Book Review: Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction

“Sex addiction is a devastating condition that affects many millions of innocent people’ (Hall 2012:191) 

At a time when Sex Addiction & Pornography Addiction is becoming increasingly recognised & accepted as an addictive behaviour, the publishing of Paula Hall’s 'Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction” has been much anticipated and could not have come at a better time. 
Paula Hall, a registered Psychotherapist specialising in the field of Sex Addiction, and founder of The Hall Recovery Course, leaves the reader in no doubt, through clinical experience and valuable new research (the first of its kind in the UK & Ireland), that Sex Addiction is not only prevalent but a real & growing problem silently thriving in society. She also leaves us under no illusion that those suffering are struggling with an array of complex emotions and challenges. "In a nutshell, all addiction is used to manage emotional pain’ (Hall 2012:57).

Both refreshing and encouraging, this book gives clear insights into many aspects of sexual addiction, exploring trauma and attachment induced addictions, assessment criteria, and many other topics. Hall introduces new insightful theories such as the Six-Phase Cycle, which explores addictions which remain ‘dormant’.

Hall breaks through common misconceptions about sexual addiction and clearly illustrates the difference between it and other misinterpreted behaviours often associated with sexual addictions, such as hypersexuality & sexual offending. She challenges popular terminology specific to addiction such as Co-addiction in an effort to more clearly illustrate the complexity of sex as an addictive behaviour in comparison to other addictive behaviours such as food, gambling and drugs.

Throughout the book the author explores and defines with ease related areas such as human sexuality, sexual desire, fantasy, sexual dysfunctions, paraphilias and issues specific to the LGBTQ community, providing the reader with a strong overall view of areas which often coincide with or relate to sexual addictions. She builds a strong introduction to the neurochemistry of addiction as a contributing factor in the progression of addiction and identifies various addiction cycles and theories of progression. She has divided the book into an easy-to-reference chapter format and provides a good balance of theory, research and clinical & personal experience. To my mind she introduces a fresh honest perspective on sexual addiction and a sincerity that treatment and recovery, whilst challenging, is possible.

Until now publications on sex addiction have been predominantly based on US studies, and Hall draws on an array of research and mounting evidence from renowned experts in the field of sexual addiction such as Patrick Carnes & Robert Weiss. However, one of the key themes throughout 'Understanding & Treating Sex Addiction' is Halls clinical research based on 350 people struggling with sexual addiction, some of whom have gone through therapy. She provides first hand accounts and case studies from those suffering from sexual addictions, and a rich insight into the psyche of the sexual addict. Hall identifies how her research parallels and compares on many levels to US based research and how this helps identify issues specific to the UK.

The author explores as a common theme the impact of an 'unprecedented explosion of the internet and ever-growing availability of pornography' (Hall 2001:i) and identifies how this has contributed to an increase in those suffering from sexual addiction. She emphasises, in particular, the impact this explosion may be having on the younger generation. She identifies how the 'availability' of Pornography and an array of sexual activity has given rise to an increased prevalence of 'Opportunity Induced Addiction’ and clarifies how treatment and recovery differs from Trauma or Attachment Induced Addiction.

Hall’s open and articulate style of writing desensationalises and demystifies the issue of sexual addiction. She does so in an empathic & compassionate manner throughout the book, as she offers scenarios and associations which easily encourage the reader to relate on a personal level to rationalisations and other issues which arise as a result of sexually addictive behaviour and emotional distress.

With great emphasis on recovery, this book provides an overview of support & resources available to those seeking treatment & recovery in the UK and Ireland. As a Psychotherapist, I enthusiastically encourage and recommend this book to those who want to understand more about Sex Addiction or begin recovery, and indeed to  anyone interested in gaining a good understanding of addictive behaviour overall, as it easily and cleverly flows into other areas of addiction in order to help the reader gain a more rounded understanding.

From a professional perspective 'Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction' provides those in the therapeutic field with a strong understanding of sexual addiction and identifies what to watch out for in clinical practice which may ordinarily be missed or unspoken. As Hall suggests "for many people it’s too painful or risky to talk about their sexual acting out so instead they will seek help for the consequences without openly acknowledging the cause’. (Hall 2012:18)  
'Understanding & Treating Sex Addiction' is available from Amazon and other good book sellers.

Orlagh Gahan is a Psychotherapist at The Centre for Sexual Addictions, Dublin, Ireland. She is a member of ATSAC, and a graduate of PCI College, where she completed a Thesis titled: Sexual Addiction, Treatment & Support Service in Ireland. 

Click here to see PCI College President Eoin Stephens on TV3's Ireland AM talking about pornography and addiction

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