Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at," Jimmy Demaret, the celebrated twentieth century American golfer, had joked. By all reports and guesstimates, another golfer and the man of the moment, Tiger Woods, is good at both. Reports of Woods checking into at a sex addiction clinic in Mississippi prompt the question on the minds of many: Is there such a thing as sexual addiction – or are men like Woods merely taking advantage of the many opportunities that come their way? Experts in matters of the birds and bees insist sex addiction is indeed an obsessive compulsive disorder like any other. "It does exist. It’s a personality disorder by and large where one’s desires become uncontrollable, needs unquenchable and behaviour compulsive," says Dr Prakash Kothari, advisor to the World Association for Sexology.
Described as satyriasis in men and nymphomania in women (this is rarer), the addiction is classified as a personality disorder by psychiatrists. And there are individuals in the clasp of an OCD that has zero social tolerance – they may recognise their behaviour as at odds with society, but are blatant about carrying them through, unmindful of reactions.
"Polygamous behaviour is common. A sex addict, however, lives at an animalistic level. The behaviour is unevolved and the individual does not grow in a relationship with anyone. He or she is auto-sexual," says Mumbai-based Dr Rajan Bhonsle, head of department of sexual medicine, KEM Hospital and G S Medical College. The line between a healthy sexual appetite and an addiction is based, in part, on how much time you spend on sex and fantasies. The current definition of addiction comes from Patrick Carnes, ‘the father of the sexual addiction movement’ and the therapist whose staff is reportedly treating Woods.
Carnes, who directs the sexual-addiction program at Pine Grove Behavioural Health and Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, defines the addiction: "If you’re spending over 14 hours a week doing something sexual or quasi-sexual, like cruising the internet for porn or cruising the streets looking for a particular type of prostitute, you’re in the addictive range."
There is, however, no ‘one size fits all’ definition for sex addiction. Individuals may be hooked to pornography, masturbation, multiple partners or just a fetish. A 45-year-old executive from the pharmaceutical industry managed to ‘fall in love’ with any woman at any given opportunity. As a young man who barely made Rs 20,000 a month, he spent Rs 6 lakh on bar girls in just six months. Another example is that of a successful man in his 30s who has zero interest in women. Of all the things on this increasingly warm planet, he fancies men’s wigs. "I am only attracted to men’s artificial hair. I have a collection of wigs which I fondle. That’s my sex life," he told a psychiatrist.
If this isn’t extreme enough, look at this seemingly normal, successful businessman in his forties. He would insist on sex with his wife for a full 45 minutes. She was fed up and asked him to satiate his desires elsewhere. He took her advice and actually started visiting prostitutes, who too began to dodge his insurmountable demands after a few escapades. Even that didn’t stop this businessman from visiting a urologist to get himself fitted with an inflatable penile implant.
"A penile implant has two cylinders with a switch in the testicles. Once you press the switch, it hardens," says Dr J Lalmalani, urologist at Jaslok Hospital, who had another 85-year-old "patient" visit him with a similar request. "He couldn’t walk without a walking-stick but said he wanted to lie down and enjoy it." He was in an ICU for a while after the operation, but "then he lived happily ever after," laughs Lalmalani.
Sexual addiction is no laughing matter, though. A serious handicap, it keeps addicts from a normal life. What makes this addiction particularly problematic is that there is no public support for the sex addict as there is for people who are addicted to food, alcohol, drugs or gambling.
Unlike the West, there are no exclusive rehabilitation homes or counselling organisations in India. Says Dr Ashit Sheth, honourary professor or psychiatry at Bombay Hospital, "Sex addiction is a big problem abroad. First of all, there is more loneliness there."
Most rehabs in the so-called developed world use a 12-step programme like Alcoholics Anonymous. Nearly 20,000 addicts from across the world are currently seeking help at the Houston-based Sex Addicts Anonymous, where the first step is to admit your issues in front of supportive people. Other therapists treat patients with cognitive-behavioural therapy and even antidepressants, which blunt the sex drive.
Testosterone is ‘the’ hormone for sexual desire, says Bhonsle, "it has to be suppressed. But it’s used only as the last resort in patients who behave in an unruly manner otherwise." In India, psychiatrists use behaviour therapy or counselling and some may prescribe anti-psychotic drugs for de-addiction. "No addiction can be treated unless the person wants to get rid of it. The person should be adequately motivated," says Bhonsle.
So, forced into secrecy, sex addicts take the only way they know. They try the white knuckle or cold turkey cures. They apply all their willpower because they have to keep making a living. They lie to themselves promising that they will change. "This will be my last time!" they swear. But, alas, it never is.
Just doing it
According to a 2004 ‘Dateline’ report, over 16m men and women in the world suffer from sex addiction, around 80 per cent of them are men, many of them celebrities.
Watch excessive pornography and stock porn at your workplace or at home? Feel powerful while having sex, and feel depressed afterwards? Demand sex from your partner regardless of time or situation? Not show any intimacy during or after sex because all you want is your feeling of ecstasy?