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X-treme Sex

We're all sex addicted to some degree, but when does it become too much?

By Loren Stein

GEORGE COLLINS knows all about the pleasures and pains of sex. In fact, he spends all of his working hours talking about sex--as well as love and intimacy--and defining the differences between a healthy, balanced sex life and a sex life that has careened into problem land: full-blown obsession and addiction.

Collins, 59, is a men's sexual-addictions counselor, and although he's based in Walnut Creek, his clients come from all over the Bay Area. (He counts some 475 long-term clients over the years.) In practice since 1995, Collins has a master's degree in counseling psychology and a degree in transpersonal psychology, which focuses on spirituality. (He is not a licensed marriage and family therapist.)

He's been a featured guest on Bay Area radio and television programs. As a recovered sex addict himself (he says he was obsessed with pornography), he brings personal experience to his practice. Metro caught up with Collins as he was speeding off to lead an intervention in Marin County, where a group of five colleagues had arranged a loving confrontation with a friend whose life, they fear, is rapidly self-destructing due to his obsession with, well, getting off.

LS: How does someone know if they have a sexual addiction? Or in other words, how much sex is too much sex?

GC: Is sex getting in the way of your life, your work or your relationships? That's the fundamental question to ask. [For a checklist of indicators, go to www.sexhelp.com.] Some of the signs include having sex at inappropriate times or places, or with inappropriate people. Also, do they desperately need it and feel powerless to stop it?

A client will say, "I don't think I'm really addicted to sex; I only masturbate six times a day--that seems normal to me." Men in general have a preoccupation with sex, and this is fostered by the media, advertising and the women on the street who buy into it--that's in any town, anywhere--and this can lead to an addiction that can rule your life. A typical client is a 35-year old guy, who, when he travels, uses porn sites and masturbates to the detriment of his work the next day. He forgets to call his wife; he's afraid he'll get fired; he doesn't know why he's doing it. When I ask him how much, on a bad day, is he thinking about sex and how to get it, his answer is 90 percent [of the time].

How many sexual addicts are there? And does sex addiction affect gays and heterosexuals equally?

Everybody's addicted to sex; it's just a matter of degree. I'd say 40 to 50 percent of men in the United States have had a problem with sexual compulsion at one point in their life. About 40 percent of the men I see are gay, and I'm in conservative Walnut Creek. A huge number of gay men seem to exhibit qualities of sexual compulsivity.

Can women be sexually addictive, too?

I don't treat women. I'm not a woman, so I may not understand them as well. Women are not generally sex addicts. Women are romance, love and intrigue addicts. [According to sex-addiction guru Dr. Patrick Carnes, some 20 percent of all patients seeking help for sexual dependency are women. This same ratio is found among those recovering from alcohol addiction.]

Women use sex in order to get love--that's my thesis--whereas men use sex for physical gratification in place of the emotional nurturing they really want. Men in general have no clue about the word intimacy. My first assignment with new clients is to ask them to look up that word.

Do most sexual addicts come from severely dysfunctional families?

I'd say a quarter of my clients come from severely dysfunctional families and have suffered from emotional, physical and/or sexual trauma. Perhaps 15 to 20 percent have what's called "abandonment betrayal," and another third grew up in homes with "emotional incest."

Near to 60 percent of California marriages end up in divorce. Some mothers find themselves depending on their 7-year-old sons in ways that are not healthy. "You're my little man; you're the man of the house now," she tells him. He takes this seriously, and when he gets married, he "maternalizes" his wife, who's replicating his family of origin, setting up a home and so forth. He gets turned off sexually to his wife (and turns to other sexual outlets). For [a man who has] had a difficult background of emotional incest, [his perceptions of his wife's behavior] are an instant red flag; [they] trigger the reaction.

Also, these men have had no positive role models. Dad and Mom did not kiss or hug, or [they] were outrageously inappropriate. I've had clients whose parents made love in front of them. Most of my clients have never had "the talk": there's a general lack of knowledge about sex; they learn about it from porn magazines under Dad's bed. I believe [sexual compulsivity] is a learned behavior. It's a coping strategy for some sort of dysfunctional home life.

At what age would a person discover that they have a problem? Is the behavior OK if you're 19, but not if you're 35?

When they need to take responsibility for an adult life: work, relationships, children, spiritual activities, hobbies. A man called last week after his little boy, whom he adored, looked under the door and saw him masturbating. He wanted to kill himself. It's easy to deflect theory; it's not as easy to deflect a little kid's questions. I have clients from 21 years old to 78 years old. An older man once said to me, "George, tell the young men if they don't stop that stuff, they'll end up like me, a lonely old man in a dark room with his dick in his hand."

Can sex addicts be addicted to other drugs as well?

Alcohol and drugs are common. About 40 percent of my clients also need to examine their alcohol and drug abuse. The whole country has an addictive nature, in my opinion. There's also something called "euphoric recall": the first memory of finding a porn magazine and the first ejaculation as a kid, which contributes to the unconscious desire to replicate itself and create the illusion that it's occurring again. So they masturbate four or five times a day and have no idea why they're doing it. Sometimes they do it in "runs," which are no different than cocaine or alcohol runs.

Are humans more sexually driven than other animals?

Yes, because we think and we feel and we are malleable, impressionable. I had nine telephone calls from one beer ad that ran during the Super Bowl that showed two half-naked women wrestling. These men were so triggered by this event they called me. One man sobbed into the phone: he had seen this ad [and] turned to porn on the Internet, and his daughter walked in on him after he had ejaculated all over his bare chest. His wife called Child Protective Services, and his marriage was over.

Are there different types of sexual addicts?

Yes. There are fetishists, such as straight men being addicted to transvestites or having sex with other straight men. For example, in porn stores with sex booths or glory holes, straight men will have anonymous sex with each other while watching hetero videos. Sometimes it's feet--everybody has a "deal." I ask clients, "What's your deal?" Of course, there's [usually] an addiction to pornography. That's what I was into.

Would you be willing describe what happened to you?

Sure. I found Playboys under my father's bed when I was 6 years old and upwards. My father didn't treat my mother in an intimate way, and he treated me without dignity or respect. He was an efficiency expert, a consultant engineer. Since he was out of touch with his feelings, he couldn't teach me what he didn't know. I got very little unconditional love from my parents. My mother would say, "I hate your father; I'm glad he's in training. Now you're my little man." So I was the perfect setup. When I got married. I maternalized my beautiful wife and fulfilled my sexual needs with porn magazines. It was just what I learned. [At 35, Collins sought the help of a therapist and attended Sex and Love Addiction Anonymous 12-step meetings. He is now engaged; his two prior marriages ended in divorce. Sexual-addiction counseling is his third career.)

How can you help or cure sexual compulsion?

My job is to convert that addictive energy to something useful, fun or profitable, to use addictive behavior in some way so they don't miss it. I teach people how not to act out sexually and [how to] put something in its place. This is very important, because when you take away something of this magnitude, it leaves a need, a desire. My job is to fill that desire with a true picture, a true understanding of intimacy. I tell men who come to me, if we can deal with the pain, shame, fear, self-doubt, self-critic and self-judge, then before we're done we'll be discussing peace, joy, serenity, abundance and prosperity.

In my practice, there's an 85 percent cure rate. Pedophiles, stalkers and flashers are much harder to cure. For people who are concerned that they may have a problem, there's a Sex and Love Addiction Anonymous meeting every day and night of the week throughout the Bay Area (SLAA 415.979.4715).

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From the February 13-19, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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