As sex addiction becomes fodder for TV scripts and philandering athlete excuses, doctors and researchers are turning their eyes to its study. Specifically, is sex addiction even a real thing? Can women be sex addicts? Why do women become addicted to sex? And, most importantly, is it just another term for "being super slutty?"
Some experts say that sex addiction is very real, and very painful in both sexes. While men (like Tiger Woods and David Duchovny) who say they are addicted to sex are often hooked on the feeling of power and dominance derived from sexual encounters, female sex addicts are a different story.
They're often traumatized by an early sexual encounter or experience and compulsively, joylessly seek validation in the form of sexual behaviors that they feel powerless to stop, including constant affairs, cybersex, and porn addiction. And they're seeking help in increasing numbers, according to Dr. Patrick Carnes in an interview with the Vancouver Sun.
Even so, female sex addicts are less likely to seek help than their male counterparts, in part due to shame and stigmatization (because obviously a woman who has a ton of sex must be a socially dangrous harlot), but also due to the fact that female sex addicts are usually better able to compartmentalize than their male counterparts, says Carnes. While a male sex addict may be so driven to engage in unhealthy sexual behaviors that it inhibits his daily life, women are able to keep their work lives afloat while their personal lives fall apart.
That compulsive sexual behavior is a painful affliction is clear, but what's not clear is what, exactly, constitutes the difference between sex addiction and plain old compulsive behavior, or if sex addiction even exists, at least in the eyes of some mental health professionals. One critic of sexual addiction warns that conflating sexual obsession with sex addiction does "real" addicts a disservice. In other words, there's a big difference between being an alcoholic and liking porn a little too much. As an example, he offers examples of other activities in which people engage compulsively— like exercise, stamp collecting, and music fandom. No one's "addicted" to Radiohead. At least, I don't think so.
In spite of the peripheral debate surrounding whether or not sexual addiction is actually A Thing, "hypersexual disorder" will likely soon be considered a full-blown mental illness, according to a DSM work group that called the affliction both serious and ignored. Mental health professionals will ask potential sufferers of hypersexual disorder if they've exhibited five or more symptoms or behaviors from a list for six months or more, and whether or not their cravings for sexual validation increase with time. In addition, they'll screen for other negative ways in which the patient's sexual behavior has negatively impacted his or her life.
While its categorization as a mental illness will certainly help some sufferers of what sounds like an awful affliction, it may also give celebrities unlimited "get out of tabloid trouble free" cards.
Female sex addiction on the rise? [Vancouver Sun]