What is Sex Addiction?
Sex addiction, also known as compulsive sexual behavior or hypersexuality disorder, is characterized by the compulsive need to engage in sexual practices and the inability to exercise control over sexual desires and cravings.
People who struggle with this addiction have an abnormally high libido and are obsessed with everything related to sex. As you can imagine, social interactions are especially tricky for people with hypersexuality since their intrusive and obsessive thoughts related to sexuality can prevent them from behaving normally.
Recent studies indicate that, from a physiological and psychological perspective, sex addiction is very much like any other addiction. In other words, hypersexuality is characterized by the activation of the same reward system that prompts other addicts to engage in destructive behaviors.
Although sex addiction isn’t a clinical condition per se, intensive research is still being carried out by experts from different fields in hopes of gaining a better understanding of compulsive sexual behaviors.
Signs of Sex Addiction
Diagnosing sex addiction can be quite challenging since some of the symptoms that characterize this condition can also point towards problems like OCD, bipolar disorder, or adult ADHD.
Some of the most common signs of hypersexuality are:
- Intrusive and obsessive thoughts related to sexuality
- Recurring sexual fantasies
- Compulsive sexual behaviors (e.g., compulsive masturbation)
- Need to increase the frequency and intensity of sexual acts
- Tendency to use sex a way to avoid emotional distress
- Inability to control obsessions and compulsions related to sex
- Excessive consumption of pornographic material
- Desire or need for several sexual partners
- Risky sexual behaviors (e.g., unprotected sex, sexual encounters with strangers)
- Bizarre and deviant sexual preferences
- Feelings of shame and guilt after sexual intercourse
- Inability to form intimate emotional relationships with other people
Without proper treatment, sex addiction can lead to severe mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders.
How is Sex Addiction Treated?
Although men seem to be more likely to develop it, sex addiction can affect anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
There are no standard treatments for this condition, but a licensed counselor or therapist can help you learn how to keep your compulsive sexual behaviors in check.
Psychotherapy is the only tool with which mental health professionals can target the symptoms of sex addiction. Individual and group therapy encourages people with hypersexuality to explore the origin of their condition and keep their sex addiction under control.
Depending on the therapeutic approach, counselors and therapists can tackle this problem from multiple angles.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help the patient identify the triggers of sexual impulses, cultivate healthy coping strategies, and avoid compulsive sexual behaviors. It is a structured, goal-oriented approach that focuses less on client history and more on practical solutions.
Another popular approach is psychodynamic therapy which places a strong emphasis on the client’s history; especially on childhood experiences.
Psychodynamic therapy promotes the idea that emotional and behavioral problems are the result of unresolved internal conflicts and painful past experiences.
To discover the source of the problem, the therapist takes the client on a journey of self-discovery. In other words, by exploring defining moments from the client’s past, the therapist can identify various factors that could have led to hypersexuality.
The 12-step program
Designed initially for Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12-step program is highly adaptable for any form of addiction, including hypersexuality.
The 12-step method is built around a set of guiding principles that help addicts put together a personalized action plan to overcome their problems.
By following this popular program, sex addicts benefit from a safe environment where they can talk about their problems without having to worry about the stigma associated with sex addiction.
Support groups that focus on the 12-step program encourage addicts to support each other in controlling their urges and celebrate the small victories.
In time, and with enough professional and social support, people with sex addiction can discover that life is more than just hooking up with strangers, having an ‘impressive’ sex record, or wasting hours of their life browsing the web for pornographic material.
WHEN TO SEE A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
Mental health issues are real, common, and treatable. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 20% of those are considered serious. 17% of 6-17 year olds experience a mental health disorder. So the first thing to remember is this: You are not alone.
If you feel that you are suffering from a mental illness, and particularly if those issues are preventing you from living life to the full or feeling yourself, you may want to consider professional help which can make an enormous difference.
And to be clear, you don't need to be going through a crisis in order to justify getting help. In fact, it can be advantageous from a treatment perspective to identify and deal with issues early and before they have a major impact on your life. Either way you should feel encouraged and able to seek help however you are feeling.
Mental health professionals such as licensed therapist can help in a range of ways including:
- Help you identify where, when, and how issues arise
- Develop coping strategies for specific symptoms and issues
- Encourage resilience and self-management
- Identify and change negative behaviors
- Identify and encourage positive behaviors
- Heal pain from past trauma
- Figure out goals and waypoints
- Build self-confidence
Treatment for mental health issues, and psychotherapy (sometimes known as 'talk therapy') in particular, frequently helps people to feel better, manage, and even get rid of their symptoms. For example, did you know that over 80% of people treated for depression materially improve? Or that treatment for panic disorder has a 90% success rate?
Other treatment options include medication which, in some cases, can be highly effective when administered in combination with psychotherapy.
So what is psychotherapy? It involves talking about your problems and concerns with a mental health professional. It can take lots of forms, including individual, group, couples and family sessions. Often, people see their therapists once a week for 50 minutes to start with and then reducing frequency as time goes on and issues subside. Treatment can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a few years depending on your particular situation and response.
Never think that getting help is a sign of weakness. It isn't. In fact, it can be a sign of strength and maturity to take the steps necessary to becoming you again and getting your life back on track.
WHEN TO GET EMERGENCY HELP
Are you in distress? If so, or if you think that you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you're having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health specialist.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Seek help from your primary doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If a loved one or friend is in danger of attempting suicide or has made an attempt:
- Make sure someone stays with that person.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Or, if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.