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Conference Studies People Addicted To Sex

May 19, 1987

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ People obsessed with sex as adults often are looking for emotional fulfillment after being neglected or abused as children, researchers at the nation’s first conference on sex addiction say.

But they say the condition, which can jeopardize careers and families, may be treated with some of the same methods used by alcoholics.

″A typical (sex addict) is someone who from the moment they wake up they thinks about what they might do sexually during that day, and they plan the day according to that,″ said conference chairman Eli Coleman, associate director of the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

″People will go to great lengths, and will risk things of great value to them,″ he said. ″They’ll risk their own lives, their jobs, their families.″

While no one is certain what causes sexual addictions, Coleman said family background seems to play a role.

″One thing some have in common is coming from abusive or neglected family backgrounds where there has not been a lot of intimacy expressed,″ he said.

Between 250 and 300 professionals, sexologists and mental health experts are attending the two-day conference ending today, Coleman said.

Its purpose is to allow specialists to pool their knowledge in hopes of coming to a better understanding and treatment of sexual compulsivity and addiction, he said.

Sex addicts engage in sex to fulfill an emotional need, Coleman said.

″There is obviously a physical pleasure, but for many of them when they’re involved in their act, it’s a release of feelings of depression, aloneness. In many ways they describe it as a fix to some very negative feelings,″ he said.

People addicted to sex say their craving is similar to an alcoholic wanting a drink or a drug addict wanting a fix, Coleman said. Sex becomes an obsession which preoccupies them.

″One example is that they can’t carry on an ordinary conversation with a friend without those thoughts. They’d rather be somewhere else or (be) sexual with this person. It starts to become pervasive with them,″ Coleman said.

Researchers aren’t sure how many Americans suffer from sex addiction, largely because the study of sexual compulsivity is fairly new, Coleman said.

″We’ve identified far more people with this pattern than we did in the past, but that may be due to our awareness of the problem,″ Coleman said. ″But it could also be an increase because of the social and cultural climate.″

Another researcher, author Patrick Carnes, has estimated that one of every 12 Americans is sexually addicted, Coleman said.

Sex addicts reflect a cross section of the population, according to a study of people attending meetings of a group called Sexual Addicts Anonymous, Coleman said.

″They were found to be more highly educated and a little more affluent than the average population,″ Coleman said.

Studies have not determined whether men or women are more inclined toward sex addiction, and it is difficult to draw the line between people who simply engage in sex frequently and those who are truly addicted, he said.

Steps leading to recovery include awareness, discovery and victory over the negative aspects of lust, and sexual sobriety.

″One of the goals is to help them see sexuality as a positive force in their life. The program is not to eliminate sex in their life, but to build a positive attitude about incorporating sex into one’s life,″ he said.

Organizations besides Sexual Addicts Anonymous formed to help sex addicts include Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex and Love Anonymous and Sex Abusers Anonymous, he said. It is not known how many members the groups have.

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