Local News

Sex addiction has devastating effects

Posted May 16, 2010
Updated October 12, 2011

Celebrities like Tiger Woods, David Duchovny and Jesse James are bringing sex addiction into the spotlight. All three men are married and have recently been accused of cheating on their wives and of being "sex addicts."

“For them, sex is what triggers those pleasure centers and gets them into the high,” therapist Jeff Levy said.

Some argue that sexual addiction is merely an excuse used by people accused of having extramarital affairs. But Levy, who treats sex addicts in the Triangle, says the affliction is real.

“On a deeper level, what I find is that most of the men I work with struggle with feelings of inadequacy,” Levy explained.

Levy says the majority of his clients are married men who have been caught leading a secret life.

“They may lose their family. So they're scared,” he said of why they seek counseling.

Sexual addiction has been recognized by the medical field since the early 1980s, but, Levy said, the Internet has played a key role in spreading the addiction.

Online pornography, known as the "crack cocaine" of sex addicts, is often the outlet of choice for Levy’s clients because of the easy access and availability. They spend hours on the computer looking at porn.

“They can say to themselves, 'I'm not hurting anybody. My wife's asleep. What's the big deal? All men do this,'" Levy said. "So there's a rationalizing process."

(Click here for 12 questions to assess whether you may have a problem with sexual addiction.)

Levy says sex addicts often struggle with feelings of anxiety, depression, shame and conflict avoidance. It is also not unusual for clients to have underlying anxiety or mood disorders.

The majority of sex addicts do not seek out their spouses to feed their addiction, but rather disconnect emotionally from the people they love, Levy said.

“This behavior really isn't about sex. It's about escaping,” he added.

When online porn isn't enough, the addicts turn to more dangerous activities.

“They'll go into (online) chat; they'll go into phone sex, start engaging other people. They'll have anonymous sex. They'll have affairs,” Levy said. “It's kind of like tolerance with alcoholism, that it just takes more and more after awhile to get the high, get the thrill.”

Levy says he sees three common themes among the sex addicts he counsels:

  • They deny they have a problem, yet there's an impulsive, an out-of-control aspect as their sexual behavior gets more destructive.
  • They continue even when there are negative consequences, such as losing their marriage or job.
  • As with many other types of addiction, they're always looking for that next high.

“And it's not just, of course, the act of sex, it's the whole preparation, the ritual, the hours planning, preoccupied with it,” Levy added.

Levy says it's not always clear why someone becomes a sex addict. Some researchers suggest a genetic link but they don't know for sure. Levy says he often uses the following chocolate cake analogy to explain the addiction.

"They know they shouldn't have it and they plan not to. Give themselves a pep talk, ‘Don't buy it,’" he explained. “But then there comes a point of vulnerability."

The sex addict begins to think, "I can have just one piece (of cake) because I deserve it ... so then the impulse takes over, they're not thinking of the aftereffects, they're just acting."

Levy says a key part of the recovery process is helping the sex addict reconnect with people. Results can be seen quickly, but recovery can often take years and as with alcoholism, there is no cure.

The success rate is high, Levy says, and marriages can be saved, and sometimes become stronger.

Levy also stressed that sex addicts are not criminals, child molesters or rapists. That's a whole different category, he said.

If you or someone you know is suffering from sexual addiction, help is available. Many counselors, like Levy, treat people with sex addiction.

Sex Addicts Anonymous also offers area support groups for people suffering from and with the affliction. Other national support groups include: Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous.


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  • shortcake53 May 18, 2010

    Dont try to shame me al1311, shame belongs to those who cheat, still not buying the " i have a disease" defense.

  • al1311 May 18, 2010

    YES it's become a trendy excuse for some BUT it's real. This addiction takes hold and leaves behind a crippled shell of a human being. It's a living hell to watch your loved one sell their soul to the devil, alienate everyone who cares about them, and sometimes lose everything in their life ..including their job, marriage and children. Shame on all the skeptics for making light of something that is so destructive, and so painful to walk through.

  • sweet4you May 18, 2010

    Lets stop making excuses and see those scum bags for what they really are.....DUMB CHEATERS!

  • OrdinaryCitizen May 18, 2010

    All bogus, not even going to read the comments. Another made up disease.

    Here is a new disease --->Cannot accept responsibility.

  • anneonymousone May 18, 2010

    And, for the record, I do not buy the stereotypical nonsense about male sexuality being an uncontrollable hurricane of a force. If I were male, I would find the notion insulting.

    I don't know if monogamy is chosen, imprinted, or optional for human beings, or if people are hardwired differently. Not everyone who steps out on a partner is a sex addict, and, as the article stated, some sex addicts feed their addiction without leaving the house or bringing another partner into it.

    Healthy sexuality has its ebbs and flows, its surprises and its patterns. What leads most people who seek therapy to get help is not an unwillingness to keep their vows or live in accordance with their own sexual morality, but an to do so.

    Those two are very different indeed. In 200 years, we will have more answers about the biochemistry of desire, attraction, impulse,addiction, and behavior, whether the "substance" is tangible or not. In the meantime, we go with what we have.

  • tatermommy52 May 18, 2010

    Look at what sex addiction did to President Clinton. It caused him to be impeached.

  • anneonymousone May 18, 2010

    I'm with Russh198 and SeanKelly15 on this one. It's real and is really devastating. Sex addicts don't just have occasional affairs, they are constantly spending time and energy covering for what they've done, and thinking of the last time or planning the next time with remorse and/or justification. Spending all those resources to appear normal is exhausting and detrimental to all relationships, sexual or otherwise.

    An ex-boyfriend of mine seems to have been a sex addict, but was not merely a Don Juan: he genuinely liked women, was not trying to outscore anyone else, and was not feeding an outsized ego. He hated himself for what he did, and even after nearly losing a marriage with a wonderful woman (of whom I used to be jealous and for whom I now feel compassion) and the daily company of three great kids, he continued to act out, destroying the life he wanted so much and breaking hearts along the way.

  • Justin T. May 18, 2010

    Sexual addiction... just another excuse for bad behavior. How about "start acting like an adult and cut it out" for a cure.

    Also, rich athletes and movie stars DO NOT have sexual addictions... they just have infinite temptation. Claiming that you cheated on your wife because you have a disease is just further proof of how spoiled and selfish some of us have become.

  • seankelly15 May 18, 2010

    Lightfoot3 - "...ANY normal dude would answer yes to quite a few of them." Really? Perhaps you need to read them again. 'Normal' dudes would not answer even one question with a yes.

  • russh198 May 18, 2010

    At least you're all being open-minded about other people's problems. Whether or not these celebrities are sex addicts or not is not for anyone to decide but themselves. Just as some people can drink beer, others are alcholics, where getting their next drink totally consumes their lives. ANY addiction is the same. If all you think about is sex, and how you're going to get off, and not doing your work because you're chatting online all day, and hiding it from your signifcant other, it's all consuming. Yes, almost everyone enjoys having sex, but when the behavior becomes destructive, there is a problem. You can believe it exists or not, but for the people who are/have gone through this, it is real, and devestating, in part because of these exact reactions. If I say I'm an alcholohic, people try to help me. If I say I'm a sex addict, people say haha, me too! I love it!