When stress relief becomes stressful

Saturday December 1 2018

Some people cope with difficult life situations

Some people cope with difficult life situations in a most unusual way… and even then, there is hope for a cure. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Ann had just broken up with her husband. She reported that they had irreconcilable differences and the man walked out on her. She came to the clinic a day after the break up.

“So sorry for what you are going through, break-ups are not easy,” I said as she explained the circumstances leading to the separation.

“Well, I have no regrets,” Ann insisted. ,“I am here because all my life I have never been left without a back-up plan and so I do not know how to move on!”

For a minute I was at a loss, trying to figure out what Ann meant. So I probed some more. She was a 33-year-old lecturer at a national university. She had been married for only two years before the separation. Her husband was separated from was an accountant. The couple had no children.

Ann had a unique sex history. She started having sex at the age of 16. From there on she had many sex partners, at least two at any given time, occasionally three. During the two years that she had been married, she had cheated twice. The reason for separation was because her husband discovered that she was cheating.

“So I stopped all the affairs,” Ann explained. “He however still walked out on me and now I have no back-up plan and can’t do without sex, that’s why I am here!”

I straightaway diagnosed Ann with sex addiction. Also called hyperactive sexual desire disorder, hyper-sexuality and compulsive sexual behaviour, individuals with this problem continuously engage in sexual behaviour that causes distress to them and their partners yet are unable to stop. Many sex addicts are men but women also get affected.

They sleep with anyone and everyone, may get sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies or even HIV but are unable to take charge and repeat sex related mistakes over and over.

They feel guilty and remorseful but only after indulging and before doing it again.


Other than partner sex, addicts may resort to pornography, excessive masturbation, or even unlawful acts such as having sex with children or with animals.

“Well, at least I do not have illegal sex!” Ann interrupted my explanation. Sex addicts find explanations to justify their behaviour. They may say that they are hurting no one and not breaking the law. They can even blame others for their behaviour.

Sex addiction is a coping mechanism for difficult emotional, psychological or even physical experiences. Sex addicts are trying to resolve a difficult internal problem by resorting to sex. They use it an escape route during a difficult situation. Sometimes the problem starts with sexual assault, but in other cases it may be unrelated.

Sex addiction can be treated. The first thing one needs to do is to identify the triggers of the addiction; the stresses or situations that make one crave sex. After several meetings with Ann, we identified various triggers. Anything stressing her psychologically was relieved through sex, whether pornography, masturbation or partner sex. Unfortunately, lecturing is challenging to the mind and each day, this challenge acted as a trigger for Ann.

The second stage in treatment is therapy. Ann underwent this for several weeks and was able to better reset her mind to cope with difficult situations.

The third stage of treatment was to introduce Ann to social support groups to prevent relapse. Since sex addiction is common and affects up to 5 per cent of the population, there are a number of groups that have come up and that one can join anonymously for on-going support and accountability to avoid relapse.

“I feel good that I can actually do without sex and feel normal,” Ann said in our last meeting. “I am now ready to start a new life with a man who understands my history, one who appreciates that sex addiction is an illness and that I have gone through treatment.”

Ann registered with a dating site which helped her hook up with a man from Europe who had himself undergone similar treatment. It has been six years since and Ann called to inform me that she has not relapsed. She had just delivered her second born whom she named after me.