BOOK REVIEW: Don’t call it Love. Recovery from Sexual Addiction

By Dr. Patrick Carney. Platkus. £10.99

This book, written by an American psychiatrist, is not only about sex addicts but also about the fear, the power and the importance of sex. Dr. Carney believes that important barriers exist to our acknowledging the signs of sex as an addiction. “We find it difficult to talk about sex in a straightforward fashion without sensationalising, making jokes, or somehow discrediting the value of the discussion. Perhaps most important remains our persistent view of sex as always a matter of self-control or choice. In that sense there is a direct parallel with concepts of alcoholism in the forties and fifties. Alcohol­ism was perceived as a problem of character and not as an illness that afflicted millions. Now we know that alcoholism is often transmitted across generations. In his case histories examples of generation after generation of out-of-control, destructive sexual behaviour are numerous.”

In an addiction-prone culture, the author claims, sex addiction is one of the most destructive. This book is based on 1,000 interviews with sex-addicted people and their families. 82% were men, 18% women. The majority were heterosexual. For most of them, the addiction had virtually ruined their lives. It has cost them their jobs, their health, career oppor­tunities, partners, children and huge financial losses. For some men and women sex is like a drug they cannot do without – a never-ending search for a love they never had. It is now recognised that people who are addicted to sex need just as much help and recognition as alcoholics and drug addicts. And, just like other addictions, it is only when the sex-addict admits that he or she is out of control, that it is possible for them to look for help.

No one sign is proof that sex addiction is present. But usually, it seems, many of the signs are present concurrently. Taken together they form a pattern revealing the underlying illness. You might ask: “How many affairs do you have to have before you are a sex addict?” The question parallels asking how many drinks it takes to be an alcoholic or how many bets to be a compulsive gambler. The answer is not one of quantity but rather of pattern.

A profile compiled of those interviewed revealed the following: 87% had other addicts in their family of origin, 77% had “rigid” personalities, 97% had been emotionally abused, 72% had been physically abused, 81% had been sexually abused. 91% suffered from low self-esteem, 90% admitted to loneliness.

The second half of the book is devoted to recovery – modelled on the 12-step programme used by Alcoholics Anonymous. According to the author the success rate is high. Many sex-addicts have been able to take a path to rebuilding their lives and have reclaimed a healthy sexuality.

Mavis Arnold