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But compulsive sexual behavior, also called hypersexual disorder, can systematically destroy a person’s life much as addictions to alcohol or drugs can.
And it’s affecting an increasing number of Americans, say psychiatrists and addiction experts.
After a decade of carrying on this way, Valerie hit rock bottom.
Facing her second divorce as well as the end of an affair, she grew despondent and attempted to take her life by overdosing on prescription medication.
Valerie called phone-sex chat lines and pored over online pornography, masturbating so compulsively that it wasn’t uncommon for her to choose her vibrator over going to work.
She craved public exhibitionism, too, particularly at strip clubs, and even accepted money in exchange for sex—not out of financial necessity but for the illicit rush such acts gave her.
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At 30, and employed as a human-resources administrator in Phoenix, she had serially cheated on both her husbands—often with their subordinates and co-workers—logging anonymous hookups in fast-food-restaurant bathrooms, affairs with married men, and one-night stands too numerous to count. Not even after one man’s wife aimed a shotgun at her head while catching them in flagrante delicto.
“It’s a national epidemic,” says Steven Luff, coauthor of Pure Eyes: A Man’s Guide to Sexual Integrity and leader of the X3LA sexual-addiction recovery groups in Hollywood.
Reliable figures for the number of diagnosed sex addicts are difficult to come by, but the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, an education and sex-addiction treatment organization, estimates that between 3 and 5 percent of the U. population—or more than 9 million people—could meet the criteria for addiction.
“I was meeting girls on the basketball court, in the club, pulling my car over to meet them on the street,” Tony recalls.
It took joining a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous 12-step program for him to realize that he wasn’t alone. But my self-esteem was shot.”Most treatment programs are modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, but rather than pushing cold-turkey abstinence, they advocate something called “sexual sobriety.” This can take different forms, but typically involves eradicating “unwanted sexual behavior,” whether that’s obsessive masturbation or sex with hookers.