The desire to express our sexuality is a natural part of life. And to seek and find pleasure and fulfillment in expressing it is ok. However, if you are engrossed with sexual thoughts, feelings or behaviors that are causing significant distress to your health, job, relationships or other parts of your life, then you may be facing a sexual addiction.
Sexual addiction is defined as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior, despite increasingly negative consequences. A person with a sexual addiction is obsessed with sex, or has an abnormally intense sex drive. Their addiction may involve an obsession with socially accepted, normal sexual behaviors or it may involve fantasies or activities outside the bounds of culturally, legally, morally or socially accepted sexual behaviors.
Sex addicts’ lives are dominated with sex and the thought of it, so much so that other activities and interactions become seriously affected. In other words, a person who is addicted to sex will continue to engage in certain sexual behaviors despite the consequences to self and others. Some of those consequences may include destroyed relationships, potential health risks like sexually transmitted infections, financial problems, loss of employment, or even arrest.
People with sexual addictions are at a much higher risk for sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, sexual dysfunction and damage to the genitals. Another significant consequence is the loss of time and productivity which can result in a loss of job and finances. Debt can mount quickly, and clients can accumulate several thousands of dollars of debt in a short amount of time. In addition, there is a long list of legal consequences, including arrest for solicitation and engaging in sexual acts that are illegal. There are numerous emotional and mental consequences as well and the ffects on the family and partnered relationships can be debilitating.
A sexual addiction is like any other addiction, formed typically by engaging in behaviors that provide physical or psychological pleasure and/or momentary relief from pain. Sex addicts show very similar brain activity to people with drug addictions — they experience a “high” or “ a chemical rush” to the brain’s reward system similar to the feeling a drug addict gets from taking their first hit of a drug.
Sex addicts experience an irresistible sense of euphoria from sexual activity that seems to go beyond the normal sexual experience; nevertheless, the sexual experience is not about intimacy or even sex. Sex addicts use sexual activity as a means of escaping and/or avoiding the pain of past traumas, unpleasant feelings, negative experiences or outside stressors. Any reward gained from the sexual experience usually results in guilt and remorse. The person promises to change but ultimately ends up repeating the pattern of behavior until they seek out treatment for the addiction.
There is no clear reason why some people develop sexual addictions and others do not. Some hypotheses are: 1) an imbalance of natural brain chemicals that may be related to compulsive sexual behavior and help regulate mood, 2) Sex hormone levels have a vital role in sexual desire, 3) Certain diseases or health problems may cause damage to parts of the brain that affect sexual behavior, and 4) Changes in brain pathways that cause changes in the brain’s neural circuits. Research has also found that sex addicts often come from dysfunctional families and are more likely than non-sex addicts to have been abused; others often describe their parents as rigid, distant and uncaring.
While there is no official diagnosis for sex addiction, some clinicians and researchers have attempted to define sexual addiction by the following criteria:
- Frequently engaging in sex and with more partners than intended
- Being preoccupied with or persistently craving sex
- Multiple unsuccessful attempts to limit, cut back or stop sexual activity
- Thinking of sex to the detriment of other activities or continually engaging in excessive sexual practices despite a desire to stop
- Spending considerable time in activities related to sex, such as cruising for partners or spending hours online visiting pornographic websites
- Neglecting obligations such as work, school or family in pursuit of sex
- Feeling irritable when unable to engage in the desired behavior
- Continuation of the sexual behavior despite negative consequences of persistent or recurrent social, academic, financial, psychological, or physical problem that is caused or exacerbated by the sexual behavior
- Need to increase the intensity, frequency, number, or risk of behaviors to achieve the desired effect, or diminished effect with continued behaviors at the same level of intensity, frequency, number, or risk
- Giving up or limiting social, occupational, or recreational activities because of the behavior
- Frequently engaging in sexual behaviors to a greater extent or over a longer period of time than intended
There is effective treatment available for individuals with sexual addiction. The goal of sexual addiction treatment is not lifelong abstinence, but rather a termination of compulsive, unhealthy sexual behavior. Since it is very difficult for a sex addict to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy sex, it is important that treatment includes addressing this issue. The second goal of sexual addiction treatment involves facing some of the most difficult issues: denial, guilt, shame and depression associated with the addiction. The third goal is to help identify triggers to unhealthy sexually behaviors and ways to avoid coming in contact with triggers. Various methods of treatment may include:
12-Step Programs: Programs such as Sexaholics Anonymous apply principles similar to those used in other addiction programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. By admitting powerlessness over their addictions, seeking the help of God or a higher power, following the required steps, seeking a sponsor and regularly attending meetings, many addicts have been able to regain intimacy in their personal relationships.
Therapy: This approach, which can be done individually or in a group, looks at what triggers and reinforces actions related to sexual addiction. It also focuses on addressing the emotional baggage and/or effects or past trauma. The unique aspect of group therapy versus individual therapy is that it allows you to see that your problem is not unique. It also enables you to learn about what works and what doesn’t from others’ experiences, and draw on others’ strengths and hopes for support.
Medication: Recent research suggests antidepressants may be useful in treating sexual addiction. In addition to treating mood symptoms common among sex addicts, these medications may have some benefit in reducing sexual obsessions.
There are also support programs for partners and/or family members of sex addicts. If you or someone you love may be experiencing a sexual addiction, contact your local physician, clinician, or sex therapist. Recovery is possible!
Dr. TaMara loves nothing more than talking about sex! At the age of 13, she told her mother she wanted to be a Sex Therapist! Her passion is deeply rooted in spreading messages about healthy sexuality. Dr. TaMara is a sexologist, sex therapist, educator and motivational speaker with more than 20 years of experience speaking, writing and teaching about sexuality. She travels the country helping individuals embrace and honor their sexuality. Dr. TaMara has published numerous books and articles. She is the owner of L.I.F.E. by Dr. TaMara Griffin Live Inspired Feel Empowered LLC-LIFE and publisher and editor-in-chief of “Our Sexuality!” Magazine for women. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, http://www.drtamaragriffin.com or http://www.projectcreatesafe.com.