Abuja - I made the mistake of watching Nymphomaniac the other night. If you don’t know, Nymphomaniac is about sex addiction and is Lars von Trier’s answer to Steve McQueen’s much more eloquent take on the topic, Shame. Here’s a spoiler: Nymphomaniac is a tedious trek through stereotype, hack philosophy and blunt analogy. But it does at least go so far as to say what Von Trier’s lead character cannot say with words: sex addiction can ruin your life.
See, it’s an actual thing. As much as we might like to snigger at so-and-so, who is, like, totally a sex addict because s/he cannot keep it in their pants ha ha, sex addiction is filed under what is called ‘process addictions’.
Process addictions are those compulsive behaviours that end up taking over your life, relationships, job and general well-being. Ever watch that TMZ programme Extreme Couponing? Process addiction. Ditto compulsive shopping, working out or gaming. Behaviour experts reckon that basically anything that can stimulate you could become addictive given the right circumstances.
And sex is pretty stimulating so…
At dinner the other night, while most of us were all tut-tutting about ‘other people’ with sex addictions, Lima dropped a concern she had into the mix. She’s a pretty highly sexed lady who finds pleasure in pleasuring herself with new lovers often. Not as often as she’d like to though. ‘Being married is probably the only thing keeping me from slipping into sex addiction,’ she said. It was more a question than a statement really. It could be considered a tough call for women – does a high sex drive with a curious and expansive nature make you a sex addict or just a slut? Choices, choices.
Jokes aside, it points to the confusion many people feel about the topic of sex addiction. Does having a lot of sex make you a sex addict? Nope. Does cheating per se? Or watching porn or wanking a lot? Nope, nope and nope. But make the act overwhelming, compulsive, mindless and relentless and you start touching on sex addiction.
I had a chat to Corrie Davidson, a clinical social worker who helps partners and people suffering from compulsive sexual behaviour. ‘The golden framework of deciphering whether something has become an addiction is this: spending more and more time with the activity despite real or looming consequences, becoming increasingly preoccupied with it and being physically but not emotionally present.’
Corrie says that 1 in 20 people are women reaching out for help with this. ‘Compulsive sexual behaviour among women is so much more difficult to broach, since there so much more shame attached to it, but it happens.’
Of course, labeling someone as a sex addict is still considered highly contentious in many circles. After all, something only becomes problematic if it becomes problematic for you. If it’s getting you fired, ruining your relationships and leaving you riddled with STDs and feeling like an empty husk, you might only then see it as a problem
But what if you’re keeping your job, have your health and don’t consider yourself the settling down type? Who gives a shit then right? Sex addiction? Puh-lease. You’re choosing to sleep with as many (free or paid) men or women as you want and watch porn when you do. Every time. And between times. When you’re not missing meetings because you’re wacking off in the bathroom (I swear it’s happened to me only once.)
The funny thing with process addictions, though, is that they’re accumulative.
I once had a boyfriend who I considered ‘quite sexed’ – he had terabytes of porn, was obsessed with his penis, signed up to every online sex match-up site there was, related everything back to sex and would regularly solicit men for one-night stands. We broke up because he needed the freedom to shag more people.
Fast-forward a few months.
I’m at a dinner with my SGF (sassy gay friend y'all) and we’re talking about what sex-soliciting meat markets online dating sites are. I tell him about my ex’s use of online ‘dating’ sites for quick, easy sex. Before I know it, on a ill-advised dare, SGF is dialing him on speakerphone to see if he’ll come round. It’s two in the morning. My ex doesn’t know I am there. SGF pretends to have met him ‘out’ (they’ve never met and my ex says as much) and jokes about how much ‘fun' they could have. The outcome should be obvious. But 40 minutes later, there is a ring at the doorbell. My ex has arrived, high, in the early hours of the morning at the house to have sex with my SGF – a man he’s never met in a house he’s never been to.
SGF freaks out and guess who has to go down and meet him? Moi. It was not my finest moment.
So was my ex engaging in risky sex? Or, taking all of his actions into account, engaging in compulsive sexual behaviour? Decisions, decisions.
I asked Corrie what she considered healthy sexuality. ‘It’s when there are no secrets, doesn’t harm you or your partner, and doesn’t leave you with guilt or shame.’
Sex addict or not, I wonder how many of us can claim that 100%, 100% of the time.
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