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Addicted to love?

By DAVID CLOUSTON | Salina Journal

Sports figures, entertainers, politicians and sex are a combination making national headlines more than ever.

Take golfer Tiger Woods’ alleged infidelity. Or TV personality Jesse James. After four women came out claiming to have had affairs with James, the then-husband of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock checked himself into a treatment facility, possibly to deal with sex addiction issues.

The truth is, however, experts just can’t agree on whether sexual addiction is a real problem.

Although celebrities (including a certain former president and many of Hollywood’s leading men) may be labeled sex addicts, the term isn’t a recognized diagnosis in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

“Whether it is real or not is being debated by the people preparing the next Diagnostic Statistical Manual for mental disorders,” said Sally Leger-Schneider, behavioral health services director for Salina Regional Health Center.

She said trade publications suggest the next version of the diagnostic manual may include gambling, Internet and sex addictions.

Neither the Central Kansas Mental Health Center in Salina, or Veridian Behavioral Health, part of the behavioral health department of Salina Regional Health Center, offers treatment for sex addiction, officials at both agencies said.

There are experts in the field who strongly disagree that sexual addiction is real, and there are others who suggest that the condition might exist but is not as common as today’s popular culture is making it out to be.

What’s a real addiction

For example, Patrick Wanis, of Los Angeles, a doctorate holder in psychology and the author of many articles and books on human sexuality, sees in Woods an entourage and corporate sponsors who have a vested interest in rescuing his golfing career.

An actual addiction involves a measurable neurological addiction where the body is craving something, and the victim is acting in a way that’s beyond conscious control, Wanis said.

“That is not the same as saying Tiger Woods is a sex addict,” Wanis said. “He was out on the course, playing golf, for hours at a time, for days at a time. Why didn’t he have to slip off for sex?”

He said there’s been a movement to validate the term sex addiction because so many people have something to gain from it.

The media have been paying the subject attention because it’s sensationalism, Wanis added.

“The same thing refers to Jesse James — He said oh, ‘This worked for Tiger Woods. Maybe I can say I’m an addict and people will forgive me,’ ” he said. ” ‘They won’t think I’m just a scumbag, they’ll think I’m an addict.’ ”

“It may be compulsive, but it’s not an addictive,” Wanis said. “If it were addictive, they wouldn’t be able to stop, they’d still be doing it even after they got caught.”

George Turner terms sex addiction “an interesting question” that his peers and colleagues in the mental health field continue to debate.

Beer, boxes of Twinkies

Turner is a sex therapist and social worker in private practice in Kansas City, Mo.

He says sex addiction has become a popular label that gets over used by the public for reasons that aren’t scientifically oriented. American culture has a history of labeling people sexual addicts because they engage in different forms of sex, Turner said. What the issue really boils down to society’s deeming as wrong someone who has sex with a number of multiple partners.

“But I don’t have a right to label you as a sex addict just because your definition of multiple partners is higher than what I think it should be,” Turner said.

He said often people who diagnose themselves as sex addicts and seek treatment are dealing with other underlying mental health issues.

“They’re using that label to start a dialogue,” he said. “For example, someone says they can’t lose weight because they have a low metabolism. But they’re also not saying how they have three or four beers and four or five boxes of Hostess Twinkies a night.”

Turner also said that sometimes addiction is confused with power, opportunity and a lack of self-control, especially in the cases of celebrities, particularly celebrity athletes.

“Pair that with he’s probably extremely controlling and a perfectionist, and no one really challenges him,” Turner said. “You have this soup that’s ripe for doing what (celebrities caught in sex scandals) are doing.”

Cheating, self-discipline

Wanis agrees.

“Cheating, in my humble opinion, comes about because of a combination of power, a desire for instant gratification, opportunity and a lack of self-discipline,” Wanis said.

Male rock stars have reputations and often describe sexual escapades involving as many as dozens of women. Yet they’re not described as sex addicts, he said.

“Tiger Woods and Jesse James were basically living the life of a rock star. Yet we don’t attack rock stars as much because for them we have different expectations,” Wanis said.

There is a difference between a neurological addiction and the mere desire to engage in pleasurable behavior, said Michael Edelstein, a clinical psychologist practicing in San Francisco. An addiction is behavior that interferes in someone’s life or sabotages their long-term goals.

“Put another way, they get involved with relationships that are bad for them, for sex,” he said.

Yet someone with a marriage partner who did not object to their spouse engaging in sex with multiple partners — the concept of a so-called “open marriage” — their behavior wouldn’t be classified as an addiction, Edelstein said.

The overwhelming urge

Yet an overwhelming physical urge can be addictive, he said.

“If I had an alcohol problem for example, and I decided never to drink again, a glass of wine after dinner would be an addictive behavior,” he said.

The way that Edelstein treats clients with true addictive behaviors, sexual or otherwise, involves therapy that gives them tools to change their thinking to that of a nonaddicted person.

“Learning to think nonaddictively is like anything else, it involves reinforcement,” he said. It involves thinking in terms of “preferences versus musts.” Preferences are behaviors that you would like to do, but you stop to consider the consequences.

“It’s not the end of the world then if I’m deprived” of the desire to have an affair, he said.

n Reporter David Clouston can be reached at 822-1403 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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