Is sex addiction real? And what has Russell Brand said about it?

Is sex addiction real? And what has Russell Brand said about it?
Russell Brand Friends Refute Allegations Claiming Comedian 'Isn't a Monster'
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We’re all aware of the life-shattering power of addiction, whatever form it takes.

But while drugs, alcohol and smoking are acknowledged as the most common fuels of substance disorders, the acceptance of sexual compulsions is less clear-cut.

According to the NHS, experts disagree about whether it's possible to become addicted to sex. This is because, as psychologist Dr David Ludden pointed out in an online article last year, sex addiction is hard to define.

And yet, a number of high-profile figures – from James Franco to Tiger Woods to, yes, Russell Brand – have admitted to suffering from hypersexuality.

So what does it mean to be addicted to sex? And should a diagnosis have any bearing on how we view a person’s actions?

What do we understand by ‘sex addiction’

The UK’s leading relationship charity Relate says “compulsive sexual behaviour disorder, hypersexuality and sex addiction” are terms used to describe “any sexual behaviour that feels ‘out of control’”.

“It’s not the behaviour itself that defines it as [a] compulsion but rather the dependency on it to numb out negative emotions and difficult experiences,” the organisation states on its website.

“As with all compulsions, most people will have tried to stop or limit their behaviour on many occasions – but in spite of continuing harmful consequences to self and others, they can’t reliably stay stopped.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO), which added compulsive sexual behaviour disorder to its International Classification of Diseases back in 2018, added that the sufferer “continues to engage in repetitive sexual behaviour even when [they derive] little or no satisfaction from it”.

It’s important to stress these points: that it’s not the frequency or type of sexual activity that suggests the presence of an addiction, it’s whether or not it is “out of control” and harming the individual and/or others.

As Dr Ludden explained in his 2022 piece for Psychology Today, “many people who engage in ‘excessive’ sex – as defined by professionals – experience no distress on account of it.”

“Plenty of people with high levels of sexual activity seek out therapists with symptoms of psychological distress, but there are also plenty of others who feel quite satisfied with their highly active sex life,” he wrote.

“For instance, watching porn, masturbating, having casual sex, and visiting sex workers are considered typical behaviours of sex addiction. However, many people who engage in these activities experience no distress.

“Thus, people’s attitudes about sexuality are important in determining whether they will judge their own sex behaviours as having a positive or negative impact on their lives.”

Russell Brand

Understandably, the implications of sex addiction have become of great public interest in light of the allegations of rape and sexual assault levelled at Brand.

In a YouTube video deploring and categorically refuting the accusations, the 48-year-old said they referred to a time when he was “very, very promiscuous” but insisted that his relationships had “absolutely always” been consensual.

He also noted in this statement that he has written extensively about his battle to tame his hypersexuality, including in his 2007 autobiography My Booky Wook.

One passage in the memoir recalls his experiences at Keystone, a sexual addiction treatment in a suburb of Philadelphia, where he spent 30 “w**kless nights” reflecting on how he’d gotten to that point.

A series of excerpts offer an affecting and now, some would argue, ominous insight into his mindset at the height of his disorder.

“Sex is recreational for me, as well as a way of accruing status and validation,” he wrote. “We all need something to help us unwind at the end of the day.”

He went on: “And this is what sex provides for me - a breathing space, when you're outside of yourself and your own head. Especially in the actual moment of climax, where you literally go, "Ah, there's that, then. I've unwound. I've let go."

He continued: “So why would a fella who plainly enjoys how's yer father as much as I do go to a so-called ‘sex camp’?

“Many people are sceptical about the idea of what I like to call ‘sexy addiction’, thinking it a spurious notion, invented primarily to help Hollywood film stars evade responsibility for their priapic excesses. But I reckon there is such a thing.

“Addiction, by definition, is a compulsive behaviour that you cannot control or relinquish, in spite of its destructive consequences. And if my life proves nothing else, it demonstrates that this formula can be applied to sex just as easily as it can be to drugs or alcohol, both of which I know more than a bit about.”

After describing how, at one point in the early noughties, he had a “harem of about 10 women” he admitted: “I was on the brink of becoming sufficiently well known for my carnal overindulgences –with lapdancers and prostitutes, to say nothing of all the women who didn't sell sex for a living – to cause me professional difficulties.”

He later added that during his time at Keystone, he had to write a “victims’ list” – a “litany of the women I'd wronged as a result of my sexual addiction”.

“I felt like Saddam Hussein trying to pick out individual Kurds,” he joked darkly.

What should we take from all of this?

We’re not suggesting Brand’s confessions here are an admission of guilt to the allegations set out by The Times, Sunday Times and Dispatches investigations, but they do emphasise the terrible impact sex addiction, compulsive sexual behaviour disorder and hypersexuality can have both on the sufferer and those around them.

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