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Mon, May 17, 2010
The Star/ANN
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No less an addiction

TIGER Woods and Sandra Bullock’s ex-husband Jesse James are the latest names to wear the “sex addict” tag. They join a long line of celebrities like actors David Duchovny, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Charlie Sheen, Woody Harrelson and Tom Sizemore; British comedian/presenter Russell Brand; singer Eric Benet (former Mr Halle Berry) and Chelsea footballer Ashley Cole, to name just a few.

They probably overdosed on serotonin and endorphins, the brain’s feel-good chemicals released during sex.

Is there such a thing as sex addiction? Or could it be a convenient excuse for philandering husbands, Lotharios and porn purveyors, to justify their behaviour?

According to a Reuters report, “sex addiction” is still not recognised as an official diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

In the report, Dr Dan Zucker of the University of Toronto, who heads a working group dealing with the next edition of the manual, said he expected “hypersexuality disorder” to be listed.

“Certainly, a lot of clinicians believe there is a clinical phenomenon of people who experience a lot of distress or get into a lot of trouble from having excessive sex,” Dr Zucker said.

Clinical psychologist Datuk Dr Mat Saat Mohd Baki concurred that the term “sex addiction” is not accepted by the profession. He prefers to use the term “sexual hyperactivity” or “hypersexuality”.

In her blog (, British psychologist and university lecturer Dr Petra Boynton said that the idea of “sex addiction” is becoming increasingly popular, but it doesn’t mean that there is an accepted evidence base for it.

“Indeed, while people can act in sexually compulsive, risky, thoughtless, cruel, controlling and abusive ways, that’s not the same as saying they are ‘addicted’ to sex,” said Dr Boynton.

Integrated Psychology Network Sdn Bhd consultant psychologist Valerie Jaques noted that “sex addiction” is similar to all other addictions, in that the addict has chosen a maladaptive behaviour to deal with the stresses in life, whether these are internal or external stressors.

For the sex addict, the focus is on various forms of sexual expression that result in a quick “high” to take away the “pain” which may be physical, emotional, psychological, mental or even spiritual.

“A person becomes addicted when the behaviour is repeated to a point where the individual has lost self-control. It is no different from the alcohol, drug, shopping, computer or gambling addict, except that the focus is on sexual expressions, such as masturbation, pornography, Internet activity, anonymous encounters and affairs,” said Jaques.

Both viewpoints use “sex addiction” as a terminology. They refer to it as loss of sexual self-control, rather than take a moralistic stance against such behaviour. What is more important is that these behaviours result in harm to the people involved and their partners, noted Universiti Sains Malaysia psy­chologist and criminologist Geshina Ayu Mat Saat.

Harm can take the form of physical and/or mental pain, financial or productivity loss, lapses in concentration, less time for family, work and relationships, and lost opportunity in other meaningful activities, said Dr Mat Saat.

The type of sexual activity and even the frequency or number of partners are not of great significance in diagnosing this problem, said Jaques.

“Some individuals have a stronger sex drive than others, and the range of human sexual activity is so broad that it is difficult to define ‘normal’ sexual behaviour. What is significant is a pattern of self-destructive or high-risk sexual behaviour that is unfulfilling, which a person is unable to stop, and his life becomes unmanageable as a result,” said Jaques.

Dr Mat Saat said there is a lot of speculation on what hypersexuality is, and if it is a psychological condition or physiological one, or a combination of both.

While psychologists and psychiatrists contend that hypersexuality is not gender-specific, Geshina said that in Malaysia, there have been no studies carried out on the subject. The only related study here involved sexual offenders in prisons.

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