Sex addiction: A therapist explains what it really means

With disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein reportedly seeking help for sex addiction, much discussion has been had about the problem. 

But now a therapist has spoken out about what being a sex addict really means, and it’s an entirely serious condition.

Deborah Schiller is the director of Pine Grove’s sexual addiction treatment program in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Writing for The Cut, she explains that people often say to her: “Oh, that’s an addiction I wish I had, that sounds like so much fun.”

But actually, that “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Sex addiction, is, she says, “like torture.”

Schiller explains that traditionally, many people develop sex addiction as a result of trauma in their lives. But porn is changing that: 

“People growing up with this porn get addicted right away, and it becomes their lives,” she says, sharing the example of men who’ve been watching porn since they were four years old and now masturbate for six hours a day.

Patients who come to Pine Grove are treated with structured days of meditation, addictions group, psychotherapy and communication skill development.

They’re taught how not to objectify people, how to cope with fantasies and deal with euphoric recall. 

According to Schiller, sex addicts essentially need to “sober up.”

Patients are treated scientifically too, with psychological testing and inventories of over 500 questions when they first arrive, as well as graphs to find how they measure up to others.

There are a few female patients, but Schiller says they are usually being treated for what they call “relationship compulsivity or love addiction.”

Addiction is its own disease, Schiller explains, describing the disease as “chronic” and “devastating.”

“There’s a glitch in the brain, and the person who is born with fewer dopamine receptors than others are unable to reward themselves from within,” she says. 

“They reach for something outside themselves to fix that, starting early on in life. Sex is one of those behaviours that people can start to deal with their stress.”

Sadly, Schiller says that, like diabetes, sex addiction is not something that can be cured. But sex addicts can be given the tools to deal with their addiction and thus stop devastating their lives, hurting their loved ones and sabotaging their careers. 

Schiller makes clear that sexual assault and rape are completely separate to sex addiction: “Rape is a violent assault. It’s not about sex. It’s about dominance. It’s like beating somebody up. That’s not sex addiction.”

The centre has treated famous people that sometimes only come in because they’ve been caught. But, Schiller says, “Just because they’re famous and caught doesn’t mean they’re not a sex addict, but it doesn’t mean that they are.”

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