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Sex Addiction Has Become a "National Epidemic"

"Sex addiction" remains a controversial designation—often dismissed as a myth or providing talk-show punchlines thanks to high-profile [cases] such as … Tiger Woods. But compulsive sexual behavior … can systematically destroy a person's life much as addictions to alcohol or drugs can. And it's affecting an increasing number of Americans, say psychiatrists and addiction experts. "It's a national epidemic," says Steven Luff, coauthor of Pure Eyes: A Man's Guide to Sexual Integrity.

Reliable figures for the number of diagnosed sex addicts are difficult to come by, but studies suggest 3% to 8% of American adults, which translates to 6-24 million people, might be classified with sex addiction [Mayo Clinic Health System, Addiction Help]. Some sources report a higher number, like 21 million, but this might be due to a broader definition of problematic sexual behavior [Birches Health]. Some 1,276 sex therapists treating compulsive behavior are practicing today, up from fewer than 100, 20 years ago, say several researchers and clinicians, while dozens of rehabilitation centers now advertise treatment programs, up from just five or six in the same period.

The demographics are changing, too. "Where it used to be 40- to 50-year-old men seeking treatment, now there are more females, adolescents, and senior citizens," says Tami VerHelst, vice president of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals. "Grandfathers getting caught with porn on their computers by grandkids, and grandkids sexting at 12."

Editor’s Note: Statistics have been updated as of 2024.

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