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Sexual addiction debated as natural human urge — VIDEO

Las Vegas is full of eye candy. 

From the shadow strippers that are seen on light-up billboards to the half-naked women who meet the eyes of drivers on Interstate 15, it is called Sin City for a reason.

But just like with any indulgence, sex can turn into an obsession.

Some say it becomes an addiction, and its effects can include a lifetime struggle.

“Las Vegas is a huge town for sex addicts,” said Richard, a recovering sex addict who wished to remain anonymous. “The amount of vices that go on here given the number of prostitutes and strip clubs becomes a challenge for sex addicts. The city is geared towards that. A lot of excitement goes on here.”

As taboo as sex addiction may seem, the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, an education and sex addiction treatment organization, estimates that between 3 and 5 percent of the U.S. population could meet the criteria for addiction.


Marina, who wished to remain anonymous, is a 20-year-old aspiring plus-sized model who knows the struggle all too well.

She said she started having sex when she was 15 and estimates that in five years, she’s had 60 partners, the oldest being 50.

“The ‘addiction’ kicked in around the time I was 16,” Marina said. “I was having sex with a new partner almost weekly. I have never been monogamous in a relationship due to my constant desire for new sexual partners.”

While some may argue that her addiction is due to an increased level of sex hormones, Marina said she has faced multiple problems from her endless desires.

“I have contracted an STD before and thought that would end my promiscuity, but it only worsened after I was treated. I may not ever be able to have children because of contracting chlamydia at the age of 16, and that has impacted my life greatly,” Marina said. “I have lost many friends due to my tendencies. I have also experienced a great deal of hurt from men I have slept with and dated. Sex has blinded me into believing that I was in love when I really was not, numerous times. I have had sex with strangers and have never felt more empty as I did after those experiences. I also have exchanged sex for money and regret that very much.”

Richard, 51, said he had a normal childhood.

He had his first sexual experience when he was 18. It wasn’t until he was in his late 20s that he began paying for sex and hooking up with strangers online.

“I was never satisfied,” Richard said. “It wasn’t all hookers and picking people up. I was always looking for something different, whether it was different fetishes or role-playing.”

He estimates that he’s had hundreds of hookups, although he couldn’t give a rough number.

“At first, I thought I was just a horny guy doing what guys do,” Richard said. “I didn’t think it was a problem until I cheated on a woman I really cared about and wanted to be with.”

Much like Richard, Bill, who also wished to remain anonymous, said he did not think he had a problem because being sexually active and having multiple partners was the norm in New York where he was raised.

“I would imagine I had this addiction my whole life. I used to frequent prostitutes and massage parlors religiously when I was 18 or 19,” Bill said. “Growing up in New York, it was all perfectly normal. Everyone I knew was doing it. They were all cheating on their wives and girlfriends. It was a part of life. I never thought it was a problem until I had a nervous breakdown.”

James, 34, who also wished to remain anonymous, is a member of Sex Addicts Anonymous in Las Vegas. He became addicted to pornography in 2013.

He said his addiction almost ruined his life.

“I couldn’t stop myself from watching porn,” James said. “Every day, I would go to the computer to look at porn, regret it and watch it again within the hour. I started viewing it at work and would stay late to watch it in the office sometimes until 2 a.m. I became much more distant from my wife. I was not present with her even when I was physically there. In my mind, I was having flashbacks of the porn that I viewed that day. I also started viewing my wife as a sexual object rather than the human being that I cared about. “

He said he saw his first pornographic image when he was in first grade.

“The appeal of pornography and sex is in our human instinct,” James said. “For me, my addiction helped me numb out. I didn’t have to deal with stress and loneliness or resentment. Pornography became my escape.”


Sex addiction is not listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the psychiatric bible that professionals use to diagnose mental health issues.

It was further debated in 2013 when a UCLA study found that the brains of people with sexual impulse problems don’t respond to sexual stimuli in the same way an addict’s would.

“I don’t agree with the idea that there’s something specifically called sex addiction,” said Laura Deitsch, a licensed clinical professional counselor and clinical sexologist. “One of the reasons is that it’s a natural, biological-occurring phenomenon in humans. We have a drive for sex. It’s how we procreate; it’s also a pleasure drive, so to take something that is a naturally occurring phenomenon and labeling someone who is acting on that naturally with a high rate of frequency an addict is a bit of a misnomer and dangerous.”

While some may see it as an escape, such as by following movie stars who are caught in cheating scandals, those who say they suffer from sex addiction claim it is not just a convenient excuse but a very real struggle.

“After about a month and a half after I started my journey towards recovery and I was clean from porn, I went through a physical detox,” James said. “I was curled up on the floor. I wanted to tear off the skin off my bones. I thought, ‘This is what it must be like for drug addicts.’ I felt sick. I lost weight. I got terrible shakes. These were obviously very real physical symptoms.”

“As one of our members said during a meeting, ‘Unless you’ve been through what I have been, you can’t tell me this addiction isn’t real,’ ” he added.

Deitsch further argues that the country’s cultural values and viewpoints on sex set people up for failure.

“As a culture here in the U.S., people are labeling people sex addicts because they’re putting their own moral value lens over it and not really looking at how we’re wired biologically,” Deitsch said. “I don’t think that monogamy is the natural state for humans. The book ‘Sex at Dawn’ talks about our closest living relative, the bonobo, which are not monogamous.”

For those who say that this is an addiction, there are a few symptoms to look out for, according to psychcentral.com, an independent mental health social network.

Typical behavior of a sex addict consists of the following: compulsive masturbation with or without pornography; ongoing abuse of soft- and hard-core porn; multiple affairs and brief “serial” relationships; attending strip clubs, adult bookstores and similar sex-focused environments; prostitution or use of prostitutes and “sensual” massage; compulsive use of cybersex; ongoing anonymous sexual hookups with people met online or in person; repeated patterns of unsafe sex; seeking sexual experiences without regard to the immediate or long-term consequences; and exhibitionism or voyeurism.

“You’re a sex addict, you’re like a junkie. It’s like a drug for you,” Richard said. “It affects your decision-making and the types of relationships you have with women. I was never honest. I was always cheating with whoever I was with.”


“Saying I’m a recovering sex addict is not the same as saying I’m a recovering alcoholic,” James said. “It’s a social taboo.”

Society’s values and norms have acted as an opprobrium, which is perhaps why people who are addicted to sex are discreet and keep their addiction hidden.

“This topic is one that is fraught with shame, guilt and cultural differences,” Deitsch said. “We talk about the fallout from sexual behaviors and paint that in a negative light. Infidelity and teen pregnancy often get lumped into the bigger sex addiction category.”

But like most addictions, it can also cross legal lines.

Northwest resident Nicolas Roquefort-Villeneuve recently released his film, “Sex Addiction,” which interviews male and female sex addicts.

He also interviewed the FBI for his film.

“For many addicts of pornography, conventional pornography is actually the gateway to more hard-core forms of pornography, and the pinnacle of this kind of porn is illegal porn or child porn,” Roquefort-Villeneuve said. “As soon as an individual starts downloading, exchanging, viewing child porn, the FBI starts watching them.”

According to the late Victor B. Cline, a nationally renowned clinical psychologist who specializes in sexual addiction, pornography can lead to illegal acts by desensitizing the viewer.

“Along with addiction comes desensitization. What was once shocking or revolting becomes commonplace and ordinary,” Cline wrote in an article titled “The Pornography Trap.” “Following desensitization, the problem usually escalates. In order to get their highs, kicks, and erotic turn-ons, those addicted to pornography develop a desire for more aberrant materials. Desensitization and escalation affect judgment to such a degree that those involved seem no longer able to discriminate between what is appropriate and what is illegal and could land them in jail.”


Data featured in “The Making of a Sex Addict” by Dr. Patrick Carnes, founder of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, discovered that a major area of impact was the role of child abuse.

In his studies, he found that 72 percent of addicts reported physical abuse, 81 percent reported sexual abuse, and 97 percent reported emotional abuse.

Furthermore, 77 percent of sex addicts in the study experienced their families as rigid, dogmatic and inflexible. Another 87 percent also found their families to be disengaged, or detached, uninvolved and emotionally absent.

“It’s hard to explain what motivated me to this addiction,” Richard said. “Underneath, I’m certain there’s a loneliness and desperation of not being satisfied or loved or appreciated. There’s also the excitement factor and the thrill that I craved. I enjoyed taking risks like having sex in public places and meeting women.”

For many, sex becomes less about the pleasure and intimacy of the act and more about filling a void buried deep inside oneself, Deitsch said.

“Harmful behaviors are usually things that are underlying of another thing going on in their lives,” Deitsch said. “These behaviors are actually systematic of, let’s say, low self-esteem or a compulsion or other kinds of things where they’re trying to fill a need, and it’s being expressed through sex or sex acts.”

Marina admits it’s become a way to fill a much larger void in her life.

“I would say dealing with my mom’s death and my abandonment issues is what led me to become addicted to sex,” Marina said. “Having sex fills the void of being alone; at least, it did in the past. Now it’s almost a habit I can’t shake. I love the feeling of it. I love feeling submissive to a man because I am so dominant in many other ways in my life.”


James has been attending Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings for the past two years and recently celebrated his two-year sobriety. He invites people who are struggling with the addiction to join the group.

“You’d think that these meeting are full of creepy people with trench coats, but that’s not the case,” James said. “The people who attend these meetings are husbands, single guys, business owners, people in power; we cover the full spectrum. It doesn’t matter what race or occupation you have. No one is safe from this addiction.”

Sex Addicts Anonymous is modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. People meet in local groups to share their experiences, strength and hope for the purpose of recovery from obsession with sex and compulsive sexual behavior, according to its website, saa-recovery.org.

“Being able to be in a room with other people that have been what you’ve been through and know the pain and the struggles you’ve gone through brings great comfort,” James said. “This is a safe environment, and you leave with friends and a great support system. You learn how to live again.”

Meetings are held every day of the week.

Southern Nevada Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous is a similar 12-step fellowship based on the model pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous. The only qualification for membership is a desire to stop living out a pattern of sex and love addiction. The group is supported through the contributions of its membership and is free to all who need it. Visit slaalasvegas.com.

“I’ve been addicted to several things in my life, and I can tell you, sex addiction is absolutely horrible,” Bill said. “I’ve known people who lost their jobs and broken up marriages because of this. Anything that controls your life to this extent and makes you do things you don’t want to do is a problem. It’s an addiction.”

— To reach North View reporter Sandy Lopez, email slopez@viewnews.com or call 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy

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