Society

After Strauss-Kahn Affaire, France Discovers Sex Addiction

U.S. bedroom scandals have long culminated in sex addiction revelations. But now the French are starting to face this bona fide medical diagnoses since Dominique Strauss-Kahn's super active sex life has been dissected following his encounter with

French sexual apetites come in all sizes (Claire L. Evans)
French sexual apetites come in all sizes (Claire L. Evans)
Agnès Leclair

PARIS - Since the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York last May, psychoanalyst Jean-Benoît Dumonteix's practice is always packed. "The DSK affair was revelatory," says this sex addiction specialist. "Male patients tell me that when they saw DSK hauled into court, they had the impression they were being judged instead of him."

Dumonteix says the tribulations of the former International Monetary Fund director, who was charged with sexual assault and later released after an encounter with a hotel maid, has been cathartic for many of his patients. "They assumed that (Strauss-Kahn) had the same kind of pathology they did, and that broke through the denial."

Until recently in France, sex addiction was considered more of a pseudo-pathology, reserved for American stars like Tiger Woods, David Duchovny and Michael Douglas, who made bizarrely public apologies and went to special centers for treatment. "There's greater awareness of the problem now," says Dumonteix, "but the phenomenon is not on the increase."

Sexual dependence is classified as a dysfunction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The concept made its first appearance in the 1970s, prior to becoming the subject of a book, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, by Dr. Patrick Carnes. American psychiatrist Aviel Goodman also produced breakthrough research on sexual dependence. "And we mustn't forget Freud," says psychiatrist Marc Valleur. "He described masturbation as the original addiction."

Between three and six percent of the sexually active population, mainly men, suffers from sex addiction, according to a 2011 study by Professor Florence Thibaut of the psychiatric service of Rouen's CHU hospital and France's national health and medical research institute Inserm. "There is relatively little interest in sex addiction in France because there are still a lot of taboos about it," says Thibaut.

In life, sex addiction can play out in various ways – multiple conquests or partners, regular visits to prostitutes, or compulsively visiting sex websites or watching pornographic movies.

Just can't stop

But how can we distinguish between an active sex life and frenetic need for seduction, and pathological dependence? "This addiction means that the addict will prefer sexual behavior to any other form of social behavior or other activity. As with addictions to alcohol or cigarettes, an addict can't stop," Professor Thibaut explains.

Every time the addict is overcome with anxiety or stress, he or she will try to escape the feeling by engaging in a sexual act. After the initial relief, the addict suffers feelings of negative self-esteem – which start the cycle over again. It's a vicious circle, and behavior usually intensifies into frenetic attempts to find ever more elusive relief.

Sex addicts end up cutting themselves off from the world. "Some of them can spend the day masturbating as they watch movies, or get fired because they couldn't help checking out sex sites while they were at work. Others go broke paying for call girls, their wives leave them…" says Dumonteix.

What do the different types of addicts have in common? Progressive isolation, depression, and a very low sense of self-worth. In the view of French sexologist Dr. Catherine Solano "emotionless sex produces addiction."

According to Dumonteix, whose patients are 95% male, "the behavior is almost always due to some childhood trauma." This may have been rape, or groping, but it is often some kind of intrusion into the child's intimate sphere. The child may also have been subjected to inappropriate behavior or images."

Dumonteix says most of his patients are aged between 25 and 35, discovered porn on the Internet, and cannot stay away from it. "Some of them got addicted at age 15 and have at least ten years of addiction behind them," he says.

"Some of my clients are lawyers, surgeons, and businessmen who become addicted because of the huge stress they are under. But they too mainly suffer from some kind of trauma," says Dumonteix.

"The corridors of power are propitious terrain for hyper-sexuality because they make seduction and conquest much easier," Dr. Solano says. According to Professor Thibaut, celebrity is not a determining factor. "Sex addiction among celebrities is played up by the media, but you don't have to be famous to go through exactly the same thing. Like drug addiction, it's the same, famous or not famous."

Read the original article in French

Photo – Claire L. Evans

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Coronavirus

Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."


Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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