[Two Pronged] Do I have a sex addiction?

Margarita Holmes
[Two Pronged] Do I have a sex addiction?
'I’m struggling, I really don’t want to stop but I know I have to'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Hi Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

I’d like to seek for your help/advise.

I’ve recently confirmed that I have an addiction to sex/love. I’ve met with a counselor for the first time yesterday as it was already ruining my marriage and the fact that I’m not so alarmed by it made me seek for help. I’m not sure what to do next, I tried to look online for programs/specialists but there seems to be a few in the Philippines. 

I’m 37 now but have been like this as early as 9 years old. I recall that I start to touch myself (masturbate) at that age. I didn’t know what it exactly was.

It continued until I was in college. And then sometime high school, I discovered porn and that continued on too, until now. And then in my early 20s, I started to chat with guys and engage in sexual activities online. That too is going on until present. I also downloaded this app that allowed me to “hook up” with other people in the area. I’ve met up and had a sexual encounter with 4 guys over 2 months. 

My husband has caught me twice now. The first one was 2 years ago and then recently, just yesterday. He thinks that they’re the usual affairs, but I know this will just go on if I don‘t get help. I’ve missed a lot of events just to indulge in these activities despite the many times I’ve tried to stop. 

From my talk with the counselor yesterday, he thinks it also has something to do with my childhood (I didn‘t grow up with my parents) which is the usual case. I didn’t think much about that then, I didn’t think that it made an impact on me or had any connection with how I am. So now I’m struggling, I really don’t want to stop but I know I have to.


Dear Cora,

Compulsive Sexual Behavior (CSB) is defined by WHO’s current International Classification of Diseases as persistent failure to control intense repetitive sexual impulses or urges, resulting in repetitive sexual behavior over an extended period that causes marked distress or impairment in personal, social, family, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

Doctors are, however, at pains to avoid a CSB diagnosis where: inter alia a) individuals have high sex drives but no impaired control or resultant anxiety, or distress b) adolescents display high levels of sexual interest, c) individuals suffering from distress due to moral judgment or disapproval, d) where the behavior can be explained by other medical conditions e.g. bipolar disorder or Parkinson’s or the direct effects of illicit substances.

Using this as a starting point, Cora, it seems reasonable to entertain an initial hypothesis that you are indeed suffering from CSB since a) your behavior is persistent, b) you have tried but failed to control it, and c) it is causing you anxiety in your personal life, your marriage and outside the house.

Careful diagnosis on strictly medical, rather than religious or moral, grounds is obviously required to achieve the best outcome. Presuming CSB is diagnosed and psychotherapy is appropriate, it may include cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Medication such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers may also be helpful.

You already have a counselor and this may prove sufficient for your needs but if medication is required, then you will in all likelihood need a psychiatrist. 

Above all, you need an accurate assessment of your condition and an equally accurate assessment of the best regime to help you through your problem.

I leave it to Dr Holmes to look more closely at your personal situation. All the best.

JAF Baer

Dear Cora,

Thank you very much for your letter. While I take your concerns seriously, I am not entirely convinced that you actually have a love/sex addiction.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. Masturbating at 9 and watching porn starting high school and continuing until now is not a sign of sexual disorder of any kind unless it causes you much distress and interferes with the rest of your life.
  2. The other two activities you mention may be a bit more tricky. You say, and I quote:
    • “as it was already ruining my marriage and the fact that I’m not so alarmed by it (italics mine) made me seek for help.” 

In truth, dearest Cora, the fact that you’re not so alarmed need not necessarily be cause for alarm. More likely, it could be cause for examining your marriage more deeply – is marriage to your husband the relationship you want for the rest of your life?       

If so, then you would feel more anxious to make sure you do not have another affair, as it could jeopardize your marriage. I am not sure if you feel curtailing your sexual behavior is worth the prize of staying married.

Do you even want to stay married? This distinction is important, Cora. 

This does not mean your husband is the wrong person for everyone, just the wrong person for you. If so, wouldn’t be better if you knew it sooner, rather than later.

Also, dearest Cora, you do not sound anxious or depressed, which usually accompany compulsions. You sound happy that you solved a puzzle, and not a particularly difficult one either.

…now – If my reading of your letter is all wrong, please berate me, as I welcome knowing my faults. If, however, it isn’t, please promise me that you will examine your feelings more deeply?

“I really don’t want to stop but I know I have to.”

…says whom, dearest Cora? 

If it is merely culture, your mother’s opinions, etc that say this, then that is not sufficient reason to stop, IMHO.

However, if you’ve tried to stop again and again (because you want to, because the idea of sleeping with four men in 2 months disgusts you, then yes, definitely continue seeing a counselor).

Good luck,

MG Holmes


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