations Institute. “Sex and the thought of sex tend to dominate the sex addict’s thinking, making it difficult to work or engage in healthy personal relationships,” he says.
Far from being dirty old men in trench coats or Casanovas boasting a raging libido, most sex addicts are more like Brandon — outwardly respectable but secretly engaging in routine sexual acts that would shock those who know them. Sexual addiction has red flags; one is a pattern of out-of-control behaviour, says Dr Tara Wyne, clinical psychologist and director at The LightHouse Arabia, who treats sex addicts in Dubai. “Sexual addiction isn’t marked by a single behaviour, but can include compulsive masturbation, compulsive use of pornography and prostitution, compulsive sexual relationships, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, molestation, and violence.” These men devote increasing amounts of time to their preoccupation until these sexual thoughts and activities are the central organising principle of their lives. “For most adults, healthy sexuality is an integrated life experience, however for sex addicts, sexual behaviour can be most often defined by compulsion,” she says. And like Brandon, sex addicts often misuse sex as a means to cope with stress, handle boredom and anxiety, or as a way to feel powerful.
Using sex as a way to numb and suppress deeper emotions, surveys reveal that most sex addicts come from severely dysfunctional families in which at least one other member has another addiction, and this is true in 87 per cent of the cases, says Dr Hamden, adding, “child abuse is one of the major contributors to sexual addiction in adults. Research has shown that 97 per cent of sex addicts have been emotionally abused as a child, 83 per cent have been sexually abused and 71 per cent have been physically abused.” Other factors include inconsistent parental nurturing, which can contribute to sex addiction by destroying a child’s natural desire for intimacy, making them suspicious of the ‘good times’ in relationships. “Also insufficient parental modelling can leave a child without a solid foundation of love and respect,” says Dr Hamden.
The internet has become today’s fastest-growing outlet for sexual release and the impact of it on sex addiction is so pervasive that Dr Hamden suggests 25 per cent of all search-engine requests are pornography-related. The temptation and availability of the internet has led to its dangerous “Triple A” description. Dr Wyne explains, “One ‘A’ is accessibility – anyone with a computer and WiFi can access porn and people can even log on to it at work. The second ‘A’ represents the affordability – most pornography on the internet is free, although typically, after accessing the free material, addicts will be drawn into expensive sites as their dependency and appetite increases.” And the third ‘A’ stands for anonymity – people can access pornography from the privacy of their own home or PC/laptop/tablet. “Nobody has to be aware of what they are doingand essentially the internet has eliminated the inhibiting factor of the fear of public exposure,” she says.
The addict’s drive for sex is less physical and more about emotional intimacy. Says Dr Wyne, “The lack of it, the need of it, the fear of it and the drive to attain it – the addiction provides an illusion of affirmation, a veneer of control and connection in a ‘safe’ environment.” And Patrick Carnes, counsellor-psychologist and author of Don’t Call It Love: Recovery From Sexual Addiction, found that 97 per cent of addicts reported that sexual activity resulted in the loss of self-esteem, while 96 per cent felt guilt or shame, 91 per cent had feelings of hopelessness, and 90 per cent said they were acting in ways that collided with their values.
Permeating all aspects of the sex addict’s life, the problems associated with this addictive behaviour are tremendous. “Work, friendships, family relationships, school, health and finances are all affected by the addiction’s unmanageable nature,” says Dr Wyne, and other risks include AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. In terms of relationships, most addicts have lost a partner or spouse and most have experienced severe marital or relationship problems. For the majority there are also severe financial consequences. “Some addicts even report losing the opportunity to work in the career of their choice and most sex addicts speak of serious losses in job productivity,” she says.
Dr Wyne suggests the first step in the treatment of sexual addiction is “sobriety”, and explains that it takes a minimum of 30 days to come out of an addictive state. “Many experts recommend three months of abstinence from sex and masturbation,” she says. One of the goals in sex addiction treatement is for addicts to abstain entirely from sex in the short term, then from compulsive behaviours over the long term. From there, people can move into healing and, with the help of a psychologist and therapy, look at underlying personal issues, including trauma they may have experienced as a child or adult. Addicts, she adds, must also learn what it means to have a healthy sex life – including aspects like boundaries, trust, intimacy, openness, honesty, and communication.
John Hawkins* is an expat who has lived in Dubai for the past two years. He shares his story on how his former sex addiction ruined his life:
“I’ve been married for 11 years with two children back home. My life used to seem perfect – I had a great job, my wife, Elizabeth, and I shared a good marriage with well-behaved kids. But that was a facade. The ugly truth was that I was addicted to online porn and prostitutes. As a kid, I remember looking at my dad’s cache of Playboy magazines and then as a teenager, buying them and hiding them under my mattress. But in the year 2000, my ‘occasional hobby’ made a quantum leap – I discovered the internet and all of its enticing temptations. I was given a laptop at my job and I was secretly thrilled to find loads of free pornographic films and images easily available for viewing. Soon it grew into a constant, an hourly, fix. It became something I did first thing – I’d log onto my PC quickly at home. During my commute to work, I’d be looking at porn on my BlackBerry and then in between meetings in my office and at lunch even. In the evening, my wife would help the kids with homework and I would lock myself into my home office and say, ‘I’ve got work to do’ and be watching porn alone. It was generally about masturbation, which got so bad that I was doing it multiple times a day. I was constantly thinking ‘I’ll stop this today’ but ended right back once I had logged on to my laptop. My wife began appearing matronly compared to the hot porn stars I viewed and, as a result, I felt repulsed by her in bed. At my worst point I was sexually objectifying nearly every woman I saw – in the office, at the mall – and I began visiting prostitutes to fulfil a seemingly never-ending craving for sex. By this time I felt no pleasure in it. I hit rock bottom when my boss caught me looking at porn sites in the office for the second time and I was made redundant on the spot. As I left, I realised I had no choice but to confess to Elizabeth. I told her everything and the effect was devastating – her feelings oscillated between shock and disgust. She took the kids and left for her parents’ home. I pushed myself to enrol in a 12-week group therapy course and visited a therapist weekly. I learnt to substitute those things that previously provided comfort – I go for a swim instead. I also learnt not to see sex as shameful but as a facet of love within the context of a relationship. But, three years later, I am still careful not to keep a laptop at home or any other ‘temptations’ that could make me fall off the wagon…” [*name changed]
Eight signs you are in trouble:
Your sexual behaviour is escalating beyond what has previously been normal and sufficient.
You need more diverse types of sexual gratification or expression to be satisfied.
Sexual behaviour does not result in intimacy or increased emotional closeness; it is being used to alleviate mood states or upsetting emotions.
You start objectifying others; you ignore and disregard the impact of your behaviour on others.
You can’t stop your sexual behaviour even though it leaves you in despair.
You feel intense shame about your behaviour and become increasingly secretive about your actions.
You start acting contrary to your own values and cannot limit your own behaviour.
Your need dangerous, risky and illicit sexual behaviour to achieve satisfactory arousal.