On April 10, 2012, a True Life episode on MTV focused on sex addiction and portrayed a Brittany and her boyfriend’s struggle to cope with Brittany’s sex addiction. Brittany seemed needy for both attention and sex. She is rude to her partner, Jameik, when he cannot adequately satisfy her needs, or as the episode’s trailer documents, have sex long enough to satiate her craving (MTV, 2012). In it, she tells her mother about her sexual habits in a brazen manner, “I like sex a lot, like all day everyday, 20-30 times a day, if I could have it my way.” She pauses, looking at her mother and demands, “Why are you looking at me like I’m crazy?” (Replay, 2012). Brittany received therapy for her sex addiction.
Clinically, sex addiction is considered a fixation upon sex which prevents the individual from forming and sustaining interpersonal relationships. It is often is characterized by distorted thinking, rationalization, and denial. Often times the sex addict engages in risk-taking behaviors, like unsafe sex, or exhibitionism. Furthermore, sex addiction leads to challenges or barriers to employment, socialization, and emotional and physical wellbeing. Often, the sex addict develops feelings of shame and guilt. While behaviors such as sexual molestation and rape are commonly associated with sex addiction, they are only present in some cases (Web MD, 2010).
As seen with drug addiction, the first step to treating sex addiction is admitting that it is a problem. This admission often follows the sex addict experiencing a severe negative consequence as a result of his or her sex addiction (i.e. losing a job, divorce, health due to sexual activity, arrest, etc.). Therapy including couples and/or individual session in conjunction with psycho education is often beneficial. In addition, medication used for obsessive-compulsive disorder patients (i.e. Prozac or Anafranil) may help decrease the cravings.
Twelve-step groups aimed towards sex addicts are often beneficial. Hearing the stories of other people struggling with the same emotions and impulses creates an environment that decreases shame and guilt. Furthermore, it shows newcomers the potential for recovery.
While the medical perspective on sex addiction describes the sex addict as not becoming emotionally involved with his or her sex partner (Web MD, 2010), there is a 12-step community of sex and love addicts that partakes in many of the same obsessive-compulsive sexual behaviors but also forms strong emotional attachments (S.L.A.A. Los Angeles, 2012).
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous literature describes the overwhelming urge to have sex in conjunction with an emotional need or dependency for another person. At every meeting, they read the twelve characteristics of sex and love addicts, which include 1) remaining in or coming back to unhealthy relationships, having multiple sex partners or “emotional liaisons” simultaneously, 2) labeling a desire to be loved, attraction, or “the need to rescue or be rescued” as love, 3) uncomfortable being alone, 4) sexualizing emotions, 5) using sex to change or manipulate others, and 6) losing willpower when emotionally or sexually involved (S.L.A.A. Los Angeles, 2012).
Both Sex Addicts Anonymous (S.A.A.) and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (S.L.A.A.) emphasize that the disease is progressive and will continue to worsen if it not treated. Furthermore, while one can treat it and abstain from the associated behaviors, it is impossible to be cured. In these programs, chips are given out for time periods of sobriety, but sobriety is defined very differently than in chemical dependency programs. The goal is not to be celibate, but to have healthy sexual behaviors. Often it is recommended that for the first year or until you work through the steps, members should refrain from dating and having sex. Early on in recovery, members set their “bottom line behaviors” and, as long as they refrain from engaging in these behaviors, they are considered sober. For a compulsive masturbator who utilized pornography as visual stimulation, this may be refraining from all pornographic material and not masturbating or only masturbating once a day. Alternatively, for some individuals it may be only having sex when in a healthy relationship with the sexual partner. Bottom lines are flexible to some degree. For example, if someone decided that they could masturbate once a day, but finds themselves masturbating once a day for three hours, they may add a time limit on their masturbation.
Ultimately, sex addiction is a treatable disease affecting many individuals. While it certainly is a difficult disease to face, with today’s 12-step sex-related meetings and specialists like Patrick Carnes, PhD, CAS, individuals have many directions in which they can turn. Additionally, many treatment facilities now provide sex addiction and sex and love addiction treatment.
While the True Life sex addiction episode brought the issue of sex addiction into the public light, I find it interesting that much of the media attention is on Brittany due to her boldness about sex addiction and the way that she normalizes her extreme drive for sex. I found the other sex addict MTV documented, Isaax, to show a lot more recovery when MTV did a check-in. Brittany said, “As far as therapy goes, I feel I don’t need it. I’m sure later down the line I may need it, or I may just calm down on my own with age.” Meanwhile, Isaax seems to have really looked at himself, his behaviors, and his motivators, “I was causing an unhealthy relationship with these guys and girls. I noticed I was always jumping from person to person because I truly never loved myself. I will never be perfect, nor do I want to, but I want to be the best person that I can” (MTV editor, 2012).
MTV editor. (2012, April 10). ‘True Life’ Check-In: How Sex Addicts Isaax And Brittany Are Moving Forward. Retrieved April 11, 2012, from MTV: http://remotecontrol.mtv.com/2012/04/11/true-life-check-in-sex-addict/
MTV (Director). (2012). True Life: I’m Addicted to Sex Sneak Peak [Motion Picture].
Replay, T. (Director). (2012). TV Replay True Life: Sex Addiction [Motion Picture].
S.L.A.A. Los Angeles. (2012). Characteristics. Retrieved April 11, 2012, from Welcome to S.L.A.A. Los Angeles: http://www.slaalosangeles.org/characteristics.html
Web MD. (2010, March 12). Web MD. Retrieved April 11, 2012, from Web MD: http://www.webmd.com/sexual-conditions/guide/sexual-addiction