Addiction used to have a serious place in society, before the word got spread so thin you could be 'addicted' to just about anything, and recovery meant no more than a little will power: You're addicted to tobacco? Don't smoke it. Chocolate? Don't eat it. The internet? Don't surf it.
This might be why sex addiction gets marginalized. After all, only heroin addicts use heroin, but we all have sex, so how can it be addictive? Besides, what's a sex addict complaining about—some of us have a heck of a time getting laid in the first place.
Unlike the high from heroin, which is only understood by people who have used it, virtually all of us have experienced the rush of sexual arousal. It's one sensation whose irrefutable charms we can all agree upon.
We also probably agree that too much of a good thing can be bad, even when it's sex—thus the origins of studs and sluts, stallions and nymphos.
The person you are about to meet is neither a slut nor a nymphomaniac—she is a sex addict. Sue (not her real name; we agreed that she remain anonymous) works in consumer relations for a national non-profit in a mid-sized US city. She's in the right line of work, as her charm is simple but disarming. She is active in her community. Her car has the Jesus fish on it.
And by her own estimate, Sue has had about 400 sexual partners. As is true for almost all female sex addicts, her childhood was marred by abuse (Sue was repeatedly molested by a relative); she has a substance abuse problem (in her case, alcohol); and no matter how it may appear, it is not about the sex.
Before speaking, I agreed to take the Sexual Addiction Screening Test developed by the International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) and tell her the results. A score of 6 or higher is associated with a sexual addiction.
Ross: I scored a seven. That makes me a sex addict. No offense, but I'm not one.
Sue: The first step is admitting you have a problem.
When I started treatment, I scored a 14. I definitely was one.
How long did you suffer from sex addiction?
I don't know exactly. Years. But it probably started in junior high. It doesn't matter. Sex addiction just destroys you, mentally and physically. What it amounts to is that you know that the price you're going to pay is awful, but it's—you don't care, you're more than willing. What you want, you want right now. You'll deal with the price later. That's what you tell yourself.
Price in terms of what?
Whatever principles you might have. Your dignity. Health. The stronger the compulsion, the more you'll do. The more you'll do, the greater the risk. Did I mention I'm married? I had two abortions because I didn't know who the fathers were. I caught Chlamydia, barely escaped arrest for lewd public conduct more than once … You put yourself in stupid, dangerous situations that go against all common sense.
That sounds a lot like drug addiction.
The similarities are there.
So how or when did you realize you had a sexual addiction?
I had surgery for a torn ACL. I tore it trying to get out of a guy's apartment one morning. He wasn't chasing me or acting like a serial killer, he was just … gross. Somehow I overlooked that when I went home with him the night before. Anyway I'm convalescing on the couch and my husband brought me some DVDs. Did you watch Six Feet Under on HBO?
Ross is a freelance journalist and writer specializing in medical topics and men's lifestyle. His work appears in numerous online and print publications, including AskMen, Forbes, AOL, and Fox News. He is the editor of several published quotation collections, and in addition to work as a cancer care advocate, he plays ice hockey and blogs for two pro hockey web sites.