Sunday, April 4, 2010

Don’t blame me, blame my sex addiction

Once the excuse of philandering celebrities, it now seems more and more of us have got a lust habit and are following the stars into therapy ...

"We’ve seen a 25% increase in six years in the number of people coming to us,” says Don Serratt, founder and chief executive of Life Works, one of the UK’s leading specialists in “curing” sex addiction.

“It’s purely because awareness has increased,” he continues.

“Behaviours haven’t changed in thousands of years — there just wasn’t any help before. We’ve had rock stars who cannot stop acting out on the road. They basically get women thrown at them and they can’t stop. We’ve had people who’ve bankrupted their families because they can’t stop going to prostitutes.

“The US has seen an even bigger rise [in people going to sex rehab] than we have — I would guess in excess of 50% — because people are much more open to getting help there.”

Help for what? Certainly, sex (and love) has been proved to light up the same areas of the brain as cocaine — but can a normal human instinct ever become a true addiction like booze or pills? Which isn’t to deny that there’s a seam of compulsive sexual behaviour that is so awful, it really doesn’t matter what label you give it.

“An addiction is to continue to do anything in spite of negative consequences,” believes Serratt, who has known family men lose everything to cripplingly expensive hooker habits, and nice middle-class ladies engage in outrageous (and often illegal) sex despite the huge risk to their reputation and health.

It’s been estimated by a leading American specialist (and then widely queried) that up to 3% of the population could be sex addicts. But surely there’s a line to be drawn between the man who spends the kids’ university fund on prostitutes and common-or-garden affairs?

Not any more, believes Serratt: “Sandra Bullock’s husband, as a single guy, was probably fine to go to this tattooed woman and do whatever. But because of being married and being high profile, he experiences negative consequences — so to continue to do so is an addiction.

“If you’re in a relationship and you keep having affairs, then you’re a sex addict.”

Couldn’t you just be stuck in an unhappy marriage? “Well,” he says, “then you would get out of your marriage, no?”

Hmm. It’s this grey area — which used to be written off as dumb men listening to their baser instincts — that seems to be confusing us, especially on planet Sleb, where everything tends to be black or white.

James and Woods are not exactly trailblazers in this respect. The comedian Russell Brand, who says he has slept with more than 1,000 women, was treated for his compulsive need to screw around. Likewise David Duchovny, the American actor, who did a stint in therapy when his marriage hit the skids.

Eric Benet, former husband of the actress Halle Berry, suffered the ignominy of being sent to rehab by his mother-in-law after cheating on her daughter — but plaintively objected to being seen as a sex addict.

“In retrospect, it’s not what I would label my situation,” he said afterwards.

“It was presented to me that for the marriage to have a shot, this is what you need to do ... I went and heard other people’s stories and realised this is really not my struggle.”

Could the labelling of every cheating husband as a sex addict merely be the latest manifestation of a trend to pathologise old-fashioned bad behaviour as a disease? After all, both overeating and gambling have been elevated into addictions that are often blamed on genetics or depression.

And what about women — do they ever suffer from so-called sex addiction?

“The reality is that it’s probably about 70% men and 30% women,” says Serratt. Women are more likely to suffer from “love addiction”, he claims, “which can have just as severe consequences”.

Not that he makes a huge distinction between the two conditions: “There’s a saying, ‘Scratch a sex addict and you’ll find a love addict’ — well, scratch a love addict and you’ll find a sex addict.”

Don’t blame me, blame my sex addiction - Times Online

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