Rachel Resnick was driving on a Hollywood highway while obsessively texting a boyfriend who kept ignoring her calls. Desperate to connect with her partner, she lost control of her car and slammed into a family van.
Luckily, no one was hurt. But it took that high stakes moment for Resnick to realize that her desire for sex had reached a compulsive level.
In her book, “Love Junkie”, she recounts in vivid details her experience with sex addiction.
An estimated one to five percent of people live with sex addiction, and experts say more and more women are facing this problem.
“Sex addiction is an addiction like any other. It really is a way that people use sexual behaviour or fantasy to medicate or prevent uncomfortable emotional states,” said Dr. Penny Lawson, Manager of Family Services and Special Programs at Bellwood Health Services.
But identifying and diagnosing sex addiction is tricky, as the condition itself is ill-defined.
According to Dr. James Cantor, Senior Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), different people mean different things when they refer to sex addiction.
“For some people, it’s the enormous amount of time used either through masturbations or seeking potential sex partners,” he said.
“For some people, it’s just that sex is on their mind but they’re not actually expressing any kind of sexual behaviour in any…out of the ordinary sense.”
In practice, hypersexuality becomes a problem when it is interfering with a person’s daily activities and relationships.
Dr. Cantor said oftentimes sex addiction is actually one of many behavioural problems a person is experiencing.
“The sex is just what’s getting our attention because it’s sex,” he said. “There are a lot of women, for example, who express difficulty handling their emotions in general, that they feel their emotions in a more extreme way.”
He added that in some cases, an out of control sex life is one of the behavioural problems associated with childhood trauma.
“Early childhood relationship difficulties lead to adult relationship difficulties, of which sex is a part.”
Growing up, Resnick saw her mother suffer from depression and eventually commit suicide, a time she describes as a “defining moment” in her life.
“You grow up with some kind of mild depression and deep craving for this kind of attention that you didn’t get that would have helped with the formation of your whole being,” she said.
Women experience sex addiction differently than men. While sexual problems are usually embedded within relationships for women, men tend to spend long hours masturbating and looking for porn online.
But Dr. Lawson said the Internet is perhaps “rewiring women’s brains to be more visual” because according to Patrick Carnes, a U.S-based sex addiction expert, at least 40 per cent of female Internet users engage in problematic cybersex.
When it comes to seeking help for sex addiction, women tend to be more reluctant than men. For Resnick, who battled this problem since a young age, the addiction was top secret.
“My friends really didn’t know about what was going on,” she said. “And that I think is another hallmark of this particular addiction.”
When Resnick finally decided to confront her addiction, she joined to a 12-step recovery program with Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) in California.
“As soon as I walked in, oh my God, I belong there,” said Resnick, who says she is still recovering.
Treating sex addiction is difficult because unlike chemical dependence, sex is a natural part of life.
Dr. Lawson said experts usually recommend at least 90 days of complete sexual abstinence from all kinds of sex “to give the brain a rest” while addicts build recovery support systems.
Clinically, researchers are still looking into a set of interventions called dialectical behavioural therapy to treat sex addiction as a part of a range of personality disorders. This treatment will require a team of experts working with the patient.
The key, Dr. Cantor says, is to not isolate sex from a person’s life as a whole.
“In the long term, the more helpful interventions are going to be helping the woman develop healthy relationships in general of which sex is a part.”