Tiger Woods and Jesse James are two of the most recent celebrities admitting and seeking treatment for sexual addiction. But this is not a celebrity addiction. It's a growing problem across the country, including here in Southern Colorado.
"I was living a double life," says Walter*, who has been in recovery for sexual addiction for 22 years. "I have had... the best I can calculate, between 2-3 thousand partners."
He spoke with 11 News about that time in his life and how desperate he became to feed his addiction.
"I could have lost my job, I could have lost my family, I could have lost everything, but I still ...I couldn't stop."
This is the pattern of an addict. And you may know someone just like him.
"Sex addicts look like everybody," says Dr. Doug Weiss. He's been treating sex addicts for more than 20-years at his Heart-to-Heart Counseling Center. He says there's no profile.
"Every race, every religion, every socio-economic - addiction crosses all those barriers, internationally," says Dr. Weiss.
The National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity estimates that 6-8% of Americans are sex addicts, someone whose preoccupation with sex can lead to self-destructive behavior. That's 18-24-million people.
But Dr. Weiss says that number is growing and he expects a tsunami of sexual addiction in our country. Some begins with sexual abuse. But he says many people become addicted through the internet.
"You used to have to flip pages," says Dr. Weiss. "Now it's like, bang, bang, bang."
He says another way the Internet has expedited sexual addiction is it has reduced the age of availability. In other words, if you're old enough to use the computer, you're old enough to be exposed to porn.
"The Internet is a porn store," says Dr. Weiss. "About 85-90% pure pornography with other features."
Dr. Weiss says this starts an unhealthy pattern for a developing brain, especially in a young person who may have addictive tendencies. Walter believes his addiction started at an early age.
"I started acting out sexually when I was probably 7 or 8 years old," he says. "I was addicted by the time, I'd say, I was 10."
As the young person grows, so does the addiction. That's especially the case where porn is concerned.
"No woman is enough because they're glued to an object, not a person," says Dr. Weiss.
Walter told us, while he was dealing with his addiction, he felt like one of the vilest monsters that ever walked the earth. But it is possible to break free. A growing number of support groups, counseling centers and books are now available.
Dr. Weiss says he expects his center to be full as more and more people seek treatment for this growing addiction.
"It's going be way more common," he says. "You know, we're going to have sexual recovery groups like AA groups in the next 10-15 years everywhere."
Walter still considers himself in recovery. But he is now in a healthy marriage.
"Maybe it's what I was looking for my whole life and I just didn't know how to get it, how to find it," he says.
But as Dr. Weiss says folks like Walter can now enjoy life more. "Life is better without any addiction, especially one with sexual addiction."
If you believe you are dealing with a sexual addiction, Sex Addicts Anonymous (SSA) has 12 questions you can review for self-assessment:
1. Do you keep secrets about your sexual behavior or romantic fantasies from those important to you? Do you lead a double life?
2. Have your desires driven you to have sex in places or with people you would not normally choose?
3. Do you need greater variety, increased frequency or more extreme sexual activities to achieve the same level of excitement or relief?
4. Does your use of pornography occupy large amounts of time and/or jeopardize your significant relationships or employment?
5. Do your relationships become distorted with sexual pre-occupation? Does each new relationship have the same destructive pattern which prompted you to leave the last one?
6. Do you frequently want to get away from a partner after having sex? Do you feel remorse, shame, or guilt after a sexual encounter?
7. Have your sexual practices caused you legal problems? Could your sexual practices cause you legal problems?
8. Does your pursuit of sex or sexual fantasy conflict with your moral standards or interfere with your personal spiritual journey?
9. Do your sexual activities involve coercion, violence or the threat of disease?
10. Has your sexual behavior or pursuit of sexual relationships ever left you feeling hopeless. Alienated from others, or suicidal?
11. Does your preoccupation with sexual fantasies cause problems in any area of your life - even when you do not act out your fantasies?
12. Do you compulsively avoid sexual activity due to fear of sex or intimacy? Does your sexual avoidance consume you mentally?
For more information on treatment of sexual addiction, visit the links below for Dr. Doug Weiss's Heart-to-Heart Counseling Center and Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA).
Also, check out the Web Extra video from our interview with Dr. Weiss for more information on sexual addiction, including the brain's reaction to sex, high libido vs. sexual addiction and his take on Tiger Woods. Click on the video link above for more.