What is Sex Addiction?
Sex is part of the human experience. Not only is it natural but it is also part of our health. Sex is a dominant force in media and can be seen many advertisements, tv shows, movies, music, etc. Many cultures embrace sexuality and normalize it and often times people don’t have a problem with engaging in sex. However, there are some people that become addicted to sex and are ruled by their sexual desires. These individuals have a sex addiction and act out sexually in ways that they cannot control. Sex addiction can be very detrimental to an individual’s health, relationships and can lead to criminal activity and dangerous activity. Diagnosing someone with a sex addiction can be difficult since there is no set diagnosis in the DSM and often times people with other illnesses like substance abuse disorder will act out sexually when under the influence. Furthermore, differing social norms make it difficult to diagnosis someone with a sex addiction. For example, someone who engages in certain sexual behaviors may be viewed as problematic by someone who is very conservative, while others may not see any problem with certain behaviors. Some professionals don’t even think sex addiction is a real addiction. In fact, only a small percentage of the U.S. population are actually diagnosed by a mental health professional with a sex addiction.
Symptoms: what happens
Sexual addiction is also known as hypersexual disorder or compulsive sexual behavior. Symptoms for sexual addiction are found in the International Classification of Diseases. Symptoms must exist for a period of at least six months and include: recurrent sexual fantasies, urges, desires, impulses, sexual behaviors that affect normal day to day living, sexual desires or fantasies occurring when negative emotions occur, difficulty controlling sexual urges, and sexual urges and fantasies that cause significant distress. Some behaviors that can be seen in someone with a sex addiction is excessive porn searching and viewing, excessive masturbation, illegal sex acts like pedophilia, infidelity, increased isolation, becoming controlling and demanding during sex, mood swings after sex, less affectionate and emotional disconnection, easily angered when asked about sex, hiding porn and justifying their behaviors. These behaviors and symptoms vary however, there is often a cycle of these behaviors that consist of five stags. 1) Pain-when a sex addict feels pain, whether they are aware of the pain or not, there is then a desire to escape the pain. 2) Fantasy- this then leads to fantasy to escape reality. 3) Ritual- this occurs when the individual attempts to physically act out their fantasy. 4) Acting out- this involves the individual actually engaging in the sexual activity. 5) Shame and guilt- once the sexual act has been enacted, the individual then goes through a shame and guilt spiral and reflects on the consequences of their behaviors. This cycle is very similar to other addiction cycles.
Understanding the causes of sexual addiction are difficult to understand. However, there are individuals that are more likely to engage in negative sexual behaviors if they have been abused, specifically sexually abused, have experienced trauma, and are more biologically vulnerable to addiction. Similar to other addictions being associated with other mental illnesses or disorders, sex addiction is associate with depressive disorder.
Like drug and alcohol addicts, sex addicts experience the same chemical changes in the brain when engaging in the addictive behavior. Often times sex addicts will use substances while engaging in sexual behavior to enhance the experience. Or those engaging in substance abuse will engage in risky sexual behavior. Substance abuse and sex addiction will often feed off of each other. Both aspects must be addressed in treatment. Both sex addiction and other forms of addiction have the same root; the need to escape negative emotions and experiences.
Recovering from sex addiction is possible through treatment. The first step to take is getting screened for sex addiction or other disorders that mimic sex addiction. Various treatment modalities can be successful and helpful to individuals. Certain medications like antidepressants and mood stabilizers can help reduce acting out sexually. Different forms of therapy like CBT, family therapy, rehabilitation programs, and support groups like, Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sexaholics Anonymous, are part of recovery.