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Is there such a thing as sex addiction?

Tiger Woods (Feb. 26, 2009)

Tiger Woods (Feb. 26, 2009) Credit: Getty Images File

Once upon a time, we called them lotharios or Don Juans. But today, men who chronically cheat on their wives have earned a different scarlet moniker: sex addicts.

Reports that Tiger Woods has been photographed at an addiction clinic in Mississippi prompt the question on the minds of many: Is there such a thing as sexual addiction - or are men like Woods merely taking advantage of the opportunities that come their way?


"In the field of psychiatry, there's not a clear agreement about whether or not it's even a diagnosis," says Ginger Manley, a nursing professor and certified sex therapist at Vanderbilt University.

Manley and other sex therapists say most clients don't get treatment until their sexual behavior has ruined their lives - wrecking their marriages or causing them to spend thousands of dollars on pornography or prostitutes.

But for someone like Woods, is this an addiction - or merely a way of life for a rich, powerful man?

"I am cautious and a little leery of the term sex addiction," says Dr. Alan Grieco, an Orlando, Fla., psychologist who noted that the American psychiatric community considered homosexuality a mental disorder 60 years ago. "In my opinion, monogamy does not come naturally to most men. We can do it, but it's a struggle. . . . If an attractive woman throws herself at a guy and he thinks he can get away with it, he will - married or not - have sex." Grieco says that athletes are surrounded by - and tempted by - women.

Making matters worse: Research shows that testosterone is linked to success and failure. Men who are told they're great have higher testosterone levels than men who've been chewed out by the boss.



While some sex addicts are women, men are nearly three times more likely to fall into that category. Experts say that 75 percent to 80 percent of the patients who seek treatment for sex addiction are men.

The line between a healthy sexual appetite and an addiction is based in part on how much time you spend on sex and fantasies. "If you're spending over 14 hours a week - or two hours a day - doing something sexual or quasi-sexual, like cruising the Internet for porn or cruising the streets looking for a particular type of prostitute, you're in the addictive range," Grieco says.



Treatment of sexual addiction relies heavily on 12-step programs, much like Alcoholics Anonymous. Some therapists also treat patients with talk therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and even antidepressants, which dampen the sex drive.