Sexuality expert Dr. David Greenfield, clinical director of The Healing Center, LLC in West Hartford, Conn., agreed that the Tiger Woods case, while personally tragic for the golf star, could "push sex addiction over the top in terms of public recognition, understanding and accessibility, which is a good thing.
"I think that what [the public has] been sensitized to is that sex can be used as a drug," he said. "The concept that sex can be a drug and therefore can be addictive is a new thing for the public to sink its teeth into."
Not all psychological experts agree that sex addiction should be put in the same category as drug and alcohol addiction. Clinical psychiatrist Armond Aserinsky said he is one of many professionals in mental health who still put the term "sex addiction" in quotation marks -- though he said that by whatever name, sexual compulsions can create real problems.
"One might not have to accept the notion that the behavior in question is actually an addiction to see value in a treatment approach that has long been used in general for patients who have trouble controlling impulses," he said.
"There is a huge variation in how professionals think about sexual addiction," said Aline Zoldbrod, a Boston-based certified sex therapist and author of "SexSmart: How Your Childhood Shaped Your Sexual Life and What to Do About It." "The disorder, whatever one calls it, is not listed currently in the American Psychiatric Disorder's current diagnostic manual."
Zoldbrod, for one, said she believes that sexual activity can be addictive, just like drugs or alcohol. And she said that most psychological experts would agree that addiction or not, it deserves treatment.
"Personally and professionally, I don't care what we label it, but in my opinion, sexual compulsivity is fast becoming one of the nation's biggest public health problems," she said.
For many, however, the question remains: when does an obsession with sex cross the line into sex addiction? Greenfield said that the distinction is sometimes a difficult one to make.
"There is a very gray line between promiscuity and sexual addiction," he said. "Are you using sex as a means to alter your mind and consciousness? Does your behavior interfere with one of the major spheres of your life?"
Woods, Greenfield said, would meet any of these criteria; it's affected him financially, it's affected his work, and it has affected his marriage and relationships.
"As soon as the details of this case came out, I knew this guy was a sex addict," he said. "You don't engage in that kind of activity for a rational purpose."
Of course, having sex indiscriminately with multiple partners -- an activity in which Woods allegedly indulged -- is not the only sign of sex addiction, Zoldbrod said. She said that anyone who finds a huge amount of their time consumed by sexual fantasies or who uses sexual behavior to avoid other feelings such as anger, boredom or sadness may suffer from sex addiction.
For those who are curious as to whether their approach to sexual behavior constitutes an addiction, there are numerous resources. To help individuals determine if they may have a sex addiction, a Web site developed by Dr. Patrick Carnes, a nationally known speaker and author on addiction and the director of the clinic in Hattiesburg, offers a questionnaire titled "Am I a Sex Addict?"