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Valerie realized that sex was wrecking her life right around the time her second marriage disintegrated.At 30, and employed as a human-resources administrator in Phoenix, she had serially cheated on both her husbands—often with their subordinates and co-workers—logging anonymous hookups in fast-food-restaurant bathrooms, affairs with married men, and one-night stands too numerous to count. Not even after one man’s wife aimed a shotgun at her head while catching them in flagrante delicto.This year the epidemic has spread to movies and TV.In November the Logo television network began airing Bad Sex, a reality series following a group of men and women with severe sexual issues, most notably addiction. 2, the acclaimed psychosexual drama Shame arrives in ­theaters.The movie follows Brandon (portrayed by Irish actor Michael Fassbender in a career-defining performance), a New Yorker with a libido the size of the Empire State Building.His life devolves into a blur of carnal encounters, imperiling both his job and his self-regard.“I was meeting girls on the basketball court, in the club, pulling my car over to meet them on the street,” Tony recalls.It took joining a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous 12-step program for him to realize that he wasn’t alone. But my self-esteem was shot.”Most treatment programs are modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, but rather than pushing cold-turkey abstinence, they advocate something called “sexual sobriety.” This can take different forms, but typically involves eradicating “unwanted sexual behavior,” whether that’s obsessive masturbation or sex with hookers.

Facing her second divorce as well as the end of an affair, she grew despondent and attempted to take her life by overdosing on prescription medication.

Some 1,500 sex therapists treating compulsive behavior are practicing today, up from fewer than 100 a decade ago, say several researchers and clinicians, while dozens of rehabilitation centers now advertise treatment programs, up from just five or six in the same period. “Where it used to be 40- to 50-year-old men seeking treatment, now there are more females, adolescents, and senior citizens,” says Tami Ver Helst, vice president of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals.

“Grandfathers getting caught with porn on their computers by grandkids, and grandkids sexting at 12.”In fact, some of the growth has been fueled by the digital revolution, which has revved up America’s carnal metab­olism. log on to some 4.2 million pornographic websites, according to the Internet Filter Software Review.

He also learned that his fixation on sex was a way of avoiding his insecurities and tackling the emotional issues that first led to his addictive behavior. “We treat it very much like sobriety for an eating disorder,” says Robert Weiss, founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. ’ We look at your goals and figure in your sexual behaviors and validate what’s going to lead you back to the behavior you don’t want to do.”Although sex addicts sometimes describe behavior akin to obsessive-compulsive disorder, research hasn’t directly correlated the two.

“The addiction will take you to a place where you’re walking the streets at night, so keyed up, thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll just see if there’s anybody out there,’” he says. “They have to define for themselves based on their own goals and belief systems: ‘What is healthy eating for me? But a growing body of research shows how hypersexual disorder can fit into other forms of addiction.