Sex Addiction: Real Problem or Convenient Excuse?

Therapists split on whether behavior like Tiger Woods' is a true addiction.

Feb. 25, 2010— -- Cheating on a spouse -- is it simple philandering or a psychological affiction?

The term "sex addiction" -- clinically known as hypersexual disorder -- has been tossed around with increasing frequency since a growing string of celebrity adulterers have blamed their affairs on what they say are uncontrollable urges.

"I see it more as a behavior problem, a compulsion," Hackensack University Medical Center psychologist Craig Fabrikant told "Good Morning America."

Tiger Woods retreated into rehab after a bevy of women claimed to have slept with the golf phenom while his wife was at home with their small children.

Actor David Duchovny, who plays a so-called sex addict on his Showtime series "Californication," also sought treatment after he admitted to cheating on wife Tea Leoni.

Family therapist Terry Real said the medical community needs to open itself up to accepting that addictions don't always revolve around chemical substances. He recalled a sex addict patient once telling him how he couldn't make it through a board meeting without pretending to take a call, then escaping outside the building to pay for sex.

He said the high sex addicts get from risky behavior is not unlike the high from gambling or drug addictions.

"We don't have it nailed yet, but we're pretty sure that you're producing inside your body specific chemicals," he said.

Sex addiction is not recognized in the Psychiatric Diagnosis Manual and earlier this month the American Psychiatric Association announced that their new manual, to be published in 2013, will include a "behavioral addictions" category that references gambling but not sex.

Sex Addiction: Legitimate Label or Bad Choices

Woods never specifically mentioned the term "sex addiction" during his very public prepared apology last week. But he did speak about the treatment he'd already received and said he'd be heading back into therapy immediately.

Dr. Marty Klein, author of "America's War on Sex" called addiction a "handy metaphor."

"Whether it's a good clinical diagnosis, whether the concept of sex addiction helps us understand people's behavior, that's an entirely different subject," he said.

Fabrikant said he wonders where to draw the line between something that could be an addiction or something as simple as a healthy sex drive.

But there are doctors who treat sex addiction, whether its recognized as a true mental health issue or not. Some researchers argue that "hypersexual disorder" should be officially recognized and that being unable to resist risky sexual behavior can cause serious damage to people's lives.

Benoit Denizet-Lewis said he is a recovering sex addict and defends the label.

"Sex addiction is real," he said, "and it's an incredibly powerful, maddening addiction in the same way that, you know, drugs or alcohol or gambling is."