(PARIS) — Since the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York City last May, psychoanalyst Jean-Benoît Dumonteix's practice is always packed. "The DSK affair was revelatory," says this sex-addiction specialist. "Male patients tell me that when they saw DSK hauled into court, they had the impression they were being judged instead of him."
Dumonteix says the tribulations of the former International Monetary Fund managing director, who was charged with sexual assault after an encounter with a hotel maid and later released, has been cathartic for many of his patients. "They assumed that [Strauss-Kahn] had the same kind of pathology they did, and that broke through the denial."
Until recently in France, sex addiction was considered more of a pseudo pathology, reserved for American stars like Tiger Woods, David Duchovny and Michael Douglas, who made bizarrely public apologies and went to special centers for treatment. "There's greater awareness of the problem now," says Dumonteix, "but the phenomenon is not on the increase." (See photos of the case of Domique Strauss-Kahn.)
Sexual dependence is classified as a dysfunction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. The concept made its first appearance in the 1970s, prior to becoming the subject of a book, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, by Patrick Carnes. American psychiatrist Aviel Goodman also produced breakthrough research on sexual dependence. "And we mustn't forget Freud," says psychiatrist Marc Valleur. "He described masturbation as the original addiction."
Between 3% and 6% of the sexually active population, mainly men, suffers from sex addiction, according to a 2011 study by Professor Florence Thibaut of the psychiatric service of Rouen's CHU hospital and France's national health-and-medical-research institute Inserm. "There is relatively little interest in sex addiction in France because there are still a lot of taboos about it," says Thibaut.
In life, sex addiction can play out in various ways — multiple conquests or partners, regular visits to prostitutes, or compulsively visiting sex websites or watching pornographic movies. (See what makes powerful men behave so badly.)
Just Can't Stop
But how can we distinguish between an active sex life and frenetic need for seduction, and pathological dependence? "This addiction means that the addict will prefer sexual behavior to any other form of social behavior or other activity. As with addictions to alcohol or cigarettes, an addict can't stop," Thibaut explains.
Every time the addict is overcome with anxiety or stress, he or she will try to escape the feeling by engaging in a sexual act. After the initial relief, the addict suffers feelings of negative self-esteem — which start the cycle over again. It's a vicious circle, and behavior usually intensifies into frenetic attempts to find ever more elusive relief.
Sex addicts end up cutting themselves off from the world. "Some of them can spend the day masturbating as they watch movies, or get fired because they couldn't help checking out sex sites while they were at work. Others go broke paying for call girls, their wives leave them ...," says Dumonteix.
What do the different types of addicts have in common? Progressive isolation, depression and a very low sense of self-worth. In the view of French sexologist Dr. Catherine Solano, "emotionless sex produces addiction." (See if sex addiction is a disease or convenient excuse.)
According to Dumonteix, whose patients are 95% male, "the behavior is almost always due to some childhood trauma." This may have been rape or groping, but it is often some kind of intrusion into the child's intimate sphere. The child may also have been subjected to inappropriate behavior or images.
Dumonteix says most of his patients are ages between 25 and 35, discovered porn on the Internet and cannot stay away from it. "Some of them got addicted at age 15 and have at least 10 years of addiction behind them," he says.
"Some of my clients are lawyers, surgeons and businessmen who become addicted because of the huge stress they are under. But they too mainly suffer from some kind of trauma," says Dumonteix.
"The corridors of power are propitious terrain for hypersexuality because they make seduction and conquest much easier," Solano says. According to Thibaut, celebrity is not a determining factor. "Sex addiction among celebrities is played up by the media, but you don't have to be famous to go through exactly the same thing. Like drug addiction, it's the same, famous or not famous."
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