Although women are still widely underrepresented in studies on addiction, we are gradually moving towards a culture that not only acknowledges their legitimate struggles with alcoholism, sex and love addiction and compulsive eating and/or spending, but also acknowledges the unique ways in which their behaviors and recovery patterns differ from those of men. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recognizes about one third of alcoholics are women, and Patrick Carnes, author of Don't Call it Love and Facing Addiction, estimates that female sex and love addicts are found in an approximately similar proportion.
Societal conditioning of women cannot be ignored when broaching this topic. Women's sexuality has long been demonized, repressed, ignored, fetishized and dichotomized by the media, the church and patriarchal society at large. As children, we all learn the Bible story that tells us Eve was a seductress who used her wiles to tempt Adam and thus bring about the couple's banishment from Eden. This is an enormous burden of guilt to put on half the population, and many similar stories about women's dual goddess/whore nature continue to be passed down through the generations. The double standards of promiscuous males being called "studs" and promiscuous females being called "sluts" only adds to the female sex addict's confusion and shame. Women are held up to be mothers, caregivers and nurturers, rather than just ordinary humans with the same needs and desires as their male counterparts. Historically, women who ventured outside of these expected roles have been called fallen women, witches, spinsters, hags, or old maids. Women who choose to love other women rather than men have endured a barrage of name-calling, ostracization and even violence.
While society warns women against becoming sluts, it simultaneously reminds them they need to show some skin. Images of women in advertising and the media are highly sexualized, and we are in constant contact with these images via the Internet, our phones, movies, or the supermarket checkout lane, which is littered with magazine covers. Women who experience a more subtle, internal sexuality may feel pressured to "act more like a man" and stop being such a prude. Trying to figure out the right number of sexual partners to have in order to be considered "normal and acceptable" can become a full-time job.
Compounding these difficulties is the fact that women experience sexual abuse, harassment, rape and sexual violence on a disconcertingly regular basis and in much higher proportions than men. Only one out of every 33 men has experienced rape, either attempted or completed, compared to one in every six women, according to RAINN. The Crimes Against Children Research Center has reported that one in five girls is a victim of childhood sexual abuse as compared to one in 20 boys, and a government survey shows that 20 percent of female adults recall experiencing childhood sexual assault. These are traumatic, damaging events for any gender, of course, but in regards to the genesis of female sexual addiction, abuse may play a much larger role than it does for men. Self-objectification can be so ingrained for many abused women, that they don't see their lifestyle as addiction, but rather simply "the way things are."
While there are many other issues not discussed in this blog, including the role of love addiction and co-dependency, it is clear that in order to recover, the female sex addict must receive counseling and support that addresses these issues specifically, rather than a cookie cutter version of addiction recovery in which one size fits all. Through increased awareness, self-love and connection with other women via support groups, the female sex addict can obtain a sexual identity that is strong, vibrant, and healthy; one that is entirely free from limiting external influences as well as all the harms and assaults of the past.
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