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SEXtember: Under the sheets of sexual addiction

Jessica-Anne Lyons

Mon Sep 09 2013


WITH almost one million sufferers in Australia but barely any talk on the issue, Jessica-Anne Lyons sets out to explore the symptoms and the stigma surrounding sexual addiction. 

In one scene from the 2011 film Shame, Brandon (played by Michael Fassbender) appears to have emotional feelings for a female co-worker and after a date together, they begin engaging in foreplay with the intent to make love. Overwhelmed, however, by the emotional intimacy, Brandon can’t go through with the act.

This is one of the traits of sexual addiction, where those affected find it hard to engage in meaningful sexual relations and instead, can only be aroused by certain rituals or triggers.

Starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, the film is a portrait of a man consumed by sexual addiction. Throughout the film, Fassbender’s character Brandon struggles to lead a normal life as his sexual addiction inhibits him from having any semblance of a meaningful relationship, platonic or otherwise.

Brandon’s situation isn’t dissimilar to others. While one would imagine that having too much of a good thing is never bad, for around one million Australians, sexual addiction has no happy moments.

Defined by an unusually persistent sex drive or obsession with sex and compulsive or impulsive sexual behaviour, like any addiction, sex addiction impairs sufferers from living their normal day-to-day lives.

According to Robert Mittiga, director of the GATS Counselling Centre in Australia, approximately 8% of the total male population and 3% of the female population are addicted to sex.

But sex addicts aren’t necessarily addicted to having sexual intercourse.

It is not “sex” that addicts become consumed by but rather the high from the endorphins that are released when acting out a sexual behaviour. As a result, it creates a compulsive behaviour in addicts which compels them to achieve that high on a frequent basis.

Similar to self-medicating, acting on sexual behaviours sometimes becomes a way to cope with stress, anxiety and other negative feelings. However, when the frequency and intensity of these behaviours increases to a dangerous level it becomes a problem.

Internet pornography is considered to be  gateway into sex addiction. Still from Shame (2011) via

Internet pornography is considered to be gateway into sex addiction. Image via

Affirmotive Sex Addiction Australia identifies that there are three phases of the addiction, each with varying behaviours.

Stage one often involves compulsive and excessive masturbation, use of pornography, internet and phone sex, and sufferers also tend to compulsively enter relationships. This initial stage also includes anonymous sex, compulsive use of sex workers and avoiding intimacy.

Stage two sees sufferers begin to show exhibitionist and voyeuristic sexual behaviours and varying levels of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching – usually carried out in crowded places so it can be disguised as an accident.

The third stage is extremely serious and involves behaviours that are against the law, such as sexual violence and threats, rape, incest, and child sexual abuse and child pornography.

Like other addictions, those addicted often develop a tolerance and continue to seek more intense ‘hits’, which for sex addicts, often means undergoing riskier and riskier behaviours to meet their desire.

Sexual addiction often gets a bad reputation due to its association with sex offenders and crime, but the early stages of sexual addiction are common and can be treated through therapy.

Even high profile celebrities like Russell Brand and Tiger Woods have undergone rehab for sexual addiction.

If this sounds like you or someone someone you know, you can refer to Affirmotive’s official website to learn more about how you can overcome sexual addiction.