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What I learned about sex addiction

Can you really be addicted to sex or is it just an excuse for bad behaviour? Journalist Sangita Myska shares what she discovered whilst making the series Addicted to Sex.

1. It's not actually about sex

No, honestly, it really isn’t. That’s what every person I spoke to, who believes they are a sex addict, tells me. At its core this is a disease of intimacy. Or, more precisely, it’s a disease that means the person who has it can’t create and sustain an emotionally intimate relationship with another human being. Of course, the journey towards addiction starts out as sex: arousal, desire and climax. But then it changes into something (and I don’t say this flippantly) destructive - full of guilt, shame and lies.

When I write these words down, it feels slightly chilling. That’s because I’ve spent over a month listening to people whose lives have been devastated by their sexual compulsions. Whether it's sexting or spending several hours a day using pornography or visiting hundreds of sex workers, the addicts’ behaviour sends a wrecking ball through their lives – shattering families, friendships and careers.

2. Each person’s addiction is unique to them

I met Neila who would watch and masturbate to pornography 3 hours a night seven days a week. Then there was Michael who for years coolly and meticulously divided his life into two: Michael the loving Family Man and Michael the sex addict who for years saw hundreds of sex workers - that was, until his wife found out. And then there was Ash, the village GP whose compulsive use of porn led him to use it online, at work, during surgery hours.

3. Porn is everywhere

I'm now investigating the effect the tidal wave of porn now available over the internet is having on people, especially on the young. The nature, volume and type of what’s available has changed, forever. As have social attitudes towards it. In Western European culture, using porn just isn’t as taboo as it used to be. Many, many people will use it without any harm to themselves or others. But for addicts, unable to control their compulsions, the distinction between the "un-harmful" and "harmful" use of porn is one they can’t make. As Ash so vividly puts it, "the smart phone is (for sex addicts) the equivalent of having a heroin dealer in your pocket". A heroin dealer whose activities are legal, free and easy to keep secret.

4. People are willing to talk about it

When I set out to make this podcast with my producer, Sarah Shebbeare, we were genuinely worried that no one would want to speak to us, to tell us about the biggest most destructive, shameful secret in their lives. But we couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, what occurred to me over hours of conversations with sex addicts was that for years they had been storing up their shame, guilt and hurt and speaking out was a kind of unburdening. What they all wanted to do by sharing their stories was to help others.

That goes for both the partners of sex addicts like Mandy who’d been married for 26 years when she discovered her husband had been compulsively seeing strippers and sex workers or Neila, the female sex addict who talked so candidly about how hard it is for women – even in modern society – to admit they have a problem related to sex.

I am at once grateful that they’ve chosen to trust us and mindful that we now bear a huge responsibility not to sensationalise their stories or judge them as individuals. My job was to ask, listen and learn.

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