Sex Addiction – What is it? Does it exist? Am I a sex addict?

Written by Warren Whitfield. Posted in Articles


What is sex addiction?

by, Warren Whitfield
The Addiction Action Campaign

The following article is a transcription of an interview which I did for Fair Lady. I thought it may be useful to publish it here too.


What is sex addiction?Typically, addiction is characterized by powerlessness and unmanageability. In other words, people become powerless over using a substance or behaviour with the result is that their life becomes unmanageable because they cannot control themselves. It’s a physical or psychological dependence and a mental obsession. A sex addict cannot control themselves and has an obsessive mindset whereby their thoughts are plagued by sexual acts or fantasies. The result is that their lives, thought patterns, behavior and relationships become unmanageable.

Why do some people think it doesn’t exist?

Ignorance. Because people haven’t been educated on the subject and assume that there is no such thing. There is a big difference between someone who has lots of sex, and someone who cannot control themselves. Also, people who are irresponsible or get caught cheating will try to excuse their infidelity by saying that they couldn’t control themselves when in reality, their indiscretion was a carefully calculated betrayal.

Some experts even argue there is no such thing as sex addiction, it’s just bad sexual behaviour that falls into many categories. Is this true?

If you cannot control you mind, desires and behavior in any area, you are addicted. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a substance, thought, emotion or behavior. You cannot exclude sex from addiction because it is a behaviour and not a substance. if you can’t control your behaviour, you’re addicted.

How does it differ from nymphomania, satyriasis, compulsive sexual behaviour and hypersexuality?

Nymphomania refers to female hypersexuality and satyriasis refers to male hypersexuality. Hypersexuality refers to an elevated level of sexual behavior which doesn’t necessarily involve being out of control of your mind, will or behavior. Compulsive sexual behavior refers to state of being where someone has lost control of their mind, will and behavior when it comes to sex. So compulsive sexual behavior is another term for sex addiction, it’s the same thing.

Where do you draw the line between promiscuity and addiction?

Promiscuity normally involves curiosity and experimentation and possibly elevated sexual behavior. But it can become an addiction if someone who is promiscuous loses control of their desires and thoughts, and finds themselves having sex with partners that they do not actually want to have sex with.

Could it be misused as an easy way out for infidelity or even rape?

Yes. People do blame addiction for their betrayals and it can be a driving force behind a rape. But it doesn’t excuse anyone from the consequences of their actions. The law does not excuse rapists because they are addicted to sex and a divorce will not be resisted by a judge because a betrayal was influenced by sex addiction.

How many people (population percentage) become addicted to sex?

There are no official figures. Research has never been conducted to measure the extent of sex addiction in South Africa. However The Addiction Action Campaign receives as many enquiries from people needing help for sex addiction as we do for gambling addiction. Judging by the enquiries we receive, I would say that between 5% & 10% of South Africans struggle with compulsive sexual behavior / sex addiction.

Could you become addicted at any age, or is it something, like heroin, that’ll hook you straight away if you’re prone?

What we need to understand about sex addiction is that there are many different payoffs that people get out of having sex beside physical orgasms. If you have a low self worth, it can boost your ego. If you are lonely it provides company. If you feel unloved, it can make you feel loved temporarily. You can become hooked to sex quickly if it fulfills an emotional or ego need or lack that you have . As for becoming addicted at any age, this is unlikely as sexual desire normally does not begin in people until shortly before, during or after puberty. However, children can become corrupted into desiring sex prematurely if they associate a payoff for performing sexually.

Why is it addictive? (any chemical brain reactions, or purely psychological?)

Sex is addictive because of the way it makes us feel about ourselves physically and/or emotionally/psychologically. So yes we can become addicted to the endorphins that our brains secrete when we have sex, but the main driving influence is the psychological payoff.

What causes it psychologically?

A lack identity or a dis-empowering belief system causes it. We desire what we believe we need or we desire what we believe will give us what we believe will make us happy or whole. If people have associated physical, spiritual, emotional or mental fulfillment with having sex, they will desire sex. As soon as they understand that sex does not provide wholeness and find other ways to find the wholeness they lack, their psychological dependence to sex will diminish.

Besides obvious dangers like Aids and STDs, what harm does it do: to addicts and to victims? (to readers it might sound like a “mild” addiction compared to eg heroin. What makes it dangerous?)

It destroys marriages and creates single parents. It can result in people injuring or permanently damaging their genitals. It can leave them with a severely damaged sense of self worth and leave them with regrets that could plague them for the rest of their lives. It destroys relationships, reputations, careers and trustworthiness and can stop people from ever having normal relationships ever again. If someone who is addicted to sex finds themselves involved with psychologically abusive partners, it can result in anorexia or body dismorphia. Make no mistake, sex addiction is as destructive as any other substance or behavioural addiction. The consequences include spiritual, emotional and/or physical death.

Symptoms/signs? -How many times per week/day do you have to have sex or think about it? I.e, what classifies you as an addict?

(See our diagnostic test on our website) here…

How can you help an addict close to you?

Don’t judge them. It can happen to anyone. Learn as much as you can about the issue and don’t enable or assist their destructive behavior to continue. Help them if you want to and don’t help them if you don’t want to. Recovery happens on recovery’s terms. In other words, someone who is addicted does not dictate their programme of recovery. They either learn what is required of them to recover and get busy doing that or they remain in active denial and addiction. Stay away from people who are doing it their way. You will not be helping them at all by condoning their methods. Contact Sex Addicts Anonymous who will point you in the right direction.

What does treatment involve through the AAC?

The AAC is a lobby group. We’re activists. We do not provide treatment or work with people in active addiction. We exist to deal with the entire issue of addiction and find solutions for the epidemic on a macro level by using the law & the constitution to bring about effective prevention and treatment services for the masses. A sex addict would require treatment by a treatment professional. I.e. either a psychologist or addiction counsellor or rehab and would work a daily programme of recovery in their lives that would change the way they think, resulting in a change of behavior. You cannot change the way you behave until you change the way you think. Typically recovery from addiction requires abstinence but this is not really practical when it comes to sex as we require it for pro creation. It does however require abstinence from destructive thinking patterns and destructive behavior and uses a system of accountability and honesty to facilitate recovery.

Is there more than one type of treatment?

Psychotherapy, group therapy and counselling as well as the 12 Steps of recovery are the most effective ways of treating sex addiction. See…

Would polygamy (and the resultant tens of kids) qualify as sex addiction, as some people think?

Not necessarily. Polygamy or polyamoury means having more than one love and involves more than two people who are in a committed relationship together. And just like a relationship between two people, a polyamourous relationship has boundaries within in which all the parties move and operate. If the boundaries or rules are violated, it may cause the relationship/s to end. Polygamy or polyamoury does not refer at all to hypersexuality but it is however judged that way. People are not more or less likely to be addicted to sex because of it.

Unfortunately pedophiles do find the polyamourist lifestyle attractive because they have access to more children, so not all polyamourists are pedophiles. Polyamoury may result in many children being born, but generally there are more parents to raise them within the polyamourous family. If a child’s rights are being violated, then there needs to be consequences. It is therefore no correct to generalize that all polygamists / polyamourists are pedophiles. Polygamy does not predispose anyone to pedophilia.

What about people like Tiger Woods and Warren Beatty, who’s reportedly bedded over 12,000 women – would they be sex addicts?

If Tiger Woods and Warren Beatty cannot control their sexual thoughts, desires and behaviour then yes they are sex addicts. Only they and their therapists know if they are hypersexual or addicted to sex. However, if their behaviour is causing damage to their mental, spiritual, physical, emotional or financial health or to anyone else’s, then they need to address it.

I just read a Mail & Guardian article that says you’re lobbying for the The Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act to be amended to include sex addiction. How is that going?

Addiction is today where HIV/AIDS was 15 years ago. There is a lot of ignorance and resistance towards addressing the issue. You have to understand that addiction is big business. SARS and big industries thrive on addiction. In most cases more than 50 cents of every Rand that is spent on every beer that’s consumed, every cigarette that is smoked, every Rand that is gambled, every pill that’s swallowed and every porno that’s bought goes to the country in the form of sin taxes, companies tax and vat. In other words, South Africa is addicted to the income derived from addiction. So there is a lot of resistance to our cause. But it won’t stop us. Over the next two to three years we will be challenging the constitutionality of this practice in the High Court and the Constitutional Court. And we will win. Our rights are actually being violated and the Bill of Rights and Constitution does protect us. No one has been motivated to challenge these issues before The AAC came along. Like the TAC, the long term results of The AAC will save millions of people’s lives worldwide, not just in South Africa.

How do our laws compare to those of other countries when it comes to sex addiction? How would you like our laws to change?

We have one law that deals with addiction in South Africa which is severely inadequate. It’s called The Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act. But gambling, sex and pornography are not substances, they are behaviours. As long as these behaviours are not recognized as addictions, the level of consciousness about how big the epidemic of addiction is will not be anywhere near where it should be and the result is inadequate prevention and treatment. The AAC wants to see every addiction measured so we know where to start and what to do. It’s insane to think that our little act is having any effect when we haven’t even measured how bad addiction is in S.A in its entirety.

We also want the Constitutional Court to rule in our favour that it is unconstitutional and a violation of our human rights to profit from addiction. And so we want the ConCourt to instruct the High Court to rule on the remedy. The remedy that The AAC is campaigning for is that we want industries who profit from addiction to measure what percentage of their income comes from people who cannot control themselves. And once that is done, we want a firm commitment from them to raising their harm reduction spending to reasonable levels within a reasonable period of time. The reality is that 99% of South Africans have no access to treatment whilst corporates profit from them indiscriminately. This practice needs to stop. If your products or services cause harm, then you must address the harm you’re causing adequately, especially if you’re profiting financially from it.

So far, SAB Miller are playing games with us and are using fancy footwork to delay addressing our concerns. The pharmaceutical industry is working very positively towards measuring their harm and becoming responsible. The other industries are avoiding us entirely. But we will ensure their involvement in the long term by using the law. Until then, they are going to try and profit as much as they can.

Do you get opposition because some people think it might let rapists off the hook?

I don’t believe that being addicted to sex will ever get a rapist of the hook just like an alcoholic is not excused from killing someone by drunken driving. We’re campaigning for sex addiction to be recognized not to protect addicts from the consequences of their actions, but to reduce the extent of addiction and provide effective treatment for the masses. The AAC supports prosecution and enforcement of law where it comes to rape. Even if the rape was committed by a sex addict. It is essential that people suffering from an addiction experience the consequences of their actions. Protecting people from their consequences will prolong their addiction and suffering.

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Warren Whitfield

Warren Whitfield is the founder and CEO of the Addiction Action Campaign. He is also the author of “Addict Nation – The epidemic of addiction in South Africa today”. He founded NADA S.A. and has his own auriculotherapy practice in Northcliff, Johannesburg. He envisioned the concept of addiction harm reduction in South Africa and birthed the Addiction Harm Reduction Compliancy Initiative. Besides treating people for many ailments, he also created and owns various other businesses which include, AffiliatePro Marketing, &


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