Mel B enters sex-addiction treatment. How common is that for women?

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor
Mel B attends the America’s Got Talent Season 13 live show at the Dolby Theatre, Aug. 14, 2018, in Hollywood. (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Spice Girl cum America’s Got Talent judge Mel B revealed to a British tabloid that she’s heading into treatment for alcohol and sex addictions — and hoping to address what’s behind them both.

“Sometimes it is too hard to cope with all the emotions I feel. But the problem has never been about sex or alcohol — it is underneath all that,” she told the Sun on Sunday, referring to the PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) she suffered after her traumatic divorce from Stephen Belafonte. “I am fully aware I have been at a crisis point. No one knows myself better than I do — but I am dealing with it. I have made the decision to go into a proper therapy program in the next few weeks, but it has to be in the UK because I am very, very British and I know that will work best for me.”

The singer and mother of three — whose real name is Melanie Brown — made her statement just months before the release of her memoir, Brutally Honest, due out in November. “I am still struggling,” she added, “but if I can shine a light on the issue of pain, PTSD and the things men and women do to mask it, I will do. I am speaking about this because this is a huge issue for so many people.”

It’s actually major anytime a woman speaks out about sex addiction or compulsive behavior, according to therapist Rob Weiss, author of Sex Addiction 101 and CEO of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based treatment program Seeking Integrity.


That’s because women “understand how the world looks at them, so will likely keep it secret, and lead a double life,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. In other words, the sexist double standards apply here, bringing with them the stigma that women who battle sex addictions are “sluts,” while men who battle the same are “players.”

While the term “sex addict” is not an official diagnosis in the U.S., there are still a multitude of therapeutic services, like Weiss’s, and support groups, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous, the international 12-step fellowship based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model (which shows up in Season 4 of Transparent, when three siblings attend a meeting), that address the condition. And in 2019, the 11th edition of the World Health Organization’s global diagnostic manual, called the ICD (International Classification of Diseases), will be updated to include “compulsive sexual behavior disorder.”

But for Weiss, the absence of an official diagnosis in America’s standard manual — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) — is indicative of our nation’s lack of progress. “We are behind [much of the world] when it comes to sexual issues,” he says. Weiss believes that’s partly due to “the stigmatization of addiction,” as well as “how nobody wants to call a healthy behavior — sex, food — an addiction.”

Statistical info (and information in general) on women with sexual addictive behaviors is scarce. A 2012 study showed that exposure to porn as a child was a strong indicator of sexual addiction in women. That same year, a group of female therapists published the first book offering a targeted treatment plan for women.

Just this year, Erica Garza published a memoir, Getting Off, about being a sex and porn addict, generating much press, with other women hungry to read about her experience. As she wrote in an essay for the Cut, “Sometimes I wonder, if there had been more research and more discussion about sexual addiction in women, would I have changed my behavior? Had there been more available examples of vulnerable, open, honest women sharing their journeys, would I have been more willing to embrace the possibility that I wasn’t alone and unfixable? It’s hard to know for sure. What I do know is that isolation is damaging. Silence is damaging. And when you are isolated and silenced, all sorts of ideas, however twisted they may seem, can begin to seem real because they aren’t ever dealt with properly.”

Weiss says that his client base is about 30 percent women, 70 percent men. He runs weekly support groups for sex and love addiction, drawing about 90 percent men; but in the online groups he runs, it’s 70 percent women. “So women are showing up in droves online, because they feel safer there,” he says. “I think one of the harder issues is asking someone for help.”

Typically, he explains, male sex addicts tend to be more about “anonymous, overt, disconnected” sexual contact with a person, such as through a strip club or massage parlor. “Women do that too, but it’s not as typical,” he says. “It’s much more typical to have an affair, then go out of town and have something with someone else — just a little bit of a connection.” Women who have a sex addiction, Weiss adds, “are basically intensity seekers, and not looking for warmth, stability, or closeness, but more a quick hit of ‘I’m desired and I have power’ in ways a healthy woman wouldn’t.”

Often he sees women who have had sexual abuse or profound trauma and have come to “identify with the aggressor, and become sexually predatory. Instead of working through it, they move on in life and internalize it, and then they get aggressive or assertive by demanding sex.”

Like Brown speaking out about her PTSD, and connecting it with her addictive behavior, Weiss notes, “nearly 100 percent of the women that I work with have had some kind of profound, early trauma — an overwhelming set of circumstances that we are not equipped to handle, so we have to figure out a way to manage it. … It’s a way of coping, no different than the person who addictively eats.”

And just as a food addiction is not about the food, a sex addiction is not about the sex, he says. “It’s about the sense of power and attraction. My clients will lose themselves in the pursuit of sex for five days and then have it for five minutes — it’s about the pursuit of it. The pleasure itself may not be so great.” Weiss notes that Brown is lucky to realize that her behaviors with sex and alcohol may be related, as some people will go into treatment for alcohol or drugs and not realize that their sex addiction was entwined with it until after they are sober.

As for Brown, Garza, and any other woman speaking out about her sex addiction, he adds, “I think it’s essential. Anytime a woman comes out and says, ‘I have this problem and I’m not ashamed of it,’ she’s blazing a trail for other women. I think it shows tremendous courage.”

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