Stefanie Carnes, Ph.D.recently sat down with Pat McMahon on Arizona Daily Mix to talk about the prevalence of sex and pornography addiction among men, women, and even children in our society. Dr. Carnes is a Senior Fellow at The Meadows and is the clinical architect of Willow House at The Meadows, our new love, and sex addiction treatment program for women. Here are a few highlights from the conversation:
How do you diagnose someone with sex addiction?
Dr. Stefanie Carnes: It can sometimes be overdiagnosed. Some people will think that just because they are struggling a little bit with pornography or they had an affair that they are potentially a sex addict. We look for specific criteria, though, to determine if someone is a sex addict.
We’re looking to determine if the person:
- is continuing despite consequences,
- has destroyed their relationships,
- spends excessive amounts of time preoccupied with their behavior, and/or
- has tried to stop the behavior and failed.
Sex addicts can even have psychological withdrawal symptoms from not being able to access the behavior. And they can build up tolerance as well. You can have people who are compulsively viewing pornography who have to use more and more to get the same effect.
Is pornography addiction more common today?
Dr. Stefanie Carnes: Whenever you have the increased availability of something, you have more addiction. So, in places that have more bars, you have more problem drinking; where you have more casinos, you have more problem gambling; where you have meth labs, you see more meth addiction. So now that the internet is so prevalent and everywhere, we’re starting to see a lot more internet pornography addiction. For clinicians, it’s incredibly common to have that present in a patient in your office.
Are people exposed to pornography at younger ages these days?
Dr. Stefanie Carnes: The average age of first exposure to pornography is 11. We’re starting to see people have problems with it at ages as young as 9 and 10. Children are being exposed to very graphic material at an early age and they don’t know how to handle it.
If you find out that your child has seen pornography, take care not to shame them. It’s very common and we want to treat them with sensitivity. Normalize the experience. Explain that this happens to a lot of children, that anyone can be exposed to pornography. Teach them that it can be addictive and teach them about healthy sexuality. Because what they’re seeing might be violent, or perhaps unusual, or maybe even deviant sexuality depending on what kind of pornography they’re seeing. That can be difficult to understand for an 11-year-old.
Do women struggle with sex addiction too?
Dr. Stefanie Carnes: Absolutely. It’s a little bit different for women than it is for men. Women present with a little bit more love and relationship addiction as well as sex addiction, so their behaviors often involve things like multiple relationships at the same time, affairs, hooking up, falling in love over and over again, lots of sequential relationships. So, it usually presents with more of a relationship addiction feel. But, it’s also very common for women to struggle with pornography, hook-ups on online apps like Tinder, one night stands, and those kinds of things.
Does sex addiction treatment involve abstinence?
Dr. Stefanie Carnes: Recovery from sex addiction is more like recovery from an eating disorder. When you are recovering from an eating disorder, instead of abstaining, you have to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food.
What kind of treatment is available?
Dr. Stefanie Carnes: Sex Addiction is a lot more common that people think. Treatment is available on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. People tend to do very well in treatment. Sometimes they can start in outpatient treatment and get a lot of help and support there. They’ll want to get a trained therapist; someone who is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist is most helpful in these instances.
Call 800-244-4949 for more information about The Meadows’ sex addiction treatment options or send us an email.