LOS ANGELES Did life imitate art when David Duchovny, who plays a sex-mad writer on the hit US TV show "Californication", seek treatment for sex addiction?
Or was it case of art imitating life for the "X-Files" actor -- regarded as one of the hottest men in Hollywood and whose off-screen romances have long been a talking point.
Duchovny's announcement on Thursday that he was voluntarily going into rehab for sex addiction after years of denying he had a problem, threw a spotlight on a disorder that few celebrities, and even fewer ordinary men and women, admit to.
Often likened to alcoholism, drug addiction or gambling, sex addiction is a form of compulsive behavior which is sending growing numbers of people into therapy but which is not formally recognized as a "diagnosable disorder" by the American Psychiatric Association.
"The concept of sexual addiction is a controversial one and that's because it is difficult to define," said Dr. Steve Eichel, an addiction specialist who works in Delaware.
"There are a lot of people who are critical of the concept because we live in a society that tends to over medicalize and which makes every behavior, which deviates from the norm, an addiction or a disorder," Eichel said.
Sexual health experts estimate that about 3-5 percent of Americans have the disorder, including women.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms range from rampant promiscuity to spending hours looking at pornography and using sex to escape from problems such as depression or stress. It is often accompanied by secrecy and shame, and sufferers have difficulties with emotional intimacy.
"The Internet has provided a level of access (to pornography) that was previously unavailable. So many people have this problem and the Internet has driven that," said Rob Weiss, executive director of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles.
ART AND LIFE COMBINE
Duchovny, ironically, sought treatment after winning a Golden Globe award this year for playing womanizing, single father Hank Moody in "Californication", whose second season is due to start airing on U.S. television on September 29.
"There is no question the character played by Duchovny is sexually compulsive. It has destroyed his marriage and the show shows some of the ramifications of the character's sexual behavior upon his daughter, which is actually quite realistic," noted Eichel, a fan of the show.
It's not the first time that the actor's sex life has been a talking point. Before marrying actress Tea Leoni in 1997, Duchovny was linked with a string of women, and in the mid-1990s he was forced to deny reports that he had attended meetings to control his cravings.
"I'm not a sex addict," Duchovny told Playgirl magazine in a 1997 interview. "I have never been to those meetings. It's hurtful to my family and if I was involved with a woman in a monogamous relationship, it would be hurtful to her."
Treatment for sex addiction usually includes psychotherapy, group meetings similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, and sometimes medications like anti-depressants whose common side-effects include a decrease in libido.
Relapse is common, especially since most addicts cannot reasonably be expected to give up sex for the rest of their lives in the way that alcoholics seek never to drink again.
The disorder first got wide public attention when actor Michael Douglas spent time in rehab in the early 1990s, and it was reported that he was being treated for sexual addiction. Douglas, who starred in steamy movies like "Basic Instinct" and "Fatal Attraction", has said the reports were inaccurate and he sought help because he was drinking too much.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)