Robert Weiss: “Porn, Webcams, And Hookup Apps Are Like Crack Cocaine For Sex Addicts”

Ask the average person in the street to talk about sex addiction and the chances are the name Michael Douglas will come up, often accompanied by a few childish giggles.

What many may not realise, however, is that firstly Douglas never suffered from the condition (he blames the rumours on the British tabloids) and that more importantly sex addiction is no laughing matter.

Digital age intimacy and relationships expert Robert Weiss knows more than most about the subject.

For the last two decades he’s treated people with sex and intimacy issues and served as something of an expert for everyone from Oprah Winfrey to the BBC.

With that in mind, he seemed like the perfect person for loaded to speak to on the subject of sex addiction and the many misconceptions surrounding the condition. It was eye-opening to say the least.

loaded: In some quarters of the media sex addition is dismissed as a bit of a joke – can you explain why this might be incorrect and why the perception needs to change?

Weiss: In truth, sex addiction is relatively well accepted by both the clinical community and the general public. However, there is a small (but very vocal) group of therapists, calling themselves “sexologists,” who seem to think that anything goes when it comes to sex. This group refuses to accept the idea that sex can become an addiction that destroys people’s lives, and they occasionally publish inflammatory press releases to that effect. Sadly, some segments of the media pick up on this and mistakenly present it as fact.

In reality, sex is the same as any other pleasure-inducing substance or behavior, in that most people can enjoy it without any trouble, but people who are vulnerable to addictions and other psychological disorders (usually thanks to a combination of genetics, early-life trauma, and general life circumstances) may rely on the neurochemical pleasure response generated by alcohol, drugs, gambling, porn, sex, etc. to escape from stress, anxiety, depression, boredom, loneliness, and other forms of emotional discomfort. Over time, this can become a go-to coping mechanism—used compulsively even when usage creates negative life consequences.

loaded: What are the most common signs/symptoms of sex addiction?

Weiss: Sex addiction, like other addictions, is defined by three primary criteria:

  • Preoccupation to the point of obsession with the substance or behavior (in this case sexual fantasy and activity)
  • Loss of control over use of the substance or behavior (in this case sexual fantasy and activity), typically evidenced by multiple failed attempts to quit or cut back
  • Directly related negative life consequences—ruined relationships, trouble at work or in school, anxiety, depression, loss of self-esteem, declining physical health, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, social and emotional isolation, financial problems, legal issues, etc.

loaded: How common is sex addiction these days? How many patients do you deal with on average?

Weiss: Research conducted in the 1980s suggested that 3 to 5% of the adult male population was sexually addicted. By 1999, research showed that percentage had approximately doubled, to 8.5%. In 2017, we don’t have an updated number, but anecdotal evidence strongly suggests the percentage is still climbing.

This uptick is very definitely related to advances in digital technology. As digital devices have increased the affordability, anonymity, and accessibility of highly arousing sexual content and contacts, sexual addiction has become more problematic and widespread. Moreover, sex addiction is no longer the sole province of adult males. Females and young people are also getting hooked.

loaded: Without going into too much detail about those involved, what have some of the most extreme cases of the disorder been like?

Weiss: Sex addiction is every bit as debilitating as any other addiction. It destroys addicts’ lives and the lives of their loved ones. In other words, sex addiction is approximately as fun and exciting and glamorous as being a heroin addict. So not at all.

“Today, the split is about 80-20 male to female”

If your readers want to see what active sex addiction looks like for a male, they should check out the Michael Fassbender film, Shame. For a similar look at female sex addiction, they can check out the Charlotte Gainsbourg film, Nymphomaniac: Volume I. Both films present accurate depictions of active sexual addiction. Be warned: They are both extremely graphic.

loaded: Do you deal with more men than woman? What is the split, roughly speaking.

Weiss: Once upon a time, sex addiction therapists treated men almost exclusively. We started to see women when the Internet came along. Today, the split is about 80-20 male to female, with the percentage rapidly evening out.

At The Ranch, a gender separate sex addiction treatment facility that I oversee, the women’s program is always full with a lengthy waiting list. I think it is also important to note that we are seeing more and more young people.

loaded: Has the dawn of the internet age with wi-fi, smartphones and broadband made the problem worse?

Weiss: Yes, absolutely. With every advance in digital technology, we see a corresponding increase in sexual addiction. Porn, webcams, and hookup apps are like crack cocaine for sex addicts.

loaded: Is sex addition a physical or purely psychological disorder?

Weiss: Sex addiction, like all other addictions, is a disease of the mind. To quote the American Society of Addiction Medicine:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. … Addiction also affects neurotransmission and interactions between cortical and hippocampal circuits and brain reward structures, such that the memory of previous exposures to rewards (such as food, sex, alcohol and other drugs) leads to a biological and behavioral response to external cues, in turn triggering craving and/or engagement in addictive behaviors.

loaded: If anyone reading this thinks they might have a problem, what is the recommended course of action?

Weiss: Anyone who thinks they might be sexually addicted can take an online self-test. I have one on my website at this link. If that quiz suggests sexual addiction may be an issue, the best course of action is to seek professional help with a certified sex addiction therapist. A sex addiction therapist finder link is available on this website. There are also several 12 step groups for sex addicts, including Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, and Sexaholics Anonymous.

loaded: Are there any simple steps that can be taken to help curb the problem? e.g., exercise

Weiss: Does exercise help with alcoholism? Does eating right help with heroin addiction? Generally not. The same is true with sexual addiction. Once a person is addicted, it is very difficult to control the issue without outside assistance. Sure, some people manage to get sober on their own, but these folks are the exception rather than the rule. Usually, a combination of addiction-focused therapy and external support (such as what we find in 12 step groups) is needed. When sobriety is established, of course, things like exercise, eating right, socializing with friends, and other healthy activities are quite useful in terms of maintaining long-term sobriety.

loaded: Does more need to be done to raise awareness of sex addiction in society?

Weiss: Yes, of course. We also need to raise awareness about the true nature of alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive gambling, compulsive spending, video game addiction, eating disorders, depression, and all sorts of other mental health issues.

loaded: Can you tell us a little more about some of the treatments offered to those suffering from sex addiction?

Weiss: Generally speaking, sexual addiction treatment utilises the same basic strategies and techniques that work with drug and alcohol addiction. Techniques utilised typically include individual and group therapy coupled with psycho-education, social learning, 12-step and/or other addiction-focused social support, and various alternative modalities like art and movement therapies, psychodrama, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), etc. Following professional evaluation, some clients may also begin a trial-run of an antidepressant or antianxiety medication, as these medications sometimes help to reduce not only depression and/or anxiety but cravings to act out sexually.

Of note: Sex addicts new to recovery typically have little to no idea what the term “sexual sobriety” actually means. Many worry that sexual sobriety mirrors chemical sobriety, where permanent abstinence is the usual goal. Fortunately, sexual sobriety is not defined by long-term abstinence. Instead, sex addiction treatment addresses sobriety much as it is handled with eating disorders—another area in which long-term abstinence is simply not feasible. Essentially, instead of permanently abstaining from all sexual activity, recovering sex addicts learn to be sexual in non-compulsive, non-problematic, life-affirming ways.

loaded: Thank you, Robert.

Robert Weiss’ latest book ‘Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating‘ is out now.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s