health: sex addiction
Hyper Sexed
Sex addiction is an affliction of the times. Cure lies in solidarity.
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One of Arjun’s earliest memories is a sexual one. Even today, each time he goes back to his village in Andhra Pradesh, he becomes that four-year-old enticed by his older cousin into playing ‘sex games’. While the other kids played in the fruit orchards, they took turns pulling down each other’s pants and revealing their genitals. It was a pow­erful experience recreated over and over again over eight years. But what started as a ‘boyish pursuit’ soon took over his whole life. “By the time I was in high school, I was proving my masculinity by abusing a female cousin to quench my insatiable hun­ger for sex,” notes Arjun, PhD scholar by day, sex addict 24/7. He’s 29 and it’s like his life has already fallen through the cracks. The ‘disease’ now has a life and agenda of its own, manifested through anonymous sex, compulsive masturbation, obsessive fantasising and internet porn. “When I wanted to ‘act out’, the urge didn’t go away, nor did I feel satisfied after the fix,” admits Arjun. “It’s an affliction that costs you time, money, relationships, jobs and even freedom, but the consequences do not limit your actions.” Things came to a head, however, after he got into the pro­s­titutes grid. “I was guilt-ridden and esc­­aping from everybody. At one level, I thought it’s dangerous, but at another the thought of having multiple partners was invigorating.” It was this despair that fin­ally led Arjun to Sex Addicts Anony­­m­ous, a self-help group in Delhi that runs on the principles of Alcoholics Anonym­ous and deals with addictive sexual beh­­aviour (SPYM building, 111/9 Aruna Asaf Ali Marg, Sector B4, Vasant Kunj, Delhi. Email: saawaredelhi@gmail.com).

“Even psychiatrists don’t recognise this as a problem. So when you share your thoughts and with people some of whom have had worse experiences, it gives you a little courage,” says Arjun. It’s been only two months but some well-planned dea­d­diction sessions have launched Arjun on the path to recovery. Or so, he believes.

***

Tiger woods Ex-world No. 1 golfer went though messy divorce after being outed for his affairs.   Swami Nithyananda Godman exposed in Tamil channel video; it showed him in various sexual acts.

Dominque Strauss-Kahn French officials charge him with “aggravated pimping”, forced to quit as IMF boss.   Michael Douglas US actor one of the first celebrities to go to a deaddiction clinic, in 1990.

Asaram Bapu Godman accused by a 16-year-old of rape at his Jodhpur ashram. Now behind bars.   David Duchovny The X-Files star has been open about his addiction, checked into rehab in ’08.

Silvio Berlusconi Ex-Italian PM known for his bunga-bunga parties with prostitutes.   Charlie Sheen Once went on a $53,000 binge on call girls. And then there’s the pornstar GFs.

N.D. Tiwari Quit as AP governor after being caught on video in bed with three girls.   Billy Bob Thornton Once married to Angelina Jolie, actor even had therapist falling for his charms.

***

At the modest sky-blue computer lab-like meeting place, addicts like Arjun fol­low a ‘12-step’ de-addiction progra­mme based on a template set by Alco­h­olics Anonymous. There are about 25-30 people holding hands, meditating, discussing past traumas. “I exp­erienced both joy and hope from knowing that the sexual chaos of my life had a name and that it held in it the potential for recovery,” reveals Sagar, 26, who’s just comp­l­e­ted 90 days of ‘sobriety’. The weekly ses­sions kick off with the edict, “I Am A Sex Addict”, the first recognisable step on the ladder to recovery.

Started over a year ago, SAA is a comfort space for sexaholics in Delhi in the abse­nce of adequate psychiatric care or support str­u­ctures. “Competent psychiatrists or sexologists can help addicts to an ext­­ent, but support groups provide the bac­kbone of care. A commonality of exp­­eriences binds people,” says sexolog­ist Prakash Kothari, who set up Asia’s first departm­ent of sexology at KEM Hospital, Mumbai. With more deaddiction centres for other maladies and an increase in consciousness, sexual healing too got a shot in the arm. Delhi, Ban­g­a­lore and Ahmedabad now have centres.    

 
 
“The mind of the sex addict is quite differently wired... the aim isn’t abstinence but stopping obsession.”
 
 
Of course the first step to getting cured is admitting that you have a problem. Anil, a cha­rismatic, middle-aged banker, reveals that his super-successful deme­a­n­our is mostly a fac­ade—“people would be shell-shocked” if they knew his history. He remembers the bad guy in his 20s compulsively jerking off in office, the picking up of bar dancers (over 100 of them) and the hooking up with random girls on matrimonial sites. “It was after four years of attending the 12-step prog­ramme that it finally hit me...the problem lay in my indiscriminate fantasising.” He agrees that the addict must first break the denial mode, realise the problem is in the “mind, body and soul”. Vipul, a 29-year-old businessman from Baroda, calls it a combination of “physical allergy, mental obsession and spiritual malady”. Having undergone a year’s deaddiction progra­mme in Ahm­e­dabad, he feels the malaise could well be the next epidemic unless India wakes up to the ‘real issue’. “Your life becomes unmanageable because of an all-pervas­ive sexual mania. Most rap­ists are add­icts and who wants a proliferation of more obsessive behaviour?”

Indeed, sexual obsession can be both complex and layered. The term, coi­­ned by Patrick Carnes in 1983 in his book Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Add­iction, has of late become vivid in the popular imagination with sev­eral books and films on the subject, not to mention the celebrities unravelling in full public gaze. Michael Fassbender in Steve McQ­ueen’s Shame, and other films like Nym­phomaniac and Thanks for Shar­ing have taken a somewhat taboo subject till now head on. Recent books like Don’t Call it Love: Recovery from Sexual Addiction and Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain too have put the spotlight on the issue. An estimated two million internet porn addicts are in and out of recovery today in the West.

According to Dr A. Chakravarthy, consultant in sexual medicine in Kerala, “Dia­gnosing sexual addiction is primarily through investigating sexual history. Patients spend excessive time seeking ways to gratify sexual urges and feel distressed if they can’t. There are feelings of guilt, but that doesn’t stop them from indulging in similar behaviour again. Indeed, it becomes their coping mechanism to deal with stress and loneliness.”

Suresh, a 46-year-old recovering grap­hic designer, remembers his former self as a “mentally sick person” scouring thr­o­ugh “50 kilos” of pornography in six mon­ths and allowing real-world rel­­­a­t­ionships to suffer. “I was an addict from the age of 11 right up to 40. The mind of an addict is  differently wired and one has to work hard on one’s sobriety. The aim isn’t abs­tinence but stopping obsession.” What Suresh laments is the fact that psychiatrists, instead of getting addicts into support groups, are only concerned about their own business. “Even now, when an addict walks into the office of a psychiatrist, he feels the stigma staring right at him.” Still, there is light at the end of the tunnel. “It’s like a spiritual cleansing when you finally come out on the other side,” says Suresh.

(Names changed to protect identities)


By Priyadarshini Sen with Siddhartha Mishra

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