We’re set to see movie star Michael Fassbender in a completely different light this January as he takes on the role of a sex addict in Steve McQueen’s Shame. Despite the subject matter the film is anything but erotic, instead it’s a cold clinical depiction of a condition that has grown in prominence in recent years.
Sex addiction has been at the centre of a string of tabloid stories as stars such as Michael Douglas, Tiger Woods and Russell Brand have admitted to suffering from the disorder and checked themselves into rehab for treatment. But while high-profile sufferers have helped to publicise the condition, the media coverage has also had a negative impact; leading people in some quarters to question whether it’s a genuine disorder or merely a handy excuse for errant individuals. We talked to the experts to find out.
So what is sex addiction?
The relationship counselling service, Relate, describes sex addiction as “…the term used to describe any sexual activity that feels ‘out of control’. That might be sex with a partner, viewing pornography, masturbation, visiting prostitutes, or any number of other sexual activities.”
While the compulsion might involve an action, sex becomes addictive for people in much the same way as drugs or alcohol. During sex, our bodies release a powerful cocktail of chemicals including dopamines. Sex addicts get hooked on this chemical high, but like all addicts their bodies become used to these chemicals as relationship expert Marisa Peer explains:
“Sex addiction is known as a ‘process addiction’ like gambling, the biochemical element is the release of dopamine in the brain that, in itself, becomes highly addictive and all dopamine addicts need more and more, so a sex addict will need more sex or more partners to get the same dopamine high.”
Even though it has become increasingly prevalent in popular culture, recognition of sex addiction as a genuine clinical condition is still a bone of contention. There are detractors who have expressed doubts over the legitimacy of the condition, arguing that it is in fact a way of projecting social stigma onto patients, or a symptom of another disorder. The fact that sexual deviance is still a social taboo and people’s sexual patterns are uniquely subjective has also caused contention in the clinical world. All of which means that at the present time there are no recognised clinical criteria through which sexual addiction can be diagnosed.
However, that looks set to change since at home and across the pond in America where sex addiction is widely acknowledged, medical institutions are moving to recognise the condition as a genuine clinical complaint. Continue Reading…