Is Your New Girl A Sex Addict?
Sex addiction has been a hot topic in the headlines, but it’s hardly a condition exclusive to men. Here, we delve into how it affects women, too — and offer a few warning signs for single men to watch for.
or the most part, women have been under-represented in sex addiction research studies. Often referred to as “love addicts” (in part due to the negative labels associated with nymphomania), female sex addicts appear to be rare due to the fact that women
are assumed to value romance over the sex act itself. To complicate matters further, many addicts are prone to suffering from multiple addictions. So female sex addicts often suffer from — and are treated for — eating disorders, chemical dependencies, compulsive shopping and workaholism instead, which are more socially acceptable diagnoses for “nice” girls.
|Clearly, it’s a drive for affection, not permanent attachment.|
The sweeping irony of defining the behaviors commonly known as “sex addiction” is that it really has nothing to do with sex. Some experts suggest the condition be redefined as an “attachment” or “intimacy” disorder, because the women who suffer from it are simply desperate to feel wanted and yearn for a sense of attachment. It’s a double-edged sword: sex addicts know their behavior is dangerous, yet their craving for attachment — disguised as a “feel-good” romp — overrides all caution.
Mary is 26 years old. She is extremely bright and works in a highly competitive profession for which she is currently earning a second college degree. When she was 21, Mary was raped. Then she was raped a second time, subsequently waking up almost dead in the ER. Later, her first and only boyfriend abused her, then abruptly left. After everything that had happened to her, Mary thought: “Why waste my years on someone who will only tear me apart?” Now she parties at swingers’ clubs several times a week and she’s lost count of how many men and women she’s been intimate with. Sex addicts may not identify as homosexual, but sex with partners of any gender guarantees no obstacles for what Mary calls her “insatiable drive.” Clearly, it’s a drive for affection, not permanent attachment.
Mary admits her addiction causes her to take perilous risks with her career and life in general. She’ll hook up with ANYONE, including her supervisors at work or people in committed relationships. She doesn’t formally date, so she never experiences the joys of traditional romance. While she technically enjoys having sex, Mary admits she’s angry and depressed. She channels these emotions into her college courses and her career, and she blames her lack of time and finances for not seeking professional help. Still, Mary fantasizes about settling down and having kids in the far future… if she finds the right partner. In reality, she doubts her ability to make a lifetime commitment to anyone. For sex addicts, trust is a huge issue.
The “insatiable drive” mentioned by sex addicts usually stems from some incidence of childhood sexual abuse. By age 18, one in three women have been sexually abused (as opposed to one in five men), but only 20 percent of these abused women seek therapy. For the same reasons that make treating an eating disorder more socially acceptable for women, sex addiction engenders a deep sense of shame — which gives way to the depression and anger Mary describes feeling constantly. Yes, women are STILL taught to maintain an image of purity these days while men are admired for their sexual prowess.
Women, being social creatures, often engage in sex when they would rather just be held, nurtured and loved instead. But sex addicts think that, by engaging in the act, they are really gaining power and control — which their lives, they feel, are crucially missing. Sadly, these people can never fill that empty void because they still have so much rage, albeit unconsciously, toward their abusers. They use sex as a feel-better fix while avoiding
any acts of intimacy that might lead to rejection. Of course, their behavior is always unconscious. Since the addiction can never be satiated, these people continue to up the ante by pursuing increasingly risky encounters to get their next “fix.”
|In healthy relationships, non-stop sex only lasts for so long.|
Sex addicts will manipulate relationships in order to get sex. If a female sex addicts chooses a partner who also avoids intimacy (as many men are raised to do), this could prompt her to have additional feelings of rejection, isolation, depression and self-loathing. She may then use her sexuality to punish the man. It is for this reason that single men must make an effort to get to know their dates better and be on their guard.
The problems associated with treating sex addiction
Eva Selhub, M.D., author of The Love Response and founder of www.theloveresponse.com, says: “Like nothing else, sexual abuse confuses the lines between sex and love, sex and violence, sex and fear, and sex and survival. For example, a girl being abused by her father may want to escape, but she is still dependent on him as her caretaker. So she fears the withdrawal of his support.” Further, Dr. Selhub notes that “while treatment for drug and alcohol abuse involves avoiding those substances completely, sex, as a part of human survival, will probably be resumed.”
Therefore, successful treatment must focus on replacing the shameful feelings and compulsive behaviors that addicts experience with positive feelings of self-love rather than trying to eradicate sexual desire altogether. Another sex addict, Sara, says, crying: “I have never had real love in my life. I pick people who end up rejecting me, cheating, and hurting me. I realize that I am codependent with low self-esteem.” Recovery requires sex addicts to explore their memories of early sexual trauma. For women like Mary and Sara, those memories may be too painful a place to even visit.
What’s a single guy to do?
1. Face it, men: meeting a woman who passionately and constantly desires you sexually is a tremendous ego boost and turn-on, particularly if you’ve been trained to equate sex with success. Even so, don’t accept her overtures at face value. Ask yourself what each encounter means to you. If your response is “nothing,” then acknowledge that this woman’s sexuality is a powerful force that can unwittingly manipulate you; if you decide to proceed anyway, do so with caution. Always protect yourself from STDs and preserve your emotions. I counsel single men all the time who know their date is promiscuous, rationalize her behavior, and still hope they’ll be able to change her.
2. Understand that, in healthy relationships, non-stop sex only lasts for so long. (Actually, that’s beneficial; otherwise you’ll never achieve your life’s goals!) While the “insatiable sex” may initially be mind-blowing, eventually, you’ll grow into wanting a calm, secure love life that has the potential to last for the long haul.
3. If you persist in pursuing “booty calls” over real dates, ask yourself why you prefer the superficial over the substantial. As my Gilda-Gram says, “Instinct may attract you, but intellect will bond you.” If you’re putting romantic commitment on hold until you’re more emotionally or financially secure, understand your motives before you fall for the wrong qualities in the wrong woman.
I caution men that more women than men are sexually abused, and too many are ashamed to seek help. Instead, they may self-medicate through hostility towards men. Be certain you’re not being manipulated or deceived by someone. That means that you should take your time in getting to know who you’re dating. But, just as important, know for certain what it is that YOU want in a partner.
Women, if you’re concerned about finding yourself in the same situation, read Is Your New Guy A Sex Addict?.
Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle, Ph.D., gives Instant Advice throughout the world via Skype, email and phone. She is the 30-Second Therapist for Today.com. Her best-selling books include Don’t Bet on the Prince!, 99 Prescriptions for Fidelity and How to Win When Your Mate Cheats. Please visit her website at (DrGilda.com).