Sexual addiction is not desire

SCORES of reports in newspapers and blogs this month had Tiger Woods checking into some private clinic to treat an alleged sex addiction.

The reports followed a public backlash about this illness with some people questioning its very existence.

Chances are you've known someone, maybe even someone in your own family, who's struggled with an addiction to cigarettes, alcohol or drugs.

But sex addiction?

How common is this behaviour?

Sandile Gobodo, a doctor, says addictive sexual behaviour is a very real disorder that about a million South African men and women battle with.

Gobodo says in a country like South Africa, where it is taboo to talk about sex, it is difficult to know exactly how many people are suffering from this disease.

"Sex addiction can have serious consequences for families, partners and even co-workers because addicts are obsessed with sex.

"The addict's compulsion forces a person to be either a potential target or a potential fall off. In extreme cases, which are common in South Africa, sexual addiction can involve molestation, rape and even murder," Gobodo says.

He says sexual addiction can take on many forms, from the use of pornography and masturbation to repeated sexual affairs, patronising prostitutes and stalking. He says this problem does not know colour or creed and can affect anyone, including the richest and good-looking - like Woods.

But what could cause a man like Woods who has all the money in the world to suffer from this addiction?

Linda Simpson, a psychologist who deals with sex offenders, says it is difficult to pin down one reason because sexual addiction is rarely caused by only one factor and is more likely a build-up of conditions over time.

She says things like exposure to pornography at a very young age can lead to sex addition.

She says that for many people, sexual addiction has its roots in a family history of sexual abuse and addiction.

"I treated a patient who had a problem with low self-esteem as a child. He escaped into the fantasy world of pornography and masturbation, rather than risk rejection from real girls. Even after marriage, he kept up his habits."

Simpson says for other people causes for sexual addiction can include traumatic experiences in their childhood such as physical and/or sexual abuse, abandonment or emotional trauma.

She says that sex addiction is not a sexual desire.

"Sexual addiction is not defined by the type of sexual act performed or even by the frequency of sexual activity. Instead, it is defined by an addict's compulsive use of sex to address non-sexual emotional needs.

"It is frequently indicated by the willingness of an addict to suffer enormous consequences for engaging in sex. Even great sex can't be that good. And that's just the point, sexual addiction has very little to do with sex, and a lot to do with why we have sex to begin with," says Simpson.


Simpson says sex addiction, like alcoholism and smoking, can be treated.

"We all have emotional and social reasons for having sex as well as the physical pleasure it might bring us.

"Sexual addicts are distinguished by their compulsion to have sex under even the most risky and abusive situations.

"Treatment requires some form of counselling."

Simpson urges people with this condition to seek help. She says therapy options are numerous, including psychotherapy and support groups.

"It is recommended that partners of addicts also seek counselling, either independently or with the addict. The treatment aims not so much to bring all sex to an end, but rather to place sex into the context of healthy relationships and to encourage sex that is mutual and not compulsive."