DR. GILDA CARLE (Ph.D.)
Sex addiction has been a hot topic in the headlines, but it’s hardly a condition exclusive to men. Note these warning signs!
Courtesy of Match.com’s Happen Magazine
For the most part, women have been under-represented in sex addiction research studies. Often referred to as “love addicts” (in part due to the negative labels associated with nymphomania), female sex addicts appear to be rare due to the fact that women are assumed to value romance over the sex act itself. To complicate matters further, many addicts are prone to suffering from multiple co-morbid addictions. So female sex addicts often suffer from — and are treated for — eating disorders, chemical dependencies, compulsive shopping and workaholism instead, which are more socially acceptable diagnoses for “nice” girls.
The sweeping irony of defining the behaviors commonly known as “sex addiction” is that it really has nothing to do with sex. Some experts suggest the condition be redefined as an “attachment” or “intimacy” disorder, because the women who suffer from it are simply desperate to feel wanted and yearn for a sense of attachment. It’s a double-edged sword: sex addicts know their behavior is dangerous, yet their craving for attachment — disguised as a “feel-good” romp — overrides all caution.
Mary is 26 years old. She is extremely bright and in a highly competitive profession for which she is getting a second college degree. When she was 21, she was raped. Then she was raped a second time, subsequently waking up in the ER, nearly dead. Later, her first and only boyfriend abused her and abruptly left. After everything, she concluded, “Why waste my years on someone who will only tear me apart?” Now she parties at swingers clubs several times a week, and she’s lost count of how many men AND WOMEN she’s been with. Sex addicts may not be homosexual, but sex with partners of an unlikely gender guarantees no strings for what she calls her “insatiable drive.” Clearly, it’s a drive for affection, not permanence.
Mary admits her addiction causes her to take perilous risks in her career and life. She’ll hook up with ANYONE, including bosses or people committed elsewhere. She doesn’t formally date, so she never experiences the joys of romance. While she technically enjoys the sex, she admits she’s angry and depressed. She sublimates into her courses and her career, and she blames the lack of time and finances for not seeking help. Yet, she fantasizes that she “MIGHT” like to marry and have kids in the far future if she finds the right partner. But she doubts really wanting to make a lifetime commitment to any guy. For sex addicts, trust is a huge issue.
The “insatiable drive” mentioned by sex addicts usually stems from some incidence of childhood sexual abuse. By age 18, one in three women have been sexually abused (as opposed to one in five men), but only 20 percent of these abused women seek therapy. For the same reasons that make treating an eating disorder more socially acceptable for women, sex addiction engenders a deep sense of shame — which gives way to the depression and anger Mary describes feeling constantly. Yes, women are STILL taught to maintain an image of purity these days while men are admired for their sexual prowess.
Women, being social creatures, often engage in sex when they would rather just be held, nurtured and loved instead. But sex addicts think that, by engaging in the act, they are really gaining power and control — something their lives, they feel, are crucially missing. Sadly, these people can never fill that empty void because they still have so much rage, albeit unconsciously, toward their abusers. They use sex as a feel-better tourniquet, but they deliberately avoid intimacy that might lead to rejection. Of course, their behavior is all unconscious. As the addiction can never be satiated, they continue to up the ante into more risky arenas while seeking their next fix.
Sex addicts will manipulate relationships to get sex. If a sexually addicted woman partners with a man who is also avoiding intimacy, as many men are raised to do, this could prompt additional rejection, isolation, depression, and self-loathing. She may then use her sexuality to punish the man. It is for this reason that single guys must know whom they’re dealing with and be on their guard.
The problems associated with treating sex addiction
Eva Selhub, M.D., author of The Love Response and founder of www.theloveresponse.com, says: “Like nothing else, sexual abuse confuses the lines between sex and love, sex and violence, sex and fear, and sex and survival. For example, a girl being abused by her father may want to escape, but she is still dependent on him as her caretaker. So she fears the withdrawal of his support.” Further, Dr. Selhub notes that “while treatment for drug and alcohol abuse involves avoiding those substances completely, sex, as a part of human survival, will probably be resumed.”
Therefore, treatment must aim not at removing sexual desire altogether, but at replacing the shameful feelings and compulsive behaviors with positive self-love. Sara cries, “I have never had real love in my life. I pick people who end up rejecting me, cheating, and hurting me. I realize I am a co-dependant with low self esteem.” Recovery must explore the early sexual trauma. For women like Mary and Sara, that may be too painful a place to even visit.
What’s a single guy to do?
- Face it, men: meeting a woman who passionately and constantly desires your body is a tremendous ego-booster and turn-on, particularly if you’ve been bred to score. Even so, don’t accept your date’s gyrations at face value. Ask yourself what meaning this encounter has. If your response comes up empty, a) acknowledge that this woman’s sexuality is a powerful attraction that can unwittingly suck you in, and b) if you decide to proceed nonetheless, do so with caution to protect yourself from disease and to preserve your emotions. I counsel single men who KNOW their date is promiscuous, rationalize her behavior, yet hope they’ll change her. Hey, boys, you’re not in the business of interior design!
- Understand that in healthy relationships, walk-into-walls sex will only last so long. (Actually, that’s beneficial, otherwise you’ll never achieve your life’s goals!) While the “insatiable sex” may be mind-blowing at first, eventually, as you grow, you’ll probably want calm, secure love with a shelf life.
- If you persist in dating someone just for booty calls, question why you prefer the superficial over the substantial. As my Gilda-Gram says, “Instinct may attract you, but intellect will bond you.” If you’re putting commitment on hold until you’re more emotionally or financially secure, know your motives before you fall for the wrong things in the wrong woman.
I caution men that more women than men are sexually abused, and too many are ashamed to seek help. Instead, they may self-medicate through hostility towards men. Be certain you’re not being manipulated and deceived. That means that you should take your time in getting to know whom you’re dating. But just as important, know for certain what it is that YOU want.
Women, if you’re concerned about finding yourself in the same situation, read Is Your Guy A Sex Addict?
GILDA CARLE (Ph.D.) is an internationally known psychotherapist, relationship educator, and management consultant. She is Match.com’s “Ask Dr. Gilda” advice columnist published on MSN.com. She is also known as the Country Music Doctor, with her “Country Cures.” She is a motivational speaker, professor of psychology & communications, the author of the well-known “Don’t Bet on the Prince!,” a test question on “Jeopardy,” 99 Prescriptions for Fidelity, How to Win When Your Mate Cheats, and many more. She was the therapist in HBO's Emmy Award winner, "Telling Nicholas," featured on Oprah, where she guided a family to tell their 7-year-old that his mom died in the World Trade Center bombing. She is currently developing her own TV show. Visit her website and get Instant Advice!