Local News

Sex addiction has devastating effects

Posted May 16, 2010 5:47 p.m. EDT
Updated October 12, 2011 9:50 a.m. EDT

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.