Sex/attention addiction?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I’m a 24 year old female who first had sex at age 22. A year after that I’d had two partners – then something happened. I discovered that I had a power over men and that if I wanted to sleep with someone, it was easy. I started craving the attention and affection, even though most of my “dates” were one night stands. In the past year or less, the number of people I’ve slept with has jumped to 18. Half of these people I met on a website where money is exchanged for company/sex. I’m trying to stay away from that now, but every time I go on a date I promise myself I won’t sleep with the person, but as of today, that hasn’t happened. I don’t drink or use any drugs when I’m with the people.

The way I view it is that I’m exploring myself and how I can enjoy male attention, but I recently had a boyfriend I really cared about break up with me when he learned about my past. He said he thought I was addicted to sex and attention. I personally think I use sex and attention as a tool to help distract me from my problems but I don’t know if I’d say it was an addiction. What do you think?

Just so the details are out there, my mental health status is that I’m in recovery from an eating disorder as well as PTSD. I see a therapist twice a week, who doesn’t think my problem is necessarily an addiction. I guess I just want another opinion. Thanks.

A: I don’t think it matters what you call it. The fact is that what you’re doing is jeopardizing your chances of finding a stable, loving relationship based on mutual love and regard. It also may be undermining your recovery.

You are dealing with a lot. It makes a kind of sense that part of you wants to heal and part of you may be frightened to really touch the feelings that you need to explore in order to do it. So you go to therapy twice a week to figure things out and rebuild healthy self-esteem but then go off with these men to distract yourself and find an ersatz self-esteem based on power. Your fear is keeping you stuck.

I’m very glad you are seeing a therapist. Please talk with your therapist about this ambivalence. Working it through may lead to an important breakthrough in your work together.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 4 Aug 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). Sex/attention addiction?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/08/04/sexattention-addiction/