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What If You Can't Stop Having Sex, Even If You Really, Really Want To?

$150,000 on phone sex? 14 hours looking at porn without eating or drinking? Sex addiction is easy to mock, but the compulsive behaviors associated with it truly hurt sufferers.

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Nonetheless, Canning said that in the last ten years, public awareness about sex addiction has developed—though it has a long way to go. In no small part, this is because American culture itself is sex-addicted, she said.

“As a sex-addicted culture, we carry a lot of sexual shame,” Canning said. “We haven’t really been able to accept it, we like to act out, and we objectify people sexually. This all reinforces the belief that sex is the most powerful thing.”

It is a point where she and Wilder actually seem to agree.

“This society teaches people, especially girls, that sex is a nasty, dirty thing,” Wilder said. “Sex is a great gift from God, but you never see that taught in churches or Sunday school. … Most of us get stuck in an adolescent mode: ‘ Hurry up, get it over with before someone catches us.’ … There’s very poor communication about sex.

Canning added that, “oftentimes as a culture, we confuse intimacy for intensity.

“We think the goal is to have the most intense kind of experience—that’s where the high is, the power, the excitement. We need to shift our paradigm of what healthy sexual experience is. When we make someone an object, we depersonalize him or her. When we depersonalize them, there can’t be intimacy.”

Both Dean and Elle were able to relate to the idea of objectification.

“I learned (in therapy), even though its still difficult, not to objectify women,” Dean said. “Objectification in our culture is just rampant.”

Elle said that she was particularly surprised about one woman her husband had an affair with because she was someone he typically would find unappealing. But as she learned about addictive behavior, she realized that this woman was ‘safe’ because her husband knew he’d never have an emotional connection with her.

“Sex addicts usually—not always but usually—seek out partners they can objectify. That are really nothing more than sexual partners,” Elle said. “My husband feels a lot of shame that he treated people that way—that he didn't even really see them as human beings, but as objects.”

Elle added: “Believe me, there's nothing sexy or passionate or exciting about (sex addiction). It's generally two sick people feeding off each other.” 

The public reaction to Tiger Woods’ personal struggles has ignited this sex-addicted culture. The top athlete is reported to have sought treatment for sex addiction at a recovery center in Arizona.

Canning said that while the publicity of his treatment provides an opportunity for discussion, which can ultimately normalize struggles with sex addiction, she’d like to see the conversation about it be more educated—and less joking.

“I think if we are more educated about it, there’s less shame for an individual to reach out for resources and help when they need it,” she said.

In his support communities, where he connects with about forty people each week who are seeking treatment for sex addiction, Dean said that there is almost unanimous hope that Woods will speak out about his experience.

“There’s a glimmer of hope (in the therapy groups) and a sense of understanding,” Dean said.   “I hope he gets the help he needs.”

Dean said one of the most important things that could happen for sex addiction would be the emergence of a spokesperson like Tiger Woods, as well as active support from the National Institute of Health and coverage from health insurance companies. He added, though, that he knows that recovery takes many years of reducing shame and guilt—and he suspects that Woods will probably not go beyond making a public statement indicating, “everything’s taken care of.”

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