When sex becomes compulsive.

Monday Book Review

December 09, 1991|By Samuel T. Gladding

SEX, LIES AND FORGIVENESS. By Jennifer P. Schneider and Burt Schneider. HarperCollins. 285 pages. $10.95. Addiction is a type of obsessive behavior around which people focus their lives. It has adverse consequences and steadily increases over time. It is further characterized by withdrawal symptoms if the behavior is stopped.

Thus, addicts ride a merry-go-round of nonproductive behavior that leads nowhere. Most people think of this dysfunctional way of living as being associated with alcohol, cocaine or cigarettes. Yet in "Sex, Lies and Forgiveness," Jennifer and Burt Schneider focus on sex as an addiction, "a set of core beliefs about ourselves that include the belief that sex is our most important need or that sex is the most important sign of love." They premise their writing on the work of Patrick Carnes, a leading expert in the sex addiction field, and on a small but growing number of researchers, including the two of them, who have studied sexually addictive behavior.

The Schneiders briefly describe the many different forms of sexual addiction, such as fantasy and exhibitionism, and the cycle of acting out, from preoccupation to the sexual act. However, the heart of their text is centered on their findings from an anonymous survey and interviews with 142 recovering sex addicts, including 54 couples. It is the stories of these people and the statistical results of their survey that the Schneiders have compiled in producing this informal but informative book.

So what are the results? Mixed. There are gaps as well as facts in this work. A major gap is that the number and percentage of people affected by sex addiction are unknown. Thus, even though there are numerous support groups (Sexaholics Anonymous and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous) to help individuals and families affected by sex addiction, the problem's prevalence is not clear.

What is well-defined is the fact that sex addiction adversely affects everyone within an addict's social sphere. Relationships are destroyed. Another sobering fact is that the price of recovery is high. It includes moving "out of the shadows" of denial to fully admitting responsibility as well as acceptance of support groups and other types of therapy. It is a long and demanding process in which relapses are common.

The value of what the Schneiders do in this book can be described several ways, but most important they call the reader's attention to a misunderstood and potentially dangerous behavior. By its nature, sex is frequently glossed over in serious conversation and made the focus of jokes.

In "Sex, Lies and Forgiveness," the harmful potential of addictive sex behavior is treated sensitively and sensibly by letting those afflicted with the disorder tell their own stories and by comparing the dynamics of this malady with other dysfunctions, such as alcohol abuse. Tracing the pattern of sex addiction from its conception to its potential resolution, the authors help those suffering from this obsession to become more aware of the problem and the treatment.

Overall, "Sex, Lies and Forgiveness" is a scientifically informed, well-written work on a disorder that is just beginning to be recognized by the majority of those in the helping professions. While aimed at the lay public, the book can be useful also for clinical practitioners because of the way it summarizes important previous findings. The authors emphasize that sex addiction is not to be taken lightly, and they are to be commended for their efforts to bring this misunderstood concept before the general public.

Samuel T. Gladding is a professor of counseling at Wake Forest University and the author of three books on counseling.

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