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They're caught in the act by a spouse, fired from their job, or arrested for soliciting sex from prostitutes.For some people, the crisis brings relief from distress caused by their behavior and constant fear of being discovered."It is no more about sex than an eating disorder is about food or pathological gambling is about money." Sex addicts, in other words, are not simply people who crave lots of sex.Instead, they have underlying problems -- stress, anxiety, depression, shame -- that drive their often risky sexual behavior."The world comes crashing down," says Reid, "and some say, 'I'm glad that I got caught.'" There are no reliable estimates of how many people have the disorder.Some studies suggest that it's more common in men, and gay men in particular, than women.
If you care about someone in active addiction, help them into treatment and hold off on turning a friendship into more until they’re grounded in their recovery.
"I ask, 'What's going to happen if you don't satisfy that craving? No.' I try to get the patient to see things more realistically." One-on-one counseling, support groups, and having a plan are key.
"You want to make connections with other people who are also struggling, and you have to know who you are going to call, what you are going to do, and how you are going to attend to your feelings," O'Neill says.
"If they are suffering, we want to help them." Reid and many other experts prefer the term "hypersexual disorder," rather than "sex addiction." By either name, it's about people who keep engaging in sexual behaviors that are damaging them and/or their families. That problem puts so much at risk: their personal lives, their social lives, their jobs, and, with the threat of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, their health.
As examples, Reid cites men who spend half their income on prostitutes, and office workers who surf the web for porn despite warnings that they'll lose their job if they keep it up. Despite the danger, they return to the same behaviors over and over, whether it's Internet porn, soliciting sex workers, ceaselessly seeking affairs, masturbating or exposing themselves in public, or any number of other acts.
In working with the spouses and significant others of addicts, I’ve often heard it said, “I’d rather be an addict than love one.” While few people would ever walk eyes-wide-open into a chronic disease like addiction, the statement speaks to the confusion, loneliness and despair common not only among addicts but also the men and women who love them. In fact, addicts who are solid in their recovery can make excellent partners.