Yes, I am addicted to sex

And there is no pleasure in it, only compulsion. Suzanna Ferguson on a notoriously tough addiction and how to conquer it
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DAVID MILNER is a perfectly normal middle-aged, middle class man, apart from one thing - he cannot hold down a relationship with a woman.

Nothing so unusual in that - except that, as part of his recovery therapy, he cannot even telephone one, let alone see one. For, like those Hollywood stars and now "Harry", alias Woody Allen in his latest movie Deconstructing Harry, he is addicted to sex.

In the film, Harry tells his psychiatrist: "I'm always thinking of f---ing every woman I meet." And so did David, 49, from Suffolk, who believes there are thousands of other people out there, addicted to a never-ending series of one-night stands.

Sex addicts are emphatically not people who love sex, and plenty of it, say experts. Instead, as with all addicts, they are people who use a substance or process to make them feel high - instead of enjoying its primary purpose. They have sex for a hit, and not to get close to someone or as part of a relationship.

David has just finished his eighth stint of residential treatment for addictions at the Promis Recovery Centre, in Nonington, Kent. He was there eight weeks, during which time he was allowed no association with women.

"It was difficult at first. I went through a whole range of emotions from jealousy to anger, but then I became more comfortable with myself and I am now feeling much happier in me."

He admits to being nervous about returning to normal life. "I have committed myself to staying away from women until I can trust myself to behave in a more healthy way towards them. I have to question my motives before even making a phone call."

University-educated David, who is now unemployed, says he realised he was addicted to sex when being treated for drug and drink problems. "When I was younger it was actual promiscuous behaviour; more recently, it is the use of pornography."

It is a notoriously tough addiction to cure. A report by US doctor Martha Turner says the condition is the hardest psychological illness to treat, with high relapse rates and low recovery.

Treatment at the Promis Recovery Centre consists of group therapy, during which addicts are helped to come to terms with their compulsive behaviour. Dr Robert Lefever, the centre's director, sees at least three sex addicts a week - men and women. "People think sex addicts are predominantly men, but it's about 50/50."

Most of the sex addicts who book into Promis do so because it is recommended by friends. But it is not uncommon for people to be referred to the centre by GPs.

Dr Lefever believes more people are being treated because it is being better diagnosed. And treatment is crucial. "Addicts get damaged by their addiction but can't see how they can live without it. They are in a lot of pain and at suicidal risk.

"An addict is to be pitied. He or she isn't getting any pleasure."

After treatment, addicts are encouraged to seek out continuing support. Although more widely recognised, there is still only a few groups which deal specifically with sexaholics. One such is Sex Addicts Anonymous, where Bob, is a member. Bob,who is in his 40s and lives in north London, first went to a meeting six years ago and feels it probably saved his life.

He became addicted to sex at a very early age to "numb my loneliness". As he got older, Bob used women for sex in what he describes as "three dimensional pornography".

"I never saw the person I was having sex with. Since talking about my own experiences I realise how crazy my view of sex actually was. I thought that sex didn't have much to do with my life, that sex and everything else were separate, but I now see the two are integrated. The meetings have certainly changed my life and probably saved it. If I hadn't gone I would probably be seriously ill or in prison, even dead."

t Sex Addicts Anonymous at present only run meetings in London and Oxford, with contacts in Glasgow and Aberystwyth. For more information call 0181 442 0026. The Promis Recovery Centre can be contacted on 0800 374318.

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