In a statement this week, Ozzy Osbourne’s representative said the Black Sabbath frontman cheated on wife Sharon Osbourne because of sex addiction. That explanation was met with skepticism by one notable person: Ozzy’s longtime mistress. In her side of the story, Michelle Pugh claimed she and the rock legend had a “very real relationship,” that built slowly over time and wasn’t based entirely on sex.
Between that and Sharon’s apparent unawareness of Ozzy’s actions for a number of years, it is evident that what signifies sex addiction may not be clear.
That may be in part because sex addiction isn’t included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used by professionals to diagnose mental illnesses. Without the formal diagnosis, there is only a rough estimate that 3 to 5 percent of Americans deal with sex addiction. Many professionals believe the true figures are much higher.
Many of the symptoms are markers of otherwise normal (if not entirely healthy) behaviors, making it even more difficult to identify sex addiction. So, where is the line between recreational pornography viewing and an obsession? What is the difference between a high sex drive and an addiction? Are dominating behaviors always problematic? Lisa Bahar, licensed marriage and family therapist, said sex addiction is characterized by “an insatiability or sense of urgency and anger,” rather than mindfulness for a partner’s needs. According to Bahar, there are seven more signs that point to sex addiction:
1. Rushing from one relationship to the next: It’s one thing to have a common rebound romance or even stumble into a new relationship shortly after a breakup. When it becomes a habit, though, it may be symptomatic of the constant need for a sexual partner.
2. You regularly catch your partner in lies: Most addicts of any kind find themselves weaving intricate webs of lies to cover up their actions. For sex addicts, that may mean falsifying stories about where they’ve been or whom they’ve been with. Bahar added the behaviors of sex addicts also tend to escalate with riskier activities, such as meeting strangers for trysts or seeing prostitutes.
3. There is unexplained spending: Beyond lies that are coming our of your partner’s mouth, you may see the evidence on any shared bank accounts. Be especially wary of checks that disappear without explanation or cash that goes too fast, as savvy addicts will be careful not to leave a trail straight to pornography websites.
4. You feel used for sex: If you feel like your partner is always putting his or her sexual needs first, that’s a big red flag. Bahar said the key difference is between an “insatiable need for sex” and a healthy desire to be intimate. For addicts, she said this might mean becoming aggressive or angry when denied sex.
5. Your partner discourages safe-sex practices: Along with viewing someone else as a sexual object rather than a person who is loved, sex addicts are prone to putting their desires first — whether that means pushing you to have sex before you are ready or refusing to use protection.
6. Your partner masturbates or watches porn too often: Each relationship will have unique parameters for what is “normal” in terms of masturbating or watching porn. However, if your partner seems to be indulging in these activities multiple times a day or right after sex, there may be cause for concern. As Brian Whitney, recovering sex addict and author of Raping the Gods, said to The Fix, “I would sometimes even masturbate right after sex — with my partner passed out next to me.”
7. Thoughts of sex interrupt activities of daily living: To say “sex is always on his or her mind” isn’t much of an exaggeration for addicts. In these cases, the person may struggle with focus on work or won’t have much interest in other hobbies. Bahar said addicts have a “quality of preoccupation that leads to obsession,” which may even make it difficult to hold down a job.
As with any addiction, the road to recovery is not easy or straightforward. However, Bahar said it is possible to overcome sex addiction — and it all begins with identifying the problem.