STYLE
09/29/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sex Addiction: Fact Or Fiction?

In light of the news that David Duchovny recently checked himself into rehab for sex addiction, there may be some people out there scratching their heads and wondering what, exactly, constitutes a sex addiction. Well, we're here to break it down for you.

So what does constitute a sex addiction?

Straight to the experts. The website for Sex Addicts Anonymous defines "sexual addiction" as follows:

Sex Addiction can involve a wide variety of practices. Sometimes an addict has trouble with just one unwanted behavior, sometimes with many. A large number of sex addicts say their unhealthy use of sex has been a progressive process. It may have started with an addiction to masturbation, pornography (either printed or electronic), or a relationship, but over the years progressed to increasingly dangerous behaviors.

The essence of all addiction is the addicts' experience of powerlessness over a compulsive behavior, resulting in their lives becoming unmanageable. The addict is out of control and experiences tremendous shame, pain and self-loathing. The addict may wish to stop --- yet repeatedly fails to do so. The unmanageability of addicts' lives can be seen in the consequences they suffer: losing relationships, difficulties with work, arrests, financial troubles, a loss of interest in things not sexual, low self-esteem and despair.

Sexual preoccupation takes up tremendous amounts of energy. As this increases for the sex addict, a pattern of behavior (or rituals) follows, which usually leads to acting out (for some it is flirting, searching the net for pornography, or driving to the park.) When the acting out happens, there is a denial of feelings usually followed by despair and shame or a feeling of hopelessness and confusion.

Is sex addiction real?

Selfgrowth.com says this:

What makes any behavior an addiction? When do you cross the line from behavior that could be considered a bad habit into addiction territory? For example, how many beers a night make you an alcoholic? How much chocolate do you have to consume to be labeled a chocoholic? How many affairs does one have to have in order to say that this person is a sex addict?

Sorry, folks, but there is no magic number when it comes to addiction. Addictionologists have generally agreed that for a behavior to be labeled an addiction, the following elements must be present:

Can't stop despite negative consequences.
Presence of a mood-altered state
Strong element of denial.
Behavior is chronic and escalating because of tolerance.
Occurrence of withdrawal symptoms.

What are some symptoms of sex addiction?

The behaviors of sex addicts, according to Medicinenet.com, include:

* Compulsive masturbation (self-stimulation)
* Multiple affairs (extra-marital affairs)
* Multiple or anonymous sexual partners and/or one-night stands
* Consistent use of pornography
* Unsafe sex
* Phone or computer sex (cybersex)
* Prostitution or use of prostitutes
* Exhibitionism
* Obsessive dating through personal ads
* Voyeurism (watching others) and/or stalking
* Sexual harassment
* Molestation/rape

What causes a sex addiction?

Psychology Today offers this:

In the situation of love addicts, often their own growth and development were thwarted earlier in life. Similarly, many sex addicts report some type of abuse or neglect as children and see themselves as damaged. Their parents are often sex addicts themselves.

Stress also encourages compulsive sexual behavior by feeding the addict's need for withdrawal and fantasy.

So how do you know if you are a sex addict?

Well, you can take quizzes like the one offered by Sex Addicts Anonymous with questions like these:

1. Do you keep secrets about your sexual or romantic activities from those important to you? Do you lead a double life?

2. Have your needs driven you to have sex in places or situations or with people you would not normally choose?

3. Do you find yourself looking for sexually arousing articles or scenes in newspapers, magazines, or other media?

What does sex addict treatment involve?

The Mayo Clinic recommends psychotherapy such as psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy, group therapy, or family therapy or marriage counseling, medications like antidepressants, anti-androgens or mood stabilizers, and/or self-help groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

Back in March, following a little scandal involving prostitution, it was speculated that Eliot Spitzer might be a sex addict. The New York Post reported he was in therapy for it and blogger Dr. Tian Dayton ruminated on the issue in her post "Is Eliot Spitzer A Sex Addict?"

Finally, blogger Rachel Kramer Bussel tackled the issue in her post "Are You A Sex Addict? Am I?"

What do you think? Is sex addiction a real disorder or just a way to pathologize people who really like sex?