Female sex addiction on the rise, say psychiatrists

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Sex addiction among women is increasing, according to academic research which blames the internet for the growth of an obsession once thought to be almost exclusively male.

Sex addiction among women is increasing, according to academic research which blames the internet for the growth of an obsession once thought to be almost exclusively male.

The rise in cases coming to light follows increases in alcoholism and drug use among women. For the first time, women-only sex addict meetings are being held each week in London to help people tackle their problems.

The research found that between 1 and 2 per cent of women in the UK now suffers from sex addiction. In women, the condition has been largely ignored, often because those affected have not sought help. An international study by a US university concludes that the problem is extensive and under-reported.

While fictional characters such as Samantha in the TV series Sex and the City boast of their sexual conquests, in real life women are generally ashamed of their behaviour.

Dr Cyndi Roller, author of the report Sex Addiction and Women, said women addicted to sex believe they are worthless, that no one loves them, that their needs will never be met and that sex is their most important need.

Robin Cato, the chief executive of the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, said: "A man can go out [with] all these acting-out behaviours and society considers them macho - it's what a man does. But if a woman does it, she's a tramp."

Dr Sidney Crown, a London-based psychiatrist and sex counsellor, said: "I think the internet has played a part in the increase. Sexual appetite can always be titillated and an appetite for anything can lead to addiction. It is also the case that society is now much more permissive; if, a few years ago, a woman had openly said she wanted sex, it would have raised eyebrows. It is more acceptable now."

Don Serratt, founder and chief executive of Life Works, an addiction and mental health treatment centre in Surrey, said: "The internet is the crack cocaine of sex addiction. People have just gone off the wall with it because it is so easily accessible. We have treated about 20 women since February, our youngest was 19 and the oldest was 58 - all from very different social strata, including a few high fliers."

One "recovered addict", June, 38, who helped to set up a women-only sex addict meeting in London, said her compulsion probably began in her teens. She had had about 150 sexual relationships.

She said: "I came from a fairly dysfunctional family around sex, and I had a lot of fear and shame around my sexuality. Sex was another drug, another fix. It was a way of getting affirmation and power and being able to manipulate people .... My self-esteem came with being a plaything, or a sex object .... It is like a different form of self-harm. It gave me the illusion of being in control of how I abused myself.

"A lot of the time it was never about having sex to have a relationship. A lot of the people I had sex with I didn't want to be seen in public with."

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