DR. GILDA CARLE (Ph.D.)
Going to rehab for “sex addiction” seems to be the rage among cheating husbands. But what’s the difference between a cheater and an addict?
Courtesy of Match.com’s Happen Magazine
The news has overflowed with salacious tales of cheating husbands. Tiki Barber cheated on his wife of 11 years with a 23-year-old intern while his wife was eight months pregnant with twins. He said he felt disdain for his own cheating father, yet he felt compelled to repeat his father’s mistakes in his own marriage. Jesse James’ exotic female tastes were “hot tattooed biker chicks with big boobs,” as he advertised on the Internet — while Sandra Bullock, anything but the picture of these fantasies, worked far away from her husband and stepchildren on location. Jesse hasn’t spoken to his dad in years, but his father frequently cheated on his wives and girlfriends. By some counts, Tiger Woods bedded approximately 120 women during his marriage. (Perhaps he felt competitive with his own cheating father!) While each of these guys acted despicably toward the women they’d married, do they really fit the “sex addict” stereotype? What, technically, is sex addiction?
Counselors say errors in judgment do not classify someone as sexually “addicted.” The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health reports that “sex addicts” comprise only 3-5% of overall the population. The official handbook of psychiatric diagnoses, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), doesn’t include a diagnosis for this ailment, although it is being considered for inclusion in the 2012 edition.
With the professionals themselves disagreeing on who is and is not a sex addict, how can a single woman assess whether the guy she’s dating will be faithful? Daniel Amen, M.D. reveals that if a man’s fourth finger is longer than his second finger, he is likely to stray. Dr. Amen also says that brain scans can identify who will cheat. While the finger test is easy, and some single women may be willing to pay for background checks on their dates, who would shell out the cash for a brain scan to get the real lowdown on someone she likes? Dr. Drew Pinsky, M.D., agrees that biological leanings do affect people’s behavior, but he stresses that childhood experiences also play a role. So the cheating dads of Tiki, Jesse and Tiger probably did influence their sons and their attitudes toward women, sex and commitment.
Researcher Arthur Aron speculates that a man’s level of commitment grows stronger depending on how much his romantic partner enhances his life. While this discovery won’t change an addict’s history (and altering addictive behavior is difficult), if an addict is dedicated to building an expanded future together with his romantic partner, changing his cheating behaviors may be possible.
Morris Halperin, Ph.D., adds that a sex addict is someone whose compulsive behavior prevents him from functioning in his own life. During their periods of unchecked promiscuity, Tiki, Jesse, and Tiger all functioned quite well. Halle Berry’s ex-husband, Eric Benet, and actor David Duchovny both checked themselves into rehab facilities for sex addiction treatment. Later, though, both men complained that they had been misdiagnosed. Both were able to sustain successful careers during their escapades. So who is a genuine sex addict — and who is just a very bad partner who struggles to remain faithful? And should the difference matter to a woman who is suffering with the fallout from a cheating mate?
Sexual addiction is usually accompanied by other addictions. For this reason, single women must be good detectives regarding their potential romantic partners. Seven years after her divorce, Naomi was ready to settle down. When she met Phil, she was impressed that he was a successful orthodontist with a huge clientele. She was also impressed by the way Phil wined and dined her. But hiding way beneath Phil’s cover of generosity was his compulsive spending problem. Naomi was too blinded by the baubles Phil bought her to even notice.
The pair was living in wintery Chicago when Phil announced he wanted to relocate to Florida because of his Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Naomi knew that Phil was on antidepressants. But she had no idea the real reason Phil wanted to move was that he was about to lose his professional license in Illinois because he’d been caught sleeping with his own patients. Afraid that Naomi wouldn’t go south with him, Phil proposed, asking her to become his seventh wife. Without question, Naomi accepted.
Just a few months later, Naomi discovered Phil was cheating on her with multiple patients. Shockingly, all of them were at least 20 years older than he was and grossly overweight. When she threatened to walk out,
Phil begrudgingly agreed to marriage counseling. During one session, Phil recalled being molested by his overweight mother when he was just a child. Throughout therapy, Phil realized all his dalliances were unconscious attempts to regain his mother’s love. If only Naomi had questioned his sexual history before they married!
After that, the only thing going south was Phil himself. Five patients were suing him for sexual harassment, and his compulsive shopping issues put him deeply in debt. Naomi left Phil and their once-opulent life together and never looked back.
Can sexual addiction be cured?
This CNN report by Elizabeth Cohen warns, “If you continue your sexual activities even under threat of being divorced, dead, fired, or arrested, you’re an addict.” Phil was now 65 pounds overweight with a heart condition. He had also been arrested for hitting a patient who rejected his sexual overtures. His small-town neighbors snickered behind his back about his issues, and his dental practice went bankrupt. Phil’s therapist advised him to join Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (S.L.A.A.). Phil refused — and left therapy. He’s now living penniless and alone.
Unlike Naomi, Elle,* married for 14 years, chose to stay with her cheating husband. When Elle discovered her husband romping with women and men (to guarantee no emotional strings), they already had three young children together. She demanded he tell her everything. He fell, ashamed, into the fetal position, a far cry from the successful stockbroker’s air of entitlement he usually displayed to the world. He revealed that he was secretly working with a sex therapist because, like other sex addicts I interviewed, he hated his hidden life. Elle is still working to eliminate the “mind movies” of her husband engaging in sex outside of their marriage. Both of them continue to pursue therapy together, and he regularly attends 12-step programs. I asked why Elle stayed. Elle said she saw her mother get sober after 25 years of drinking, so she knew addiction can be overcome. She created the blog, www.betrayedwivesclub.blogspot.com, to help support other women finding themselves in the same situation.
What is a single woman to do?
Elle tells single women to beware of three red flags:
- “Frat boy” humor consisting of inappropriate comments
- Pawing at your body sexually, despite your objections
- Blatant objectification of women as only being useful for sex
My own suggestions for women who suspect their man may have a sex addiction include:
- Ask questions about your guy’s parents, their relationship dynamic, and explore any possible stories or memories he might have of early molestation.
- Check out the length of your guy’s fourth finger. I know, I know. Even if you’re skeptical about this finding, use the information as a guide nonetheless.
- If you’ve been warned about previous cheating behavior, question YOUR motives for staying with someone who will continue to cause you grief. If you need to, seek professional help.
All exciting relationships are passionate at first. But as my Gilda-Gram cautions women, “Just because he has you in his bed, there’s no guarantee he wants you in his life.” Know that the hormone oxytocin, also called “love glue,” may irrationally bond you to a lover and his passion, regardless of the hurt he may inflict on you. If you seek out dates that have the potential as true, caring mates, you may save yourself from a broken heart.
*Name changed to protect her privacy.
Men, if you’re concerned about finding yourself in the same situation, check back next Monday for “Is Your New Gal A Sex Addict?”
GILDA CARLE (Ph.D.) is an internationally known psychotherapist, relationship educator, and management consultant. She is Match.com’s “Ask Dr. Gilda” advice columnist published on MSN.com. She is also known as the Country Music Doctor, with her “Country Cures.” She is a motivational speaker, professor of psychology & communications, the author of the well-known “Don’t Bet on the Prince!,” a test question on “Jeopardy,” 99 Prescriptions for Fidelity, How to Win When Your Mate Cheats, and many more. She was the therapist in HBO's Emmy Award winner, "Telling Nicholas," featured on Oprah, where she guided a family to tell their 7-year-old that his mom died in the World Trade Center bombing. She is currently developing her own TV show. Visit her website and get Instant Advice!