Are You a Sex Addict?
Men aren't the only ones who can't control their sex compulsion. An investigation of female addicts.
But how does one define normal in a society where casual sex is broadcast as liberating and empowering - threesomes are glorified on Gossip Girl; having "friends with benefits" is considered cool; and porn is not only easily and anonymously accessible, but often defended as feminist? Very subjectively, according to Baird. "Maybe Samantha in Sex and the City is having a blast, or maybe she's obsessed and her whole life is controlled by sex," she says, adding that, to her mind, many familiar sexual behaviors - the woman in a series of destructive relationships; the myth of nymphomania - can be symptoms of addiction.
Equally subjective is what may constitute "sexual sobriety." For Veronica, whose new boyfriend knows her history, it "doesn't mean never having sex again. It means taking it slowly within the context of a committed relationship," she says. She was the sole woman in her first SAA group in 2001; today, she meets weekly with a dozen women in an all-female group. "My last relapse was in 2004, when I used pornography to masturbate," Veronica says. "I knew if I didn't stop, soon I'd be right back to the worst of it: violent, degrading, abusive porn, hours or days lost, hating myself but unable to stop watching and thus hurting myself." Knowing one taste could trigger an insatiable craving, she called a fellow addict, who talked her down. "People may say sex addiction doesn't exist," she says, "but for me, it's painfully real."
Anna, the grad student, spent seven weeks at sex rehab in Arizona - at a cost of $30,000. She emerged having given up alcohol, which she believes fueled her sex addiction, and newly committed to her marriage. She returned to New York, found a therapist, joined AA, and started couples counseling with her husband. Long-term recovery will be a lifetime commitment for Anna, according to Baird, who says that studies show a combination of 12-step meetings and addiction-focused talk therapy is the most effective treatment. And as the debate rages on over the legitimacy of sex addiction, Baird's waiting room sees a steady stream of women like Veronica and Anna, who saw their lives tangibly improve after they self-identified as "sex addicts." For both women, acknowledging that they had a problem was the first step to leading a normal, manageable life. "Sex addiction is not about getting away with something," says Baird. "It's about taking responsibility for yourself, your behavior, and your life."
Liz Welch is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Life, and Inc. Magazine. Her memoir, The Kids Are All Right, was released in paperback in September.
Originally published September 15, 2010
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