Interview: How much sex is too much?

George Collins is a counselor in the San Francisco Bay area who has been in practice since 1995, working with sex addicts. Here are some excerpts from an interview with him, published in The Metro (a Bay area newspaper). I’m including this because I think he’s got some good things to say, and anyone with his experience is worth listening to. Enjoy:

Loren Stein (interviewer): How does someone know if they have a sexual addiction? Or in other words, how much sex is too much sex?

George Collins: Is sex getting in the way of your life, your work or your relationships? That’s the fundamental question to ask. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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