In his latest book, America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life [Simon & Schuster], author Benoit Denizet-Lewis poignantly describes a moment in his life with which so many of us are familiar: the moment when, despite our greatest our efforts to ignore it, justify it or drown it, we have to face our greatest fear.

“I was 24 years old, three hours from home and waiting for a stranger at 1 a.m. in a deserted grocery store… There was, I knew, the distinct possibility that this guy (who claimed his name was Mike) didn’t exist, at least not in his advertised form — 22 and paranoid that his girlfriend would find out that he occasionally had sex with guys. There was also the chance that he was exactly as he claimed to be, but that he had changed his mind when it came to turning an Internet fantasy (we met online) into reality.

“If Mike didn’t show, I had a 19-year-old backup plan named Travis, a regular in one of the chat rooms I frequented. We had never met in person, but he lived close to Mike, so it seemed logical that I should have sex with both of them on this trip — Mike in my car, Travis in his apartment. But Mike was 30 minutes late, and he wasn’t answering his cellphone… I called Mike again, but this time it went straight to voice mail. Was he really standing me up — again? I had come here the previous night, too, having driven 200 kms in a pounding rainstorm for the privilege of having sex with Mike. But he hadn’t shown up.”

The essence of this story lies in the promises Denizet-Lewis had made to himself. On the day of the incident in question: he had resolved not to indulge in this behaviour. He was to attend a wedding of a childhood friend later that day. Needless to say, he missed it. He’d told himself: “No time for sex! But as I sat at my desk, a thought occurred: “If I am not going to have sex today, I should take care of business now.” I decided to look at pornography online for 15 minutes (20 minutes max). An hour into that, I got an e-mail message from Mike saying he wanted to meet. I decided to skip the wedding.”

As he reflects later on in the book: “I had skipped my friend’s wedding and driven more than two hours to hook up with a drunk stranger who was cheating on his boyfriend. I felt disgusted and ashamed. But I had sex with him anyway.”

Everybody’s doing it…

According Imraan Muscat, Clinical Director at Harmony Addictions Clinic in Hout Bay, Cape Town, sexual addictions are only now getting the recognition alcoholism started to receive 30 years ago, within the mental health fraternity. “This tends to compound the feelings of shame that people with sexual compulsions and addictions feel about themselves and can be a big stumbling block in asking for help. The stigma is still huge.”

Drawing on expert research in the field, ten “types” of sexually compulsive behaviour have been identified and include fantasy sex, voyeuristic sex, exhibitionistic sex, paying for sex, anonymous sex and exploitative sex. We all recognise these behaviours, may even have indulged in them from time to time – who hasn’t watched porn? So what’s the problem?

Going back to Denizet-Lewis’story: “As I sped home, I wanted to cry. What was happening to me? Why couldn’t I stop chasing sex, no matter the consequences?…To much of the general public, sex addiction is a punch line, a pop-psychology diagnosis or an attempt to explain away recklessness and perversion. But my sex addiction is unfortunately very real; it has cost me a job, romantic relationships, friendships and, on many days, my sanity and self-respect. …What would make me — a grown man fully capable of willpower and moderation in other areas of my life — act this way?”

As Denizet-Lewis points out, the behaviour becomes a real problem when it begins to affect our lives in a negative way; damaging our relationships with friends, family and partners, our professional life, our health or just in the way we see ourselves.

These behaviours are as old as the hills and the internet has turbo charged them. Some experts call the internet the crack-cocaine of sex addiction. Some are more subtle. Such as addiction to romance, wherein the sufferer needs to keep re-engaging in new romances to feel satisfied. But the results are the same: a feeling of dissatisfaction, loneliness and an inability to sustain meaningful relationships.

According to Muscat, there is little research at present into the origins of sexual addictions. “Often there is childhood trauma, feelings of not being socially accepted, and as with other addictions, we suspect there is a strong genetic component. When a person accepts their problem, the issue of “Why” becomes far less important than “How can I get well again.”

Away from shame and isolation

And indeed recovery from this addiction is very possible. The first step is establishing whether a problem exists or not. This can be a very fearful step to take: “Most addicts feel alone in their problem. Ashamed that they, themselves, cannot control themselves. The truth is the problem is much more common than society would have us believe. It is also very common for those battling with sexual addictions to have substance abuse challenges as well.

For some, the substances are used only when they act out sexually; for others, it exists as a problem in and of itself. Most people with sexual addictions, after realising and accepting their problem, feel a flood of relief. Now they can actually learn how to live a healthy life with healthy sexual relationships, and we are here to help them” says Muscat.


“Equally important are the addict’s partners. Many have accepted behaviours in their loved ones that, in truth, they actually aren’t comfortable with. Harmony Addictions Clinic provides help in the form of assessments, interventions and counselling for them too.”

Unlike recovery from drugs and alcohol, a recovering sex addict does not abstain from sexual activity, but learns to rule out certain behaviours, specific to their experiences, and manage cravings for them, whilst gradually discovering a healthier relationship with sex. “It’s by no means an easy process, but with the tools at our disposal, we are able to start the individual on a path that will lead to rich rewards in their life as a whole.”

Harmony Addictions Clinic is staffed by leading addictions counsellors and offers help for those with alcohol, drug and sex addictions. Uniquely, it also offers a smoking cessation programme. It also offers a range of financial options to assist in covering the cost of treatment.

For a confidential conversation, be it about yourself or a loved one, feel free to contact Harmony Addictions Clinic at any time on +27 (0)21 790 7779 or visit the website

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