Medical Minute 5-10: Addiction Wars: Sex: The New Crack?

By: Ramin Khalili Email
By: Ramin Khalili Email

These days -- Brent McNamara works on the computer a lot, but he always has to keep himself in check. Brent is a recovering porn addict. For 10 years, he spent almost every waking moment looking at Internet porn.

"My nickname was very well-known in porn circles.This addiction completely took over my life, and I'm not kidding when I say 24/7," said Brent McNamara.

The addiction started shortly after Brent enrolled in school to be a pastor! First-- it was the occasional magazine or movie -- but when the Internet became popular, Brent got hooked.

"Before those days, you had considerable risk if you wanted to go into an adult bookstore. You had considerable risk of being seen by somebody you didn't want to see."

It became more than just looking at porn. Brent took part in live strip shows and even hired prostitutes.

"I wasted a lot of years…really threw them away, messed up my life and hurt a lot of people."

Bill Larson knows that feeling. He's also a recovering sex addict.

Sex consumed his life. At one point -- bill had more than 10 partners at the same time. His breaking point came when they all found out about each other.

"I think people want to make a joke out of it, but it's no joke. It truly is a crippling disease."

Doctor Mary Ann Layden agrees. She believes sex can be an addiction -- similar to drug addiction.

"It's not the putting it in your body through the mouth or through a vein that produces the addiction. It's the getting hooked on, the brain reaction, knowing it hurts you and doing it anyway," said Mary Ann Layden, Ph.D., Director of Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program, Center for Cognitive Therapy, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Two new studies are offering evidence suggesting that sex may indeed be an addiction. The first found differences in DNA were linked to sexual behavior in young adults. Those with a variant of the DRD-4 gene were more likely to have one-night stands and affairs. The second study found that non-addicted people who looked at porn images had similar brain responses to cocaine addicts who looked at images of people taking the drug.

Previous editions of the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual haven't recognized sex addiction as a mental disorder. The next edition -- which comes out in 20-13 -- will classify both porn and sex addiction as "hypersexual disorder." Some wonder if this official label will justify cheating among so-called "addicts."

"It's not an excuse that says you get a pass on it."

Then -- there's the dilemma of treating sex addiction. Should doctors tell addicts to say no to all sex -- like they do with drugs? When treating porn addiction -- Layden recommends patients set up an Internet server that blocks porn at the server level and install accountability software that generates a list of all web sites visited. This info should then be forwarded to an accountability coach.

Brent is now an assistant pastor at his church. He leads an addiction recovery group and even wrote a book about his experience. Whether it's bad behavior or a true addiction, these men are happy they were able to end it and move on with their lives.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


WHAT IS SEXUAL ADDICTION? Sexual addiction is the term used to describe the behaviors of someone with an unusually strong sex drive or obsession with sex. Sex addicts often feel out of control, and partake in activities despite possible negative consequences, which can lead to feelings of guilt or shame. Like other addicts, sexual addicts often engage in risky behavior (such as unprotected sex) and rationalize it later, often refusing to admit they have an addiction or blaming other people for their problems. Sex addicts often get little satisfaction from their encounters, failing to make emotional connections with their partners.

BEHAVIORS: Behaviors commonly associated with sexual addiction are:

• Compulsive masturbation
• Sex with multiple or anonymous partners
• Consistent use of pornography
• Unsafe sex
• Phone or computer sex
• Voyeurism or stalking
• Multiple one-night stands

Sexual addiction can also lead to many illegal behaviors, such as exhibitionism, prostitution or use of prostitutes, obscene phone calls, molestation or rape. However, not all sex addicts become sex offenders.

HOW DO YOU TREAT SEXUAL ADDICTION? As with other addictions, a sex addict must admit to having a problem before he or she can be treated. Treatment of sexual addiction usually focuses on controlling the addictive behavior and developing a healthy sexuality, and can include counseling or marital or family therapy. In some cases, drugs such as Prozac are used to combat the compulsive nature of the addiction. Twelve step programs for sex addicts also exist, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous.

 For More Information, Contact:

Kim (Guenther) Menard
Senior Medical Communications Officer
PENN Medicine Department of Communications

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