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Sex addiction may be a fairly new concept for people to grasp. Even health professionals have a hard time identifying it as an additiction. Not because people cannot be addicted to sex, but is really that they are just addicted to sex? Think about someone who has an eating disorder, or gambles compulsively. The underlying mental disorders that cause the behaviors are at the heart of the addiction.
In this case, stress, depression, anxiety, and poor self-image can serve as triggers for risky sexual behaviors. If you think about any compulsion that interferes with your relationships, careers, or overall well-being, then sex addiction is really no different. This behavior eventually leads to feelings of guilt, or shame, and often includes lying. Regardless of how it is labeled, if you or a loved one is experiencing problems related to compulsive sexual thoughts or behaviors, you will need professional help to deal with them.
Learning About Sex Addiction
There are no clear answers for understanding what causes sex addiction. For some, traumatic childhood experiences, like being abused physically or emotionally, may play a role. Having a personality disorder could also increase your risk for developing sex addiction. For others, it may be a learned behavior from growing up in a dysfunctional home where the behavior was ignored or denied.
How do you know if you have a problem? The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) points out that sex addiction can manifest itself in many different ways, but there are some general characteristics:
- Feeling like you have no control over your sexual behavior
- Having serious consequences because of your sexual behavior
- Thinking about your sexual behavior, even when you do not want to
The particular sexual behavior that may be affecting you can vary greatly. Some examples include:
- Viewing pornographic material
- Engaging in cybersex or telephone sex
- Going to strip clubs
- Exhibitionism—exposing one’s genitals or sexual organs to a stranger
- Voyeurism—secretly watching someone undress or engage in sexual activity
- Sexual harassment
- Sexual relationships with consenting adults, in the context of prostitution, one-night stands, or extramarital affairs
- Molesting or raping someone
The main point to remember is that you no longer feel in control of your behavior. Because of this, you may:
- Fantasize about sex without being able to control your thoughts
- Spend a lot of time planning for the sexual activity
- Engage in the sexual behavior and feel that you cannot control yourself
- Feel that the sexual thoughts and behavior are getting in the way of your job
- Have difficulty forming an emotional bond with your sexual partner
- Have difficulty being committed to your partner
- Feel shame or guilt because of your sexual behavior
If you are struggling with sex addiction, you may feel that you are leading a double life, trying to keep your sexual behavior a secret from your family, partner, friends, and coworkers. By constantly fantasizing about sex, planning for the sexual activity, and engaging in it, your home and work life suffer. You may experience problems with:
- Relationships—which may result in separation or divorce
- Mental health, such as depression, anxiety, or sleep disorders
- Physical health, such as sexually transmitted diseases or unintended pregnancy
- Your career—which may result in loss of productivity, demotion, or fired
- Finances—which may be affected by losing your job, or spending an excessive amount of money on pornography or prostitution
- The law—which can occur if you are arrested for exposure or solicitation of prostitution
These problems can become more serious the longer you continue struggling with sex addiction.
Also think about whether or not your sex addiction has contributed to other behaviors.
Finding the Way to Recovery
Behaviors, compulsions, and addictions tend to follow the same paths. The good news is, you can get help and make a full recovery.
There are a number of support groups for people who have sex addiction. Some of these include Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous.
These programs are all modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and feature 12 steps to recovery. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop addictive sexual behavior. At the weekly meetings, you can get support from other people who have also struggled with sexual addiction. You can listen to others’ stories and learn coping strategies, as well as share your own experiences. By participating in the program and reading the literature, you can learn how to improve your emotional health.
Group therapy is similar to self-help groups, but there is a therapist to guide the members. Again, the emphasis is on supporting each other.
You can also choose to work one-on-one with a therapist. The therapist can help you to deal with underlying problems that may have led to the sex addiction. You can also learn new coping strategies and problem-solving skills.
In situations where a relationship shows signs of failure, couples therapy may be helpful. Sex addiction has ripple effects to other family members. Couples therapy can help your partner overcome feelings of anger, neglect, or inadequacy. Therapy can also help you become intimate with each other again. They key is going through the recovery process together.
If you feel that you need more intense treatment, there are outpatient and inpatient programs. Outpatient involves spending the day at a facility, where the doctors and therapists assess your physical and mental health and create a plan. The plan may include individual therapy, group therapy, a 12-step program, and spiritual guidance. The inpatient program is similar, but you are in a therapeutic environment 24 hours a day.
If you feel that your sexual thoughts and behavior are making it difficult for you to live your life, talk to someone. There are many support groups and therapists who can help you recover.
Sex Addicts Anonymous
Society for the Advancement of Mental Health
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Am I a sex addict? The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health website. Available at: http://www.sash.net/am-i-a-sex-addict. Accessed October 14, 2013.
A cognitive-behavioral approach: treating cocaine addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Available at: http://archives.drugabuse.gov/TXManuals/CBT/CBT3.html#why. Accessed October 14, 2013.
Co-dependency. Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/codependency. Accessed October 14, 2013.
National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. Compulsive sexual behavior and sex addiction. The University of Hawaii System website. Available at: http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Compulsive%20Sexual%20Behavior%20and%20Sex%20Addiction.pdf. Accessed October 14, 2013.
Sex addiction. Beachway Therapy Center website. Available at: http://www.rehabilitation-center.org/sex-addiction-and-drug-abuse.html. Accessed October 14, 2013.
Sexual addiction. Wright State University website. Available at: http://www.wright.edu/rsp/Security/Eap/Sex.htm. Accessed October 14, 2013.
Sexual addiction: what is it? All About Life Challenges website. Available at: http://www.allaboutlifechallenges.org/sexual-addiction.htm. Accessed October 14, 2013.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 10/2013
- Update Date: 10/14/2013