Are You a Sex Addict?
Men aren't the only ones who can't control their sex compulsion. An investigation of female addicts.
And just as a heroin addict chases a substance-induced high, sex addicts are bingeing on chemicals - in this case, their own hormones, says Alex Katehakis, a licensed family and sex therapist and the clinical director of the L.A.-based Center for Healthy Sex. "For women vulnerable to addiction, the post-intercourse release of the bonding hormone oxytocin, coupled with the dopamine high triggered by the sex act, can put them on a neurobiological roller coaster," she says. Baird agrees: "They're seeking the neurochemical cascades resulting from their addictive behavior."
Not everyone's convinced. Dr. Michael First, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, says that while MRI studies suggest that gambling addicts react to the blackjack table in the same way that cocaine addicts react to a line, there are no comparable studies for sex. "It's a biological process, and there's a limit to how long you can do it," he says. "So the analogy breaks down." To call a natural, pleasurable human behavior addictive begs the question: Where do you draw the line? How do you distinguish between a strong sex drive and a condition requiring medical attention?
The American Psychiatric Association is trying to do just that, as it reviews whether to include "hypersexual disorder" in its next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the Bible of mental illness. Defined roughly as spending "excessive time consumed by sexual fantasies and urges ... and repetitively engaging in these sexual fantasies in response to dysphoric mood states, such as anxiety or depression ... ," if it passes muster, it will bring sex addiction, if not completely out of the realm of late-night TV jokes, slightly further into the legitimate medical community.
To Veronica, a 39-year-old social worker in Seattle who became hooked on porn in the throes of a bad breakup, sex addiction is no joke. "My boyfriend stopped sleeping with me, and I was looking for other ways to get off," she explains. "Soon I was masturbating to porn with the window open, hoping someone would see me." By day, she was a buttoned-up temp at a law firm; by night, she was online, having sex chats with strangers and watching hard-core videos. Then one evening, she stumbled upon child pornography. "It made me sick to my stomach," she says, "but I kept looking." The next day, she found an SAA meeting.