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 "Addicted To Sex"

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Addicted To Sex

Steve T.'s life was careening out of control when he figured out he was addicted to sex...he was just hoping it wasn't too late to undo the damage already caused.

You see...his first wife had given up on him, his career was in the toilet, and he was desperately unhappy. He was married again, to a wonderful woman, and though he never really had any intention of staying 100 percent faithful to her, he was beginning to do things that scared him.

"I could feel myself losing my life," admits the 30ish writer. "I was going into places that I didn't want to go. I went from having three or four girlfriends on the side to having constant phone sex and hiring hookers." Finally, he began to flirt with more exotic activity, including transgender sex.

"That's when I realized I really had a problem," he says.

It goes without saying that men have sex on the brain -- it's considered normal to have sexual thoughts and fantasies throughout the day--but can you actually become addicted to sex? Can there really be too much of such a good thing? "Sexual addiction is a good catchphrase but a flawed concept," says psychiatry professor Domeena C. Renshaw, M.D. "Elevating it to the status of a diagnosed illness must be regarded with extreme caution." Renshaw says the label masks the very real mental condition behind many patients' predicaments and precludes the designated "victim" from taking personal responsibility for his actions.

Sex Addiction Or Compulsion?

While experts argue over whether there is such a thing as a biological predisposition to addiction, there is no doubt that sexually compulsive behavior is a real problem for a substantial number of people. "The terminology really doesn't matter," says Robert Weiss, clinical director of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. "What matters is that the people we see have had their lives seriously impacted." For example? Try racking up $60,000 worth of phone-sex bills that you have no hope of paying or having oral sex a dozen times in a given day.

This sort of behavior, experts say, is triggered neurologically. When we get aroused, adrenaline starts to flow, endorphin levels rise, and dopamine amps into overdrive, resulting in a serotonin boost. While a healthy person is capable of putting aside his desires, an obsessive-compulsive is ultra-stimulated and unable to think of anything else.

If a healthy person's goal is sexual satisfaction, a compulsive's goal is to stay excited for as long as possible in order to avoid a chemical and emotional crash. While more and more scientists agree on the neurochemical component of obsessive-compulsive sexuality, it's also clear that unresolved childhood issues and trauma play an equally important role. And it is the latter that may make each case of compulsive sexuality at some level idiosyncratic, warranting more than chemical intervention.

Sex Addiction Recovery Options

Nearly all experts insist that specialized intervention is necessary for recovery; many recommend the group dynamics of a 12-step program. Renshaw, however, contends that most sexual-addiction "camps" are a rip-off. "You have doctors charging $20-, $30-, $40,000 for counseling," she says. "It's crazy."

She does, however, agree that antidepressants can play an important part in treating obsessive-compulsive sexuality, which she notes is one of the diagnostic criteria when assessing bipolar or manic-depressive disease. The FDA has already approved the use of Prozac in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorders especially someone who is addicted to sex.

Drew Voight

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