Sexual addiction and compulsion are a problem-and
comprise a touchy subject that isn't talked about.
All men-gay, bi and straight alike-can suffer from
this disorder, Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., has written
extensively on the subject. In his landmark book,
Out of the Shadows, he coined the term sexual
addiction. My own working definition of addiction
is any behavior or activity that interferes in
one's life in some way, but which one continues,
despite negative consequences. Along with behaviors
are other factors and dynamics, like loss of
If a man's tried to stop or cut down his
cruising behavior, with no success, that signals a
problem. Addictive behavior often displays
progressive increase in tolerance. The person needs
ever-stronger "hits." This syndrome explains heroin
overdoses: The previous level of the drug wasn't
satisfying enough, so the frustrated addict
"promotes" himself to a higher, lethal dose-beyond
what his body can handle.
Similarly, the sex addict needs more and more of
whatever behavior satisfied him in the past.
Because this progression occurs over time, it's not
always obvious. Initially, masturbation with
fantasy was enough to satiate his sexual appetite.
Later, he needs to view pornography while
masturbating. This is then that is not enough, and
he feels the need to actually meet someone.
Suddenly, he realizes he's cruising at a bar or sex
club, or going online more often than he wants to
These behaviors, in and of themselves, doesn't
necessarily constitute addiction. Problems arise
when they interfere with being able to be
completely present with one's self and one's
partner and enjoy the sexual act-in addition to the
People with addictions continue their behavior
in spite of negative consequences, which they deny
or do not perceive. When the man becomes
accountable for his own behavior, no longer blaming
it on others, only then can treatment begin.
Most people don't know that during any addictive
behavior, biological chemicals are released, making
these actions even more compelling.
Natural chemicals such as endorphins and
adrenaline give the addict their "high." The sex
addict's behavior causes chemical changes in his
brain, which promote a mood- and mind-altering
experience. Then there's a natural drug in our
bodies called phenylethylamine or PEA for short.
It's an essential chemical for those who are
addicted to inherently risky behaviors like
gambling, shoplifting, bungee jumping, and sex.
PEA's molecular structure parallels amphetamine,
and is strongest when first released. This explains
why so many people with addictions say they're
always seeking the feeling they had during their
first high, and want to re-experience it over and
A number of signs exist of sexual addiction. One
is a pattern of sexual behavior that's out of
control. Of course, sexual impulses are the spice
of life, reminding us that we're biological beings!
But in sexual addiction, these feelings become
intrusive. An impulse comes, followed by a strong
need to act on that urge immediately, to get
relief. This pattern begins to occur with some
Another warning sign: Severe consequences due to
one's sexual behavior, such as being arrested,
compulsive masturbation resulting in abrasions and
sores, contracting sexually transmitted diseases,
or having a loving relationship end when one
partner catches the other cheating.
Another warning sign: Ongoing desire or efforts
to limit sexual behavior with failed attempts to
stop or cut down the behavior.
Sex addicts viewing the world through a sexual
filter. In an attempt to cope with stress, sexual
obsession/preoccupation and fantasy become primary
strategies. The sex addict will allow his thought
to focus on sexual fantasies and sexualize most of
his experiences, to relieve himself of the tension
he is experiencing.
A sex addict will use fantasy and behavior to
modify his mood state. That's the essence of any
addiction: an attempt to reduce anxiety, depression
and other unwanted feelings and thoughts. The
psychological self-soothing hit of PEA and other
internal chemicals lets the sex addict feel
temporary relief. His mood will elevate. But when
the sexual behavior is over, he will drop into
shame, despair, depression, remorse and guilt for
having engaged in his obsessions and
"Sexual acting out" (or SAO, for short)
behaviors are a way of acting out our
feelings-about whoever we're with, and about
ourselves. For the sex addict, the goal is to
identify the difference between what behavior's
healthy, and what's not.
That's what defines these repetitive, unhealthy
behaviors. A man within normal limits, -briefly, or
at times of stress or crisis-might find himself
driven to overindulging in sexual behavior.
Some SAO behaviors include:
Compulsive masturbation: There's no
normative frequency. As the old joke has it, a
father tells his son that if he masturbates, he'll
go blind. The kid responds, "Can I do it until I
need glasses?" But seriously, the sex addict does
this chronically until his penis is sore or
abraded, until there is no more semen to ejaculate.
Or he may masturbate in his car, or in a park or
restroom with the hope of being seen. He prefers
masturbation over sex with a partner.
Indulging in pornography: Again, using
porn to assist in any kind of sex is no problem. It
is, however, when photos are preferable to a
flesh-and-blood partner; when it's necessary for
stimulation and ejaculation; and when any other
form of lovemaking isn't as satisfying.
Exhibitionism: Exhibitionism is the
desire to show one's body or body parts to another
for self-arousal. An exhibitionist's thrill depends
on reactions from his onlooker. The flasher gets a
high from exposing himself and shocking men and/or
women-the equivalent of visual rape.
Anonymous sex and dangerous sexual
Voyeurism: This is where one is seeking
sexual thrill and pleasure from viewing others
either while they know or don't know they are being
Compulsive cybersex: Before the invention
of caller ID, men would call others and engage in
sexual conversation against their will. Nowadays,
this happens on the Internet where someone
instant-messages another and attempts sex talk. If
that person says no and the instigator persists,
this is a violation.
The sex addict prefers to be online over sex
with a partner-or to even having a partner at all.
He'll spend hours on end online, viewing Internet
porn, looking at personal ads and frequenting chat
rooms. A man's family or partner can be watching
television, while he's in the same room, enjoying
cybersex on his laptop, while the others have no
idea what's going on. This doesn't have to be
associated with masturbation. The chase and the
hunt are more exciting than the catch.
For the sex addict, this activity can consume an
entire afternoon, interrupting his life. He may
even leave work early to engage in these
Sexual addiction blocks its sufferers from
having deep connecting relationships. This is why
it is greatly important to have to relate to
another human being on nonsexual levels. Time and
again, studies show that the sexual addict who
engages in individual, group, and 12-step
groups-all three together-is helped most
effectively. Placed in proximity to others, they're
forced to examine their issues of intimacy and
relational skills with others.
©2009 by Joe Kort
Joe Kort, MA, MSW, has been in practice since 1985.
He specializes in Gay Affirmative Psychotherapy as
well as IMAGO Relationship Therapy, which is a
specific program involving communication exercises
designed for couples to enhance their relationship
and for singles to learn relationship skills. He
also specializes in sexual addiction, childhood
sexual, physical and emotional abuse, depression
and anxiety. He offers workshops for couples and
singles. He runs a gay men's group therapy and a
men's sexuality group therapy for straight, bi and
gay men who are struggling with specific sexual
issues. His therapy services are for gays and
lesbians as well as heterosexuals. His articles and
columns have appeared in The Detroit Free
Press, Between the Lines Newspaper for
Gays and Lesbians, The Detroit News, The
Oakland Press, The Royal Oak Mirror, and
other publications. Besides providing therapy for
individuals and couples, he conducts a number of
groups and workshops for gay men. Now an adjunct
professor teaching Gay and Lesbian Studies at Wayne
State University's School of Social Work, he is
doing more writing and workshops on a national
level. He is the author of 10
Smart Things Gay Men can do to Improve Their
Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Find Real
(gay'.dahr, n.): (1) The
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improve their gaydar, learning more about gay men's
psychology and social lives. Also, (3) a regular
feature where gay readers can discover the many
questions and hassles their straight
counterparts--and themselves--must face!
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