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Sex addiction real — or excuse for cheating?

Tiger Woods' apology for infidelity may give comfort to some women

Image: Tiger Woods apologizes
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Feb. 19, 2010: Tiger Woods speaks publicly or the first time since his Thanksgiving night car accident, saying that he is "deeply sorry" and does not know when he'll return to golf. Watch his full statement.
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Tiger Woods’ shocking cheating admission and subsequent parade of alleged paramours has resulted in more than just unending fodder for the tabloids. The golf superstar has also given comfort to spouses who have long suspected their partners are incapable of fidelity, says Maureen Canning, a licensed marriage and family therapist who works with addiction facilities such as Meadows in Wickenburg, Ariz.

“Woods has created a dialogue among couples, giving them a definition for a serious problem that’s plagued relationships,” Canning says. “Women are finally realizing, ‘I’m not the only one.’”

Until recently, sex addiction seemed like an affliction exclusive to show-biz types. In 2000, self-described sex addict/new husband Michael Douglas reportedly signed a prenup that included a $5 million “straying fee” should he bed someone other than wife Catherine Zeta-Jones. R&B singer Eric Benet attended sex rehab in 2003 after admittedly cheating on then-wife Halle Berry. David Duchovny, who also plays a sex addict on TV’s Californication, sought treatment—and saved his 13-year marriage to actress Tea Leoni — by going to Meadows in 2008. And last October, a month before Woods' confession, ESPN baseball analyst Steve Phillips was caught cavorting with his 22 year-old production assistant, cried sex addiction and headed to rehab.

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Yet Woods didn’t fit the celebrity bad boy profile. From a young age, he was hailed for his stoic concentration on the green and his role-model personality off of it. (Cue that heart-warming ad from Nike with happy children screaming, “I’m Tiger Woods!”) His wife, Elin, was a constant fixture of support and Woods himself an apparent family man. The golfer’s bad behavior shocked so many women not only because they had been fooled, but because the scandal had caused them to cast a skeptical eye upon their own husbands — after all, if unsuspecting Tiger Woods could be a cad, could their own spouses be too?

Road to redemption
  Tiger: 'I thought I was entitled'
Feb. 19, 2010: In Tiger Woods' first public remarks since his marital infidelity became known, he apologized for what he called "selfish behavior."'s Courtney Hazlett has the scoop.
So far, the star appears to be on the road to redemption. He issued an apology to his wife and the public, took a break from golf, and on February 5, he completed a month-long stint at the Gentle Path rehab program at Pine Grove in Hattiesburg, Miss., and headed home to wife Elin and children Sam, 2, and one year-old Charlie. Elin’s visit with her husband at Pine Grove has won praise from the likes of Celebrity Rehab’s Dr. Drew Pinksy, who’s said that Woods will need her support if he is to recover.

However, 63 percent of women polled on wonder just what it is he’s recovering from: They view sex addiction as “an excuse for infidelity.” Dr. Douglas Weiss of the Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado say it’s a misconception borne out of an extreme case starring a public figure.

“No one cares about Mr. Joe Average, the sex addict,” Weiss says. “But when we hear about Tiger Woods—who has money and a beautiful wife—that gets people talking. You can bet that if women found out their own husbands were struggling with sex addiction, they would label it and treat it. It’s a disconnected opinion.” 

“Women have a hard time believing that sexual compulsion exists because in part, they can’t relate to it,” says Ian Kerner, Ph.D., author of Sex Recharge. “During desire and sex, the female body produces higher levels of the feel-good chemical oxytocin, making sex more of an emotional act than it is for men.” 

In other words, for women, this physiological response can act as a hormonal safeguard from developing an obsession—which explains why, according to Canning and Weiss, 90 percent of sex addicts are male. 

So who are these guys? Famous or not, Canning says these men have an unusually intense sex drive and unhealthy preoccupation with sex, despite the negative consequences they bring. For many of these men, addiction is their way of trying to fill an emotional void that’s rarely satiated by one-night stands, masturbation, Internet porn—even loving, monogamous sex—all of which stimulate the dopamine-centers in the brain, providing euphoric thrills of gratification.

Psychiatric evaluation is essential to diagnosis, because according to Dr. Douglas Weiss, at the Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado there are various types of sex addicts with triggers ranging from sexual trauma, neurological conditions, family issues, and mood or personality disorders.  

Here, a look at what’s going on (and what isn’t) in sex rehabilitation programs around the country: 

Sex addiction is treated like any other addiction.
There’s no “substance” involved—which is why the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) won’t acknowledge sex addiction as a “disease”. Yet many rehabs treat sex addiction as a chemical dependency as well as a behavioral one.

Patients follow the “12-step” ideology, which prohibits them from sexual stimulants (for e.g., porn) for 90 days—the amount of time it typically takes for brain chemicals to stop the cravings and for the body to undergo withdrawal, which can include depression, body aches, and lack of motivation. 

Masturbation is forbidden — forever!
Just as an alcoholic is instructed to never again have another drink, so is a sex addict prohibited from self-gratification. The idea is, sex should always be an emotional experience (with a loving partner) and not for pure sexual gratification (read: one-night stands, pornography, or fantasies). Patients are taught to connect with their partners and to focus on sensuality, not sexuality.    

Significant others usually share in the blame.
Despite the shock and betrayal many women feel when they discover their partner is an addict (usually the way Elin found out: by going through her husband’s text messages), Canning says women play a significant role in the problem. “It’s almost impossible to not know, on some level, that your man is cheating,” she says. “Women often pick people who they subconsciously don’t trust, knowing he has the capacity to cheat.” Thus “family weekends” are encouraged at some clinics, where relationship and individual counseling are offered, upping a couple’s post-rehab success rate to 80 percent. 

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