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Sexual addiction, desire and dopamine hits

Not all sex addicts are sexual predators – many are just struggling to contain their destructive urges. Andrew Anthony meets addicts and therapists to hear how they cope with this secretive pandemic.

Of the many alleged victims of the film producer Harvey Weinstein, perhaps the most overlooked and least sympathised with are so-called sex addicts. They may not have directly suffered at his hands, but in their own way they have felt a harsh blowback from his actions.

When the damning testimonies of sexual abuse began to pile up, Weinstein denied allegations of non-consensual sex but did admit to a problem and is believed to have sought sanctuary – and treatment – at the Meadows, an upmarket sex addiction rehabilitation centre in Arizona.

It runs a men-only programme entitled, a little ironically in Weinstein’s case, Gentle Path, which lasts 45 days. Participants are assessed as to their position on the sex-addiction spectrum, according to a programme designed by Dr Patrick Carnes, the leading expert in the field who first popularised the term “sex addiction”. Level 1 is overuse of porn or masturbation and visiting prostitutes; Level 2 is victimisation, exhibitionism, voyeurism and harassment; Level 3 is rape, incest, child sex abuse. Carnes believes most people with addiction problems are a Level 1 or 2.

The residents of the centre undergo group, individual and family therapies. In a “nurturing community”, they also engage in meditation, exercise programmes, spiritual practices and lectures. By all accounts, the food and accommodation leave little to be desired.

The aim is for residents to “gain the courage to face difficult issues, including grief and loss; heal from emotional trauma; and become accountable for their own feelings, behaviours and recovery”. The actor Kevin Spacey, another accused of predatory sexual behaviour, is also said to have attended the Meadows.

To many observers, Weinstein’s sex-addiction treatment appeared like the last refuge of the Hollywood scoundrel, a handy excuse when all else had failed: “It’s not my fault. It’s my damaged psyche!” Even the term sex addiction seems a little too convenient: a vice masquerading as a pathology, an excuse dressed up as an illness. It’s not a condition that is recognised by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM], the bible of the American Psychiatric Association. There are no physical symptoms of withdrawal, as there are with, for example, alcohol and drug addiction.

Originally published by The Guardian.

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