Ex-lawmaker Anthony Weiner, Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen have lots of company. As many as 18 million people are considered sex addicts, with behaviors that have taken on new dimensions with the explosion of the Internet.
Almost 60 percent of online sexual compulsive behavior results exclusively from Internet use, according to Net
And while the Internet can't be blamed for creating more sex addicts, Oklahoma City counselor Angie Ridings says it likely does contribute.
“I think it's certainly accelerated the problem. It's so easily accessible, a lot of it is free and children can find it. And if they run across something as a child, they are more likely to become addicted,” said Ridings.
Only about 3 percent of commercial porn sites on the Internet require adult verification, adding to the vulnerability of the 12- to 17-year-olds who make up the largest group of Internet porn viewers, studies show.
Regardless of the age of the participant, the images or the sexual messages shared through text messaging tend to charge up the brain chemistry, according to one theory.
“They are getting these constant little bursts of dopamine in their brain throughout the day. By not having the right brain chemistry, this is the way they are self-medicating,” said Stacey Dean, an Oklahoma City licensed professional counselor who treats sex addicts.
It's really no surprise that the ranks of self-medicators include hyper-focused celebrities who jump into the headlines every few weeks because of their sexual behavior.
“The things that make people good at certain things, like talented golfers or celebrities with great talent, also make them prone to do things that sex addicts do,” Dean said.
But why do these with exceptional focus, looks, skills and talents — people who are always in the public eye — risk it all to act out sexual fantasies?
“I'm sure Bill Clinton, Schwarzenegger, Weiner and all the rest knew the risks they were undertaking,” said Dr. Lance Dodes, author and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and analyst with the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.
“People with addictions aren't any stupider than anyone else, so they know the consequences.”
And, the celebrity addicts are actually much like people who are addicted to gambling, shopping, alcohol or drugs.
Help is out there
Therapists generally seem to agree on one thing: the reason addicts don't just stop is because they can't.
But that doesn't mean sex addicts can't be helped. The sex addict can break free of those texted inappropriate photos, sex chat rooms and online pornography sites, experts say.
Carnes and his followers recommends finding a support group, becoming accountable to others and, when needed, seeking professional therapy.
Dean said she does sex therapy with couples while working closely with psychiatrists who delve into underlying issues such as bi-polar disorder or anxiety. She said once these patients are treated and managing the disease, they often better manage their tendency to act out sexually.
Dodes takes a different approach to treatment. He suggests sex addicts talk to a good psychiatric therapist.
“People should have more hope than they do about addiction treatment,” he said.