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He also learned that his fixation on sex was a way of avoiding his insecurities and tackling the emotional issues that first led to his addictive behavior. “We treat it very much like sobriety for an eating disorder,” says Robert Weiss, founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. ’ We look at your goals and figure in your sexual behaviors and validate what’s going to lead you back to the behavior you don’t want to do.”Although sex addicts sometimes describe behavior akin to obsessive-compulsive disorder, research hasn’t directly correlated the two.

“My depression came from the fear I was going to be alone for the rest of my life.

Valerie called phone-sex chat lines and pored over online pornography, masturbating so compulsively that it wasn’t uncommon for her to choose her vibrator over going to work.

She craved public exhibitionism, too, particularly at strip clubs, and even accepted money in exchange for sex—not out of financial necessity but for the illicit rush such acts gave her.

Awakening in the ICU, she at last understood what she had become: a sex addict.

“Through sexually acting out, I lost two marriages and a job.

At the Promises treatment centers, clinicians have observed a number of sex addicts who have relapsed with drugs or alcohol in order to medicate the shame they felt.

Severe depression can also follow after an addict starts to confront the condition.

Valerie realized that sex was wrecking her life right around the time her second marriage disintegrated.

At 30, and employed as a human-resources administrator in Phoenix, she had serially cheated on both her husbands—often with their subordinates and co-workers—logging anonymous hookups in fast-food-restaurant bathrooms, affairs with married men, and one-night stands too numerous to count. Not even after one man’s wife aimed a shotgun at her head while catching them in flagrante delicto.

David Sack, chief executive of Los Angeles’s Promises Treatment Centers.

New high-tech tools are also making it easier to meet strangers for a quick romp.

For Valerie, sex was a form of self-medication: to obliterate the anxiety, despair, and crippling fear of emotional intimacy that had haunted her since being abandoned as a child.