Meet the highly respectable women who claim they’re SEX ADDICTS and it’s almost ruined their lives
- Kate Wilkinson, 39, from West Sussex and her partner are recovering sex addicts
- The mother-of-three says the addiction left her depressed and anxious
- She recalls being unable to function due to compulsive thoughts of pleasure
- Her insatiable sexual appetite drove her apart from her husband of five years
- Kate was referred to therapy by her GP after her desires began putting her at risk
- Rebecca Barker, 37, moved in with her parents to overcome her addiction
- Royal College of Psychiatrists claims 4 per cent of the population are sex addicts
Kate Wilkinson is a psychologist and a respectable mother of three, who can be found most mornings doing the school run wearing neat capri pants and Birkenstock shoes.
What few would ever guess, however, is that this demure, willowy brunette has also been diagnosed with sex addiction.After years of therapy Kate, 39, and her partner John, 40, also a recovering sex addict, feel they have their habit under control and have been in a happy, faithful relationship for three years.
Inevitably, the subject of sex addiction will prompt the usual sniggers and bar-room jokes, particularly when it affects women. A woman, who is addicted to sex? Since when is that seen as a problem, or even a medical condition worthy of diagnosis and treatment?
After all, she’s not hurting anyone — quite the opposite, some would say — and is never likely to be short of a ‘fix’. But Kate insists that it’s no laughing matter. She says her addiction — which affects 4 per cent of the population, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, a quarter of them female — has left her depressed and anxious, and led her into dangerous situations risking her physical and sexual health.
The World Health Organisation now formally recognises sex addiction as a mental health condition. Rebecca Barker, 37, (pictured) began to obsessively think about sex after her youngest child started nursery school
‘Female sex addiction is not as it is usually portrayed — glamorous, predatory women going out seducing men. Instead it can be something that has a hugely negative impact on day-to-day life,’ says Kate, who lives in a market town in West Sussex.
‘I’m addicted to the feelings of connection, and anxiety relief, that can come from sexual encounters, and it’s a big problem for me when I can’t experience that.
‘From a young age I realised that experiencing sexual pleasure relaxed me and made me feel good in a way nothing else did.
‘Without it I couldn’t function — work, shop, cook, concentrate — as I became so preoccupied by compulsive thoughts. For years I used sex as a coping mechanism.’
In July the World Health Organisation formally recognised sex addiction as a mental health condition, a move that could lead to treatment being made available on the NHS.
According to WHO, compulsive sexual behaviour disorder is defined as an inability to control intense sexual urges, despite often deriving no pleasure from them.
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Although the NHS has yet to offer free treatment similar to that available to alcoholics and drug abusers, the health service acknowledges that ‘some relationship experts believe people can become addicted to the “high” experienced during sex and sexual activity’.
Meanwhile, relationship counselling charity Relate describes sex addiction more broadly as any sexual activity that feels ‘out of control’, whether that be sex with a partner, use of pornography, or extreme behaviours like visiting prostitutes.
A sense of being ‘out of control’ is all too familiar to Kate, who lost her virginity in her late teens. Her earliest recollection of sexual desire having a negative impact on her life was when she was single and studying for a master’s degree, aged 21, at Nottingham University.
An orgasm became her form of stress relief —but it also became a self-perpetuating problem, one which would sound familiar to any substance addict: ‘The more it happened, the greater my desire became and the more I craved it,’ Kate explains. As a result of these cravings, Kate says she has had about 30 lovers over the past two decades — many of them brief flings.
Lynn Anderton (pictured), 56, became obsessed with sex when she began her first subsequent relationship with a new man after the break down of her marriage
She was married for five years, from age 29 to 34, and had three children with her husband. But Kate’s insatiable sexual appetite eventually drove her and her husband apart.
While he was happy with a ‘weekends only’ arrangement, Kate felt that she ‘needed’ to make love several times a day.
‘He thought that I was too demanding,’ says Kate.
‘The more distant we became, the more I needed intimacy to get a sense of reassurance from him, and the less likely he was to give it to me. It had a huge impact on my self-esteem.
‘Towards the end, when we were living together but barely speaking, let alone making love, I started meeting men I’d connected with on dating sites. I couldn’t stay in a marriage with no intimacy and we separated by mutual agreement.’
After their separation, Kate began taking more risks with the people she met online, such as going back to the homes of virtual strangers on first dates.
What are the symptoms of sex addiction?
Roughly 50 per cent of people who suffer from a sex addiction also meet the criteria for drug addiction or alcoholism.
Stripped of the cover that had been afforded by her marriage, it was at this stage that she recognised her sexual appetite was excessive, even dangerous, and that she could not control it even when acting on her desires might put her at risk.
Aged 35, Kate went to see her GP who referred her for therapy. This means-tested assistance was part-funded by the NHS, leaving her to pay a £40 top-up fee per session.
Given her work and training in psychology, it is perhaps surprising that it took Kate so long to identify her own problem. ‘I didn’t recognise that I was a sex addict while I was in a good relationship because I was always faithful, I never went out sleeping with lots of men,’ says Kate.
‘However, after my marriage broke down I grew worried about all the one-night stands I was having and why I felt I needed them. Although it was only ever while my children were staying with their father, they always left me feeling guilty, anxious and out of control.’
With the help of her therapist, Kate realised that anxiety and her drive for perfection — she put herself under enormous pressure professionally — were at the root of her addiction.
Kate Wilkinson, 39, believes if she hadn’t been able to afford therapy for her sex addiction she would’ve been unable to form a functional relationship (file image)
‘Sex addiction is a complex psychological issue, wrapped up in self-esteem and anxiety, a psychological disorder like any other,’ she says.
‘Anxiety had been an issue for many years for me but the pressure to be the perfect mum had heightened it and, although I know many women go off sex at this stage in their lives, the only way I knew to ease my worries was through sex.
‘Making treatment for sex addiction available on the NHS would be a great thing because it has such a devastating impact on so many people’s lives. If I hadn’t been able to afford to pay for my therapy and get my addiction under control I don’t think I would have been capable of having another functional relationship.’
Kate met John, who works in sales, by chance in a pub. In a startling coincidence, it turned out that he too was a recovering sex addict. It was several weeks before John confided that he had been treated for sex addiction, which had led to him cheating on his ex-wife, and was now in recovery.
It was two months before the couple, worried about ‘spoiling their friendship by introducing something with negative connotations for each of them’, consummated their relationship.
Unlike drug and alcohol addiction, it is not necessary, or even recommended, for recovering sex addicts to abstain from sex completely. Most treatments focus instead on helping them to develop a healthier approach to it.
Having lived together for the past couple of years, Kate and John’s sex drives appear happily matched and they make love twice a day, more often on weekends when her children are with their dad.
‘We both need the physical connection of sex and to feel wanted — for us it’s the only way to get real emotional satisfaction — and my therapist has told me that’s fine, if we’re both using it in a similar way,’ says Kate.
Rebecca Barker (pictured) had suffered with depression since her teens and began to notice brief relief when she had sex before her desire became obsessive
Counsellor Paula Hall has treated hundreds of sex addicts over the past 15 years, and is the author of the book Understanding And Treating Sex Addiction.
She says women often find it much harder than men to seek help for this awkward problem.
‘There is stigma and shame attached — overtly sexual women are still condemned as sluts, while men are merely womanisers,’ says Paula, who practises at the Laurel Centres in Central London and Leamington Spa.
‘It’s particularly challenging if you’re a mother: male sex addicts won’t feel judged as fathers, but women who admit to having lots of partners might worry that social services will come knocking at their doors.’
In the throes of her own sex addiction, this, at least, was something that mum-of-three Rebecca Barker, 37, did not have to worry about, as the recipient of her advances was her then fiancé. The farmer, from Tadcaster, had always enjoyed having sex most days when she was in a relationship, but four years ago her enjoyment became an obsession.
Rebecca had suffered with recurring episodes of depression since the age of 16 after being violently physically attacked.
In early 2012, concerned that she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, she visited her GP, who prescribed medication for anxiety and depression and referred her to a psychiatrist.
But the medication and talking therapy didn’t work. By the time the youngest of her three children — now aged 18, 14 and eight — started nursery school in the autumn of that year, Rebecca was so down that she began spending her days in bed, rising only to prepare meals, and leaving her partner to run the farm.
‘I don’t recall if it was a gradual thing or if it happened overnight but suddenly sex was all I could think about,’ says Rebecca. ‘The medication — Prozac-style SSRI and benzodiazepine — made me drowsy and I slept a lot.
Rebecca (pictured) recalls medication prescribed by her psychiatrist to curb her appetite for sexual desire numbing her sensations when she had sex
‘But every minute I was awake I had obsessive thoughts about sex. When I gave in to temptation I briefly felt better about myself, less stressed and anxious, but there was no longer-term satisfaction — as soon as it was over, all I could think about was doing it again. Obviously my fiancé couldn’t stay at home with me all day in bed, but as he was walking out of the room to go to work I would cry and beg him to stay.’
Her psychiatrist increased her medication in the hope it would curb Rebecca’s appetite but, instead, it numbed her sensations when she did make love.
In November 2014, Rebecca called her mum and admitted how she felt, and that the only brief relief she could get was through sex — confiding that she felt suicidal. Rebecca’s parents persuaded her to move in with them temporarily, so they could take care of her and the children.
‘I was worried about how I would feel sexually because obviously my partner had to stay and run the farm — but even more fearful that if I didn’t go I might end up in a psychiatric hospital. Or worse,’ says Rebecca.
‘As it turned out, moving in with my parents stopped me thinking about sex constantly.
‘My psychiatrist suggested that was because some of my anxieties were alleviated through living with them, and I was gradually able to come off the medication.’
However, her relationship with her fiancé did not withstand the separation. In November 2015, Rebecca met her current partner Jean-Marc, 54.
Rebecca (pictured) whose relationship with her fiance broke down due to the separation needed to overcome her addiction has decided to speak publicly about her experience to raise awareness
The couple make love around five times a week but Rebecca says sex is no longer constantly on her mind and, if they’re both particularly tired, she can go a week without it. She has opened up to friends and family and agreed to speak publicly about her addiction in order to raise awareness.
‘Some people laugh, believing it’s funny to have a high sex drive, but it’s anything but,’ she says. ‘It’s an obsessive behaviour that can destroy people’s relationships and their lives.’
Counsellor Paula Hall agrees: ‘While the risks may not be as obvious as those associated with drink and drug abuse, they are inescapable: exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and the risk of coming to physical harm at the hands of unknown partners.’
Paula adds that sex addiction is not purely an affliction of youth but something that can be triggered by hormonal changes in women of any age, including during the perimenopause, as Lynn Anderton, 56, discovered to her cost.
Her marriage, to the father of her now adult son, broke down in 2007 and it was during her first subsequent relationship with a new man that she found herself becoming obsessed with sex.
Lynn had given up her job in market research to train as a life coach, but became so preoccupied with sex that she could barely concentrate.
Lynn (pictured) realised she had a problem with her sexual desire after she began having risky flings with men she met online. She decided to address the issues herself instead of seeking medical help
‘I could think of little else, but even when we did have sex the relief was only temporary and within minutes my thoughts would return to it,’ says Lynn.
‘It became an addiction that got in the way of my life. I was unable to earn money so started living off my savings and, ultimately, depending on my partner, who earned a good salary as a surveyor.
‘I became isolated from friends because the compulsive thoughts made it uncomfortable being out. I didn’t want to confide in them because I felt so ashamed of my unhealthy desires.’
Determined that nothing would get in the way of her sex life Lynn, whose partner had a high sex drive and was mostly happy to oblige, took the contraceptive Pill all month round, without the recommended one-week break, to ensure that she never had a period. But the pair were incompatible in other ways which led to the relationship ending when Lynn was 50.
Over the following four years, she had a string of risky flings with men she met online. She explains now that these felt like her ‘dirty little secret’ and, as she had no desire for a relationship with any of the men, left her with a crystal clear realisation that she had a problem.
Instead of seeking medical help, however, Lynn researched sex addiction and has worked on addressing her issues herself.
Lynn has now been single and abstained from sex for 18 months and believes that part of the reason she is now able to control her urges is that she has much-improved self-esteem and her hormones have rebalanced since going through the menopause.
‘I think sex addiction, like any other addiction, can be a consequence of what you’re going through at the time,’ she says.
‘While some women will ask their GP for antidepressants when they are feeling anxious or unhappy, others might attempt to self-medicate, be it with alcohol or sex.’
And, warns therapist Paula Hall, like all addicts, Kate, Rebecca and Lynn will need to remain vigilant to avoid relapse.
Kate Wilkinson’s name has been changed.
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