Most of us know that having a healthy sex life can only be a good thing. In healthy amounts, sex can:
- Boost the immune system
- Improve bladder control
- Reduce headaches
- Make us look younger
- Relieve stress
Sexually expressive people are often viewed as more confident, happier, and generally tend to have more fulfilling relationships with the opposite (or same) sex. The problem arises when a person can no longer control their sexual impulses no matter how devastating the consequences might be.
What is sex addiction?
Sex addiction is often conceptualised as the compulsive engagement in sexual acts without any regard for the negative consequences that may arise.
Interestingly, not every medical professional deems sex addiction in high enough regard, and, as a result, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), have not yet listed it as an official diagnosis.
Clinically, this often presents many challenges to those suffering from sex addiction, especially when it comes to receiving the support and treatment required for long-term abstinence.
Since sex addiction remains somewhat unrecognised within the mental health community, the diagnostic criteria for such an addiction are often vague and wishy-washy. Although many signs and symptoms may suggest that a person is suffering from sex addiction. These include:
- A person engaging in sex with multiple partners and having extramarital affairs
- The continuous urge for sex often followed by guilt, regret, shame and depression
- Continuously engaging in phone sex, pornography, and/or online sex
- Engaging in risky behaviours i.e. having sex in public places, with prostitutes or regularly attending sex clubs
- Being dominated by sex and having little time for any other activities
What causes sex addiction?
There is a whole host of theories around sex addiction, some perhaps more concrete than others. Although research shows that sex addiction often occurs as a result of the following scenarios:
- A person having a strong desire for control (impulsive control)
- When a person is diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Being diagnosed with a relationship disorder
- A person using sex as a way to cope with past trauma (such as childhood trauma and/or sexual abuse)
Other research suggests that biochemical factors in the brain could also play a role in sex addiction. Biochemical abnormalities and other changes in the brain significantly increases the risk of someone becoming a sex addict.
Since medications such as psychotropic medication and antidepressants have proven to help treat sex addiction, this might be suggestive that biochemical shifts could be responsible for the increased likelihood of someone becoming a sex addict.
According to scientific studies, food, drugs and sex, all share a mutual pathway to the reward and survival systems in our brains. This pathway leads to parts of the brain that are responsible for rational thought and judgement.
In this way, a sex addicts judgment is often impaired as the brain tells him or her that engaging in dangerous or illicit sex is good (in a similar way to how the brain tells us that food is good). There are no clear distinctions.
This might offer some insight into why highly competent people tend to fall into the sex addiction trap.
There are plenty of studies to suggest that highly ambitious, goal-driven people very often become distracted by sex and drug addictions.
Essentially, the brain tricks the body into a false sense of security by producing strong biochemical rewards for self-destructive behaviours.
What are the signs of sex addiction?
There are several telltale signs that a person may have gone beyond the threshold of what is considered a ‘healthy’ sexual appetite.
#1. Sexual acts with multiple partners: Sex addicts are often unable to remain loyal to their partners due to their insatiable sexual appetites. This usually results in them engaging in risky behaviours such as cheating and engaging in sexual acts with multiple partners. Risky is the operative word here, as those who sleep around tend to have a much higher risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
#2. Neglectful of responsibilities: Similar to any other addiction, sex addicts often put their desire for sex ahead of family commitments, job responsibilities, and pretty much anything else that isn’t sex-related. This can lead to financial difficulties, job loss, and even divorce if the neglect continues to spiral out of control.
#3. Indulging in trade-offs for sex: Almost all sex addicts are willing to trade their time and currency, particularly when illicit sex is the end game. The sexual cravings are too strong to resist, which means that sex addicts are often willing to part with their hard-earned cash and any spare time they get to satisfy those urges.
#4. The dismissiveness of risky sexual behaviour: What if I get caught cheating? Or contract a sexual disease from all the sleeping around? These are all normal questions a person would ponder on before doing the dirty deed. Sex addicts might run along this emotional parallel for a while, the difference being that all the pondering in the world doesn’t stop them regardless of the consequences.
#5. Unable to reduce the amount of time spent on sexual activities: Similar to substance addiction, sex addiction is often difficult to cut down on, since over time the sexual urges become stronger, not weaker. It’s easy to detect a sex addict as they struggle to minimise the amount of time they spend on sexually related activities (also similar to gaming and internet addictions).
#6. Inability to discuss the problem: If you’ve ever tried to speak to an alcoholic about their drinking, then you’ll likely come across the same problem with a person who is addicted to sex. You’ll likely experience the same level of denial and an inability to open up and discuss the problem. Not to say that it will never happen, however, the initial discussions can often be frustrating and worrisome for the addicts’ loved ones’ and family members.
#7. Loss of sexual functioning: This is particularly prevalent in young males who tend to view a lot of porn. Since the sexual ‘high’ they experience in pornography cannot be matched with a real life partner, they often experience erectile dysfunctioning as a result. Essentially, when a male engages in porn, his dopamine levels rise to an extreme level and this conditions the body to desire those high-arousal levels. When indulging in ‘normal’ sex with a partner, this conditioning can reduce the ability to function.
#8. Displaying strong disinterest in a partner: This is perhaps the most obvious sign of a relationship problem, where one partner is keen to have sex and the other isn’t. When one half of a couple begins to withdraw from sex, this is often a sign that something deeper is going on. This might not always signify a problem with sex addiction as such. However, if withdrawal from sex is accompanied by any other red flags, then it’s highly likely that sex addiction might be a contributory factor.
#9. Constantly watching porn: Constantly engaging in porn and sexual fantasies is another sign that someone might be suffering from sex addiction. This can cause many problems as real-life sex often cannot live up to the type of porn scenarios that people see online or on television.
#10. Feeling remorse or guilt after sex: Shame and guilt often accompany most addictions, and this is prevalent when it comes to eating disorders, too. The more the person eats, the guiltier they feel. It’s the same with sexual engagement. It feels good at the moment, but shortly afterwards, not so much. The type of ‘emotional hangover’ that a sex addict often experiences after engaging in risky sexual behaviour is nothing to be envied. These feelings of inadequacy often follow them around for a long time until they get their next ‘fix’ and the cycle ensues.
Although sex addiction is not currently an official diagnosis, treatment for the disorder is similar to other addictions such as behavioural addiction and substance misuse disorder. Recommended treatments that are currently available for sex-related addictions include:
Specific drug therapies might be useful in reducing any urges a person may experience when in recovery (such as antidepressants). Although medication prescriptions are often at the discretion of each individual case and the advice of a doctor.
Recovery programs such as Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) work in a similar fashion to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). These treatment programs address sex addiction and can be extremely beneficial for those seeking long-term recovery. The addict isn’t expected to give up sex entirely, just the compulsive and self-destructive behaviours that often accompany the addiction. 12-step programs usually consist of group meetings where individuals can support and offer encouragement to one another.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Other known therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), are often used to treat addiction disorders and can help individuals to recognise any self- destructive thoughts and behaviours, that might be leading them down the wrong path. CBT is also known to help people identify any potential triggers and work towards adopting healthier coping mechanisms for the future.
Art therapy focuses on the use of creative imagination and techniques such as painting, sculpting, drawing and collaging. For those with an appreciation of the arts, and with the assistance of a therapist, individuals are assisted in decoding nonverbal metaphors that are often found in different art forms. This often promotes a deeper understanding of emotions, feelings, and behaviours that are often in need of being resolved.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR therapy is often used by professionals to treat a wide range of traumas. Since trauma and addiction often go hand in hand, EMDR therapy can be especially helpful in combating the urge to engage in addictive -related behaviours. Patients are encouraged to focus on a particular traumatic event whilst engaging in rapid eye movements (guided by a therapist).
The purpose of EMDR therapy is to ‘rewire’ the brain so that any lingering trauma can no longer harm a person’s mental health. Individuals don’t necessarily forget the bad experience as such, but rather the negative feelings associated with a difficult or disturbing event tend to reduce in strength. Addressing underlying trauma is an essential element in the treatment of addiction and can have a long-lasting impact on recovery, in this instance, sexual sobriety is the end-goal.
At Tikvah Lake, we treat a whole range of addiction-disorders and other co-occurring mental health problems. Contact the team today to find out how we can help you.