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Sex addict: Are you or are you not?

Between The Sheets - By Maggie Gitu

  • Every week, I receive e-mails and inbox messages that talk about addiction to some sexual behaviour or other. I hear things like “my partner is a sex addict; they want to have sex all the time” to “I am addicted to masturbation. Please help me.”
  • With each encounter, in or out of my office, the question becomes “does this person really have an addiction to this sexual behaviour or is something else going on?”

Today, I would like to begin the process or demystifying sexual addiction. To begin with, there is a lot of controversy around the idea of sexual addiction. One concern is that the term “addiction” already applies an element of shame and/or illness, meaning that a person who has sex more than would be considered ‘normal’ has a problem; something is wrong with them. As the thinking goes, they have a problem that needs to be fixed.

However, counter-arguments could rightfully be made, for example: maybe the so-called ‘addict’s partner just doesn’t enjoy sex as much. Maybe they have a sexual dysfunction of their own, for instance low libido, that is, a low desire for sex. Finally, the idea of addiction introduces the very fair and valid question: who decides how much sex is too much? As you can see, the idea of “too much” sex or sexual behaviour can get complicated, fast! The question then becomes, ‘how can we identify sexual addiction in all its forms?’

First things first

A good place to begin would be to describe the behaviour itself and not pass a verdict or judgment on the person exhibiting the behaviour. Saying that someone is a sex addict leaves no room for exploration of something as basic as the veracity of that claim; a verdict has been reached and the judgment has been passed. It is more useful to look at behaviour through the lens of the question, “what does this behaviour disrupt?” So, for example, when someone says to me, “I am addicted to masturbation”, what I will often ask is, “what has masturbation disrupted? What is it robbing from your life?” The reason for this is simple; it allows both of us - client and therapist - to look at masturbation through the lens of impact rather than through the lens of ‘bad behaviour that must be stopped.’

At this point, I will repeat something that I have always said: sexual behaviour such as masturbation and intercourse is not wrong in and of itself. It is simply one of many things on the buffet of what is considered “normal sexual behaviour”; you can “choose” to engage in it, or not.

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As an adult of sound mind, the choice always lies with you. As far as ‘addiction’ is concerned — and with special attention paid to our Kenyan cultural context — it is important to understand that enjoying something, and even enjoying it a great deal, and/or often, is not the same as being addicted to it. For anyone to be identified as addicted, there must be a strong element of compulsion and impulsivity.

In other words, their behaviour must be that they are unable to control; something that they do consistently and without or with a diminished ability to stop it on their own. In addition, there is often an element of impulsiveness on their part, meaning that they act without having necessarily planning to act on their behaviour. This is where you see a lot of sexually indiscriminate behaviour coming in; they had not planned to have sex with a particular person or with a stranger, they had not planned to masturbate and in some cases, had intended to interrupt their behaviour but then without really thinking it through, they “did it” anyway, whatever “it” might be.

So, for example, a person with addiction might tell themselves that they will not have sex or masturbate more than four times this week but find that they are unable to control the urge or the behaviour itself.

What to do about it

It almost feels like there is a system override function being used against their own control system. This is why addiction is referred to as a disease, and why it can respond to medication. This can lead to frustration, anger, shame, fear and more.

As far as what to do about all this, I offer this advice: See a medical or mental health professional. They are in the best position to assess you and give you appropriate interventions. Medication may be prescribed, talk therapy may be prescribed and homework may be assigned. Whatever the case, seek the help of someone who is able to help you with professionalism and empathy.

If you hear nothing else that I have said, then hear this: Loving sex or masturbation is no cause for guilt or panic. Our bodies are built to experience pleasure so please stop making yourself crazy with thought and fears of addiction. You may enjoy it, or you may need to take steps to slow down or eliminate any excessive behaviour that concerns you.

Addiction is a disease and, as such, if you are truly concerned about having this disease, visit the appropriate professional and get the help that you need. Either way, I wish you a wholesome sexual experience free of worry and stress, and full of joy and
pleasure.

Maggie Gitu holds an MA in Marriage & Family Therapy. She practices as a Marriage, Family & Sex Therapist. Reach her at [email protected] or via her
Facebook page: Maggie Gitu

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