The Big Business Of Sex Rehab

Nobody has fully answered the question of whether sex addiction is real, but one thing's for sure: you can now make a lot of money treating it.

According to Harriet Ryan of the LA Times, the number of internationally certified sex-addiction therapists has doubled since 2007. Upscale sex addiction rehab can cost as much as $40,000 a month. The company that owns famed celebrehab center Promises is buying a sex rehab facility "as part of an expansion that will eventually include luxe in-patient facilities like Promises for wealthy sex addicts" (the attendant reality show can't be far behind). However, there's still no research to prove that sex addiction behaves like other addictions — there's no proof, for instance, that sex addicts develop tolerance or go through withdrawal. Nor is there consensus about the definition of the disorder, or about what sobriety looks like.

If this all seems a little backwards to you, you're not alone. Psychologist Brigitte Lank, who treats sex addicts, says the current environment "sets up the potential for treatment to be delivered from a business milieu rather than what is in the best interest of the client." So basically, lots and lots of people are setting up shop to take supposed sex addicts' money, but they may or may not be doing any good. According to Ryan, none of this is stopping increasing numbers of sex addicts from seeking treatment — nor is the somewhat contested definition of the term keeping people from applying it to themselves.

One such person is Evan Jacobs, who writes at The Good Men Project, "To say I have an addictive personality is to say that Buddha was kind of laid back." He goes on to describe his teenage introduction to cyber sex, which led to phone sex. Of his telephonic relationship with a girl his age, he writes,

I began speaking to Yanna every single night, for hours at a time. We would talk for a while, then have phone sex. But it was deeper than that. I thought about her when I was in school. I obsessed over her.

At some point, I told her I loved her and she said she loved me back. It might have been a month into it, or it might have been that first night. At the time, I confused love and infatuation, and these days, who knows what would have happened? But I did love her. She was my first love. Rather, her voice was.

Jacobs's "habit" ended up costing him $900 in long-distance charges, and he now says of Yanna, "Out of all the addictions I've had in my adult life, she truly was my first, my worst, and my favorite." But to many people, the story of Yanna just sounds like young lust. Thinking about her in school? Talking on the phone all the time? Sexual fantasies that played out a lot better in word than in deed? Lots of us have this kind of stuff in our adolescent (or not-so-adolescent) past, and though $900 is a pretty price to pay for a high-school obsession, running up a phone bill isn't exactly enough to declare addiction.

Except that Jacobs says it is. Ultimately, the important question about sex addiction may be not, "is it real" but "is it bothering people?" That's not the same as "is it bothering their spouses" — Ryan volunteers the somewhat disturbing information that many sex rehab websites seem targeted at male patients' wives, and that one counselor even "promises follow-up polygraph tests so wives will know whether their husbands have changed." It's also worth asking whether some people who feel they suffer from sex addiction would be happy if they simply accepted a non-monogamous lifestyle — and sought partners who accepted this as well. Still, this might not work for everyone, and for people whose dependence on sex causes them real suffering, it makes sense to seek out treatment. Which is why it's so important that the people who offer said treatment actually do their homework — and don't just capitalize on the latest fad.

Sex Addiction Rehab A Thriving Industry [LA Times]
Chronicles of a Phone Sex Addict, Part I [Good Men Project]