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Addicted to Sex

Addicted to Sex
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WebMD Feature

Jim (not his real name) couldn't understand why anyone would want to be monogamous. As a 47-year-old divorcé who worked as a part-time bartender, he had sex with as many women and men as he pleased.

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Then he fell in love with a young mother of two who was separated from her husband. She liked to party, and he was always jealous of anyone who came near her. He constantly kept tabs on where she was and who she was with. But no matter how much she consumed his thoughts, inside he felt empty. That's when he realized something was really wrong in his life.

At the urging of a therapist who was treating him for depression, Jim went to a meeting of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. "I thought I was going to walk in and see dirty old men with raincoats," he says. What he found, however, was an understanding community of people with similar troubles -- a diverse group "made up of priests, carpenters, 70-year-old men, 50-year-old women, housewives, career professionals, gays, straights, blacks, and whites."

Modeled after the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program, the organization currently hosts about 1,200 meetings around the world. Now in its 25th year, the group is one of a handful of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping members recover from sex and love addiction.

"I've become a person," Jim says after years of membership in the program. "Before, I was always hiding, keeping secrets. Now I can be open and vulnerable."

"Lust is an ancient problem," says a source who wishes to remain anonymous at another recovery group, Sexaholics Anonymous. She notes that sometimes children of broken families, who live in environments that feature molestation or affairs, may grow into adults who can't distinguish between what's acceptable and what's not. The problem can be made worse by the many sexual images in today's media.

The theories on why people self-destruct using sex and love run the gamut.

"People do it a lot of times to escape," says Jim.

Jim acted out his addiction by having multiple sex partners, and, ultimately, obsessing over a woman who was emotionally unavailable to him. Others derail their lives by frequently masturbating (sometimes as much as four or five times a day), having inappropriate fantasies or extramarital affairs, continually logging onto pornographic web sites on the Internet, or hurting themselves sexually with various objects.

Peter R. Martin, MD, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the Vanderbilt Addiction Center in Nashville, Tenn., says the root causes of problems related to sex aren't known, just as there are still questions about how people become addicted to drugs.

He says scientists are starting to believe it has something to do with how the brain processes our drives and that there may sometimes be problems with the "reward centers" of a person's brain.

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