National Women's Health Week is May 13-19. According to PsychCentral.com, this article is dedicated to differentiating how female sex and love addicts are different from males, in hopes to help women that recognize excessive behaviors can be signs of addiction.
Women are often underrepresented in studies of alcohol, drug, gambling, or sex addiction. It has been 73 years since the founding of AA, and 60 or so years since the American Medical Association recognized alcoholism as a disease. But, it was not until the late 1980s that significant gender differences were noticed among men and women in regards to addiction, and many of these differences actually surfaced in research for other disorders, such as AIDS and heart disease.
According to Dr. Patrick Carnes, who wrote "Don't Call It Love," male sex addicts tend to objectify their partners. They prefer sex with little emotional involvement, which leads male sex addicts to engage in activities such as voyeurism, buying prostitutes, having anonymous sex, and exploitative sex. He argues that this may be a logical extension of the way men in our culture are raised to view women and sex.
Men often have difficulty with bonding and intimacy issues. Our culture prizes competition and autonomy, particularly conditioning men to "get ahead, go for the gold, become an individual, gain mastery of feelings, and make sexual notches on one's belt." When these actions are taken to the extreme, the result can be isolation, objectification of sexual partners, inability to express feelings, and a sense of entitlement at the expense of others. All of these traits can breed addiction.
Women sex addicts tend to use sex for power, control, and attention. They tend to lean towards fantasy sex, seductive role sex, trading sex, and pain exchange. Women, unlike men, go against the general culture norms by acting out sexually.
Author Charlotte Kasi, who wrote "Women, Sex, and Addiction," notes that women in our culture are trained to be sexual codependents. She defines such codependency as letting one's body be used to hold a relationship, regardless of her desire. In general, sex addicts tend to use relationships to have sex, while sexual codependents use sex to keep relationships. Neither knows true intimacy.
Carol Gilligan, author of "A Different Voice," claims that women create a sense of identity through relationships, while male theorists emphasize a need for autonomy. They based these models on themselves, and then assumed the same to be true for women. Normal female development shows an early need for intimacy, and autonomy becomes an issue as they are in their 30s and 40s. Men are encouraged to first find autonomy, and then intimacy. This explains why women often go back to school after their kids are grown and begin to "find themselves," while men tend to "settle down" then. When these normal developmental needs are disrupted by something like early abuse experiences, desperate, compulsive, and obsessive behavior can emerge.
In order to truly understand sex addiction, the interrelationship between addiction and codependency must be considered. Often women try to "fix" their codependency by taking the initiative to act out sexually, "like a man." Many women find help and fellowship at Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, reducing the feelings surrounding compulsive sexual behavior. Love Addicts Anonymous is another 12-step fellowship that is developing. A few therapists specialize in sex and love addicts, and www.iitap.com and www.sash.net provide some good resources for these therapists.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact us.
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