This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 14 table of contents.

Sex Addiction

Sex addiction is a major problem for some people. A book published in Victorian era England, My Secret Life, went on for 11 volumes about the author's single-minded pursuit of sex. The anonymous author, who called himself Walter, was compelled to have "many different women all the time." Yet he did not find happiness in his obsession. "The need for itself monotonous," he wrote. Oxford (1985) points out Walter showed all the typical signs of sex addiction, from compulsive sexuality that dominated his life, to remorse, to attempted abstinence, to bargaining with God during his numerous unsuccessful attempts to reduce the power of the addiction. Patrick Carnes , in a book titled Out of the Shadows (1983), described similar case histories of sex addicts in more recent times.

What characteristics define a sex addict?

What sort of delusion is common among sex addicts?

Sex addicts commonly suffer from delusions: false beliefs based on projecting their own attitudes onto others. They interpret other people's behavior as a "sexual come-on" signal when the opposite is true.

Carnes gave this example:

Late one evening, Del pulled up next to a young woman at a stoplight. He had always had the fantasy of picking up a woman on a street. He looked at her and she smiled at him. Del became very excited. They drove side by side for several blocks. She returned his stares at each stop sign. Soon she pulled ahead of him, turned off the road, and pulled to a stop. He followed and pulled up behind her. She waved towards him and pulled out again. Del thought she wanted him to follow.

Del's mind raced ahead to where she could be leading him. She drove in the direction of a well-known local restaurant with a popular late night bar. Convinced that was where they headed, he speculated that after a drink, they might end up at her apartment. His mind filled with fantasies, he pulled up behind her when she stopped. As he was opening his door, she leaped out of her car and dashed into the building. Surprised, he looked up to see that he was not in front of the restaurant. Rather, she had stopped at the police station three blocks away.

Horrified, Del got back in his car and raced home. While driving, he was in shock at how out of touch with reality he was. She had not been encouraging him to follow her but was in fact frightened. He, on the other hand, was so caught up in his fantasy he failed to notice that she was parking at a police station. (Carnes, 1983, pp. 2-3)

During President Bill Clinton's brush with impeachment in 1998, Carnes testified that Clinton fit the description of a sex addict. Clinton apparently engaged in compulsive sexual behavior repeatedly during adulthood, despite knowing it could jeopardize his marriage, family, and career. Like many addicts, he got into major trouble after several unsuccessful attempts to quit the self-destructive pattern of behavior.

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