Is Sex Addiction Real?
We’ve all seen it on the news. “Celebrity cheats on wife: So and so is a sex addict.” But is sex addiction real?
In the mental health field, we use DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria to categorize different disorders. Currently, there is no diagnosis for sex addiction. However, I have included a case study outlining how sex addiction can mirror alcohol abuse and dependence. Simply, replace “sex” with “alcohol” using the criteria listed at the bottom of the page and decide for yourself whether you think sex addiction should be a recognized disorder.
The Case of Caveh Zahedi
Caveh Zahedi shares his struggle with sex addiction in his courageous documentary, “I am a Sex Addict.” Watch it HERE: I am a Sex Addict
Caveh’s addiction began with a chance encounter with a prostitute in Paris. He was walking along a street and saw a beautiful prostitute scantily dressed, leaning up against a wall. Caveh noticed that she bore a striking resemblance to his wife which triggered an atavistic response. He asked the prostitute, “Will you suck me?” and then walked away. Caveh remembers he felt a “rush” and felt “free” speaking to the prostitute in such a manner. He went home and immediately masturbated.
In the beginning, Caveh’s strategy was to speak with various prostitutes and then go home and masturbate. His next strategy was to be honest with his wife, Caroline, about his prostitute fetish. However, she eventually became upset and so he turned to dishonesty. Each time Caveh developed a new strategy his plan escalated. In almost all addictions, an addict will slowly engage in a behavior but then need to increase and intensify their actions to achieve the desired effect.
So how is Caveh’s “sex addiction” similar to alcohol abuse and dependence?
Escalation to Achieve Desired Effect
A chance encounter with a prostitute turned into Caveh masturbating in every cathedral in Paris. Masturbating at home was no longer exciting enough and Caveh had to intensify the behavior and frequency to acquire the same “rush.” Caveh began to experience characteristic psychophysiological withdrawal symptoms such as feeling “euphoric” during and immediately after the sexual activity but then feeling empty and sad hours later.
Large Amounts of Time Devoted to the Addiction
Caveh spent a great deal of time planning and engaging in sexual behavior, much more so than was intended. Caveh was continually trying to “quit his prostitute fetish” and would exclaim “just one more time” but his efforts to cut back were never successful. Caveh spent less time with his significant others while feeding his sexual addition.
Despite the Consequences
Caveh continued having sex with prostitutes despite the knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent psychological problem that was likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the behavior. Caveh knew that he would feel depressed and empty after having sex with a prostitute but he could not stop himself.
- Recurrent use of alcohol resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g., repeated absences or poor work performance related to alcohol use; alcohol-related absences, suspensions, or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household)
- Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by alcohol use)
- Recurrent alcohol-related legal problems (e.g., arrests for alcohol-related disorderly conduct)
- Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol (e.g., arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication).
A maladaptive pattern of drinking, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three or more of the following occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:
- Need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect; or markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol
- The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol; or drinking (or using a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Drinking in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
- Persistent desire or one or more unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control drinking
- Important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced because of drinking
- A great deal of time spent in activities necessary to obtain, to use, or to recover from the effects of drinking
- Continued drinking despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to be caused or exacerbated by drinking.
-Katie McGrath, M.S.