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06.15.11

Eight Facts About Sex Rehab

Anthony Weiner is on a leave of absence from Congress to attend an unspecified treatment center following his cybersex scandal. Dr. Charles Sophy talks to Lizzie Crocker about what that rehab means.

After his Twitter sex scandal imploded last week, Rep. Anthony Weiner was encouraged by top Democrats to resign. Instead, he’s seeking professional help. On Saturday, Weiner’s spokesperson announced the New York congressman is headed to a clinic to “focus on becoming a better and healthier person”.

Weiner has left town. Did he check into a psychiatric ward? Or sex rehab? The speculation has opened up a long-standing debate: Is sex addiction a real disorder?

To find out, The Daily Beast spoke to Dr. Charles Sophy, who has devoted his life to studying psychiatry and been a regular guest on Dr. Drew Pinsky’s Celebrity Rehab show. Last month he appeared on Good Morning America to discuss Arnold Schwarzenegger’s split from Maria Shriver. On the heels of Weinergate, Dr. Sophyenlightened us with eight facts about sex rehab.

1. No Internet, Sexting, or Porn

Going cold turkey might be the best solution for Weiner. In a sex rehabilitation center, patients aren’t allowed online, says Dr. Sophy. “It’s about the stimulation. You don’t want them surfing the web for pornography and finding ways to stimulate themselves.” Treating patients’ compulsive behaviors (i.e., sending lewd photos over the internet to strangers) involves “removing outside noise so that patients can hear the noise coming from within and try to understand it.” Communication with the world outside while in sex rehab is limited if not strictly forbidden.

2. No Masturbation

Patients in sex rehab are discouraged from engaging in “self-soothing” behaviors, says Sophy, which means that masturbation is simply not in the cards. The very impulses they’ve given into (and gotten off on), whether while watching pornography or engaging in cybersex, are self-soothing indulgences that only encourage cyclical behavior. Denying oneself sexual pleasure is often the first step in learning to control sexual impulses and breaking the cycle of indulgence. But how exactly do they monitor that sort of thing?

3. Big Brother Is Watching

A majority of sex rehab centers use surveillance cameras to keep an eye on their inmates. “They aren’t there to spy on patients or catch them in the act of doing something wrong. They are there to keep people safe,” explains Dr. Sophy, who says patients benefit from seeing themselves on tape. In order for their treatment to be effective, “seeing their own behaviors and learning in the moment is very impactful.” In extreme cases, patients may be monitored at all times, “like suicide watch.”

4. Women Are Hard to Come By

An estimated 14 million Americans—roughly 1 out of 17 adults—claims to have a sex addiction, but only 20 - 25 percent of these self-declared addicts are women. Dr. Sophy says the gender imbalance is in part “hormonally driven,” and that testosterone is a big trigger for men. “But then there’s the environmental piece, the genetic piece, the social piece – all of which have to be examined and addressed in sex rehab.”

5. Rehab Is Expensive

Sex talk is cheap… until you get caught. The going rate for sex rehab is between $500 and $1000 per day. Dr. Sophy notes that “some clinics are more expensive, some are less, depending on bells and whistles.” Fancy, resort-like treatment centers are invariably more expensive than your run-of-the-mill urban clinics. Among the most reputable centers are Arizona’s Sierra Tuscon and Mississippi’s Pine Grove, where high-profile sex addict Tiger Woods spent six weeks in the Gentle Path program. The average length of stay at sex rehabilitation centers is 30 – 45 days, says Sophy. “But it can be extended. Sometimes people expect to go in for one month and stay for three,” pending on the scope of issues that bubble to the surface during treatment. For Congressman Rep. Weiner, four weeks in rehab could end up costing him his career.

6. Group Therapy Is Encouraged

Wherever he is, Anthony Weiner is in good company. Like most addiction rehabilitation centers, sex clinics believe in the healing power of group therapy. It brings out different emotions in people, whether through “Grief Group” confessions like those required in Gentle Path’s program or through more playful, creative bonding sessions. Most sex rehab centers even have rooms devoted to arts and crafts.

7. Flirting Is Discouraged

If you’re caught winking at a fellow sex addict during arts and crafts hours, you’ll likely be banished to the clinic’s isolation cabin. “There are parameters on relationships in sex rehab,” says Dr. Sophy. Close relationships are discouraged because of their potential to distract from the goal of treatment. The point is to emerge as a healthy individual who isn’t dependent on another person’s attention (unless that person is a spouse or family member).

8. It’s Not Just About Sex

The more committed sex addicts are to understanding their problem, the more likely they are to emerge from rehab with a set of tools to use should old demons resurface. But in most cases of people seeking medical treatment for sex addiction (a condition not recognized in the Psychiatric Diagnosis Manual), there is what Dr. Sophy calls a “co-occurring” mental disorder that coincides with the behavior. Behavioral addictions like gambling and shopping have been linked to bipolar disorder, manic depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Sophy and many other doctors today recognize sex addiction as “a behavior that has become engrained as a coping skill but also as an uncontrolled response.” The more interesting question, says Sophy, is what triggers the response, which is often marked by a complete loss of insight and consuming thought patterns. In the case of Weiner’s social networking scandal, the congressman’s judgment was clearly impaired. During a teary, painful-to-watch press conference, Weiner called his actions “terrible mistakes.” Indeed, these inexplicable blunders have marred his political persona as a savvy Democratic representative of New York City. Now potentially unfit for Congress, he is no doubt an eligible candidate for sex rehab.