An unconquerable compulsion?

Updated: 2012-10-24 07:34

By Yang Wanli and Tang Yue (China Daily)

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Health issues

Shi appears to have an addictive personality. He is a heavy smoker, who sometimes gets through 30 cigarettes a day. "I know it's bad for my health. But at least it doesn't eat me up inside every day," he said. Compared with his sexual desires, the addiction to cigarettes makes him feel less guilty because smokers display their addiction in public. "People talk about smoking and sometimes criticize smokers, but the discussions are often lighthearted and make me feel better," he said.

An unconquerable compulsion?

Hu Peicheng, director of medical psychology at Peking University Health Science Center, warned that excessive sexual activity can affect the reproductive organs, cardiovascular function, and even, in the view of practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys.

Shi said he wants a "normal sex life", but is ashamed to seek medical help, which is difficult to find on the Chinese mainland, anyway. "I want to quit this addiction and have pondered the causes many times," he said. His parents divorced when he was aged 6 and his memories of childhood are dominated by repeated home moves.

"I had no close friends or a real home before I was 18. The dark side of humanity filled my mind," he said, suggesting that his childhood experiences could be one of the reasons behind his problem.

Lack of recognition

To cure a "disease" that isn't even defined as a medical condition is hard for those who believe themselves to be sex addicts. The condition is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in China, which chronicles the entire gamut of recognized mental health issues in the country.

Despite a plethora of "cases" involving Hollywood stars, even the American Psychiatric Association does not recognize sex addiction as a genuine affliction. Therefore, no official diagnostic criteria exist. The association does, however, provide classifications that are helpful to those seeking to understand sexual behavior disorders, called paraphilias - stimulation by individuals, situations and even objects that are not normally considered arousing.

Huang from the Institute of Sexuality and Gender said that the concept of sex addiction might soon be discredited anyway, as the medical profession reconsiders what can be defined as a disease, and clears some from the catalog.

In 2001, homosexuality was deleted from the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in China, and the World Health Organization has also deleted the definition from its catalog of mental illnesses.

"Sex addiction is not recognized as a disease. That's not only in China, but in other countries as well," said Fang Gang, director of Institute of Sexuality and Gender Studies at the Beijing Forestry University. In his opinion, sex addiction is a concept created by factions such as the extreme right wing or religious groups, as a means of discrediting sex and promoting abstinence.

Fang compared sex addiction with other passions, such as an overwhelming interest in food or autos. "Every day people want to indulge their passion and do something that has no negative affect on society. The desire to normalize the condition has resulted in those who believe themselves afflicted feeling the need to classify it as a disease and search for a, largely nonexistent, 'cure'," he said.

'Benefit' friends

In the eyes of her female friends, Peng Xuanxuan, 26, has a very open attitude toward sex.

In the past three years, while she was studying at graduate school, she maintained a number of relationships with "benefit" friends. The benefit in question being sex lots of it. Sometimes, she also engaged in one-night stands. Whenever she finished her study assignments, the first idea that came into her mind was hooking up.

She admitted that she was sexually very conservative before arriving at college. "I was very serious about my virginity at that time, but my boyfriend made the experience joyful and romantic." Sex - with her boyfriend, a "benefit" friend or via a one-night stand - made her feel good and gave her bags of energy, she said.

"If we both feel good, I don't think sex bothers anyone. And there's nothing wrong with frequent sex, or as, we say, so-called sex addiction," she said. "It's just like eating; some people eat a little, while others eat more. If sex makes you feel good, loved and energetic, why attribute blame?"

Peng's attitude was echoed by Marty Klein, who has spent 30 years as a certified sex therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist in Palo Alto, California.

In an article called You're Addicted to What? - published in the July/August issue of The Humanist magazine - Klein argued that "sex addiction" is simply a concept utilized by groups such as the religious right to combat perceived liberalism, to refute science and ignite fear.

He said he would never diagnose a patient as suffering from sex addiction, because he doesn't recognize it as a condition. Instead, Klein believes that the claims derive from people who regret the sexual choices they've made and want to change their lifestyles. "But since they don't want to stop feeling powerful, attractive or loved, they can't seem to stop the repetitive sex, clumsily designed to replicate those feelings," he said.

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