However every Monday evening, a group gathers at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Lauriston Street to talk with naked honesty about that one thing they just can’t get enough of: sex.
While Sex Addicts Anonymous members meet to discuss their illicit encounters and lust for sexual thrills, not far away at the Quaker Meeting House in Victoria Terrace, another group is preparing to congregate next month for the inaugural meeting of the Edinburgh branch of Sexaholics Anonymous. It all might conjure up images of Benny Hill characters with steamed up spectacles, a much viewed copy of Debbie Does Dallas and a lot of ‘Oo-err Mrs’, nudge nudge, wink wink. However as television presenter Gail Porter just bravely admitted when she told how she had sought help for her extreme sexual behaviour, the modern sex addict has more in common with an internet savvy young professionals, than creepy blokes in dirty raincoats.
And, worryingly, as today’s Generation Sex raised on easy-to-access internet porn matures, support professionals are warning that cases of sex and porn addiction and sexual dysfunction will soar.
“It is a problem that is so under the radar it’s unbelievable,” says Mary Sharpe, a lawyer who has studied the reasons behind porn addiction and its impact on sexual behaviour. “More and more people – including women – are getting hooked.”
Mum of one Gail, 43, says her sex addiction is linked to her depression and bi-polar disorder. Meanwhile Tiger Woods, Russell Brand, Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Kanye West have all confessed to becoming hooked.
But that’s as glamorous as it gets for many addicts, who cross sleazy boundaries that can plunge relationships, careers, health and financial stability into crisis. “In the worst case, it can lead to loss of life,” says Robert, who is organising Edinburgh’s first Sexaholics Anonymous meeting next month. “It’s often hard for an addict to realise he or she is addicted. They don’t see what they are doing is wrong, the part of their brain has switched off.”
Chris, from Sex Addicts Anonymous, agrees that it’s an addiction that – just like drug, alcohol or gambling addictions – can wreck lives. “Everyone is different, they come to meetings with a whole range of problems and it’s people of all backgrounds.
“Sexual addiction is really any sexual behaviour that is making someone’s lives unmanageable, whether it’s spending too much money on sex or having the kind of sex which is against your own values, or illegal sex or any kind of sex which is harming your family and loved ones in an emotional way.”
In many cases sex addiction is rooted in deep set problems linked to either past experiences, depression, or low self esteem. To blot them out, sex addicts may seek ever increasing and sometimes dangerous “thrills”, says Professor Ewan Gillon, who has seen a rise in clients seeking help at Edinburgh-based First Psychology. “All addictive behaviour is ultimately rooted in the same thing, a deficit in how we feel about ourselves.
“We seek ways of making ourselves feel better by creating an artificial experience that we like to have. But it’s like smoking, you start with one and end up needing 20 a day.”
Easy access to internet pornography is already cultivating a new generation of addicts and sexually dysfunctional adults so immune to the extreme images they’ve seen, they can’t function sexually in real life, adds Ms Sharpe, who has taken her research into the impact of internet porn on young minds to senior pupils at some leading Edinburgh schools. “There are young men who have watched so much extreme material that their bodies can’t show interest in real life girls, they get all their ‘jollies’ from the internet. And there are girls who think they have to behave like porn stars.
“Parents do not have a clue what their kids are watching,” she warns. Both Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sexacholics Anonymous groups encourage members to follow a 12 step to recovery programme, similar to that used by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Chris points out, for many the first step is realising they have a problem. “Sex addiction isn’t about sex, it’s about emotional difficulties which you are trying to solve through sexual experience,” he says.
“I realised I was trying to use something to fix a problem which sex was never going to fix. Instead it just contributed to the problem.”
TEN WAYS TO TELL
According to the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, if you answer yes to five or more of the following questions you may need help:
1. Does your sexual behaviour have a negative impact on other areas of your life such as relationships, work, finances, health, professional status?
2. Does your sexual behaviour contradict your personal values and potentially limit your goals in life?
3. Have you repeatedly tried to limit your sexual behaviour or stop it all together, but failed?
4. Are you more tempted to engage in sexual behaviour when you’re experiencing difficult feelings such as stress, anxiety, anger, depression or sadness?
5. Are you secretive about your sexual behaviours and fearful of being discovered?
6. Do you feel dependent on your sexual behaviour and struggle to feel fulfilled with any alternative?
7. Have you noticed that you need more and more stimuli or risk in order to achieve the same level of arousal and excitement?
8. Do you find yourself struggling to concentrate on other areas of your life because of thoughts and feelings about your sexual behaviour?
9. Have you ever thought that there might be more you could do with your life if you weren’t so driven by your sexual pursuits?
10. Do you feel as if your sexual behaviour is out of your control?
For more information, visit www.atsac.co.uk