Sex is a basic, essential human need that is considered a natural part of life. It can be a beautiful way of connecting with one’s partner; however, while it is quite a normal human need, for many people sex can become a compulsive behavior that spirals out of their control. The compulsiveness goes to such an extent that it turns into an addiction, resulting in adverse and harmful consequences.
Contrary to common beliefs, what a large majority of people don’t understand about sex addiction is that it is not just about physical act. Sexual addiction and behavior have more to do with feelings of unworthiness, shame, and isolation than it has to do with sexual experiences and gratification. It is often used as an escape from the strange and unpleasant feelings that an individual experiences from time to time.
What Is Sex Addiction?
Simply put, sex addiction is a compulsive and an obsessive need to engage in sexual acts through which a person achieves a kind of “fix” or “high” similar to the one that a person with an alcohol addiction would get from a drink.
Sex addiction primarily describes those compulsive and destructive behaviors that make people act out sexually in certain ways that are beyond their control and adversely impacts their health, family, relationships, job, and perhaps every sphere of their life.
The onset of sexual addiction is believed to occur during adolescence where most individuals see sex as a relief from problematic and painful states. It can even begin way earlier than adolescence, somewhere during the early childhood and can then be triggered later in life as a response to trauma or stress, in most cases.
Symptoms of Sex Addiction
Sex addiction is an umbrella term that includes various sexual behaviors like pornography, voyeurism, and multiple sexual partners, paying for sex, online sex, infidelity, and a severe addiction to porn.
On the forefront, these characteristics might make it sound like a serious intimacy disorder, despite it not being one. It is a chronic condition marked by compulsive behavior that seriously affects the individual’s life and the life of the people around them. Often times, the sexual urges become so overwhelming and uncontrollable that they end up resulting in actions and decisions that are almost detrimental and destructive.
According to The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, some common and possible signs and symptoms of sex addiction can include:
- feelings of shame and guilt,
- multiple sexual partners
- use of prostitutes
- one night stands
- irresistible urges to engage in sexual acts
- lying to cover behaviors
- feelings of guilt and remorse after having sex
- inability to control behaviors
- experiencing other negative or adverse consequences
- putting oneself or others in danger due to extreme sexual urges
- giving up social and recreational activities
- sexual rage disorder resulting from an inability to engage in sexual behaviors
Causes of Sex Addiction
The causes of sex addiction and the reasons why some people get it and some don’t remains highly misunderstood to date.
However, recent research indicates that it may have something to do with possible biochemical changes and abnormalities in the brain that significantly increase the risk of developing an addiction to sex.
Additionally, it is said that addiction occurs in the reward center of the brain and it may commonly occur due to certain parts of the brain mistaking pleasure for survival mechanisms. Because sexual activity stimulates the production of the “feel-good” chemical in the brain called ‘dopamine’, it greatly triggers the feelings of extreme pleasure and gratification.
When this happens, the midbrain or the reward center takes the production dopamine as central to the individual’s survival
Another side of research on sex addiction has also discovered that people who come from broken or dysfunctional families are more prone towards forming an addiction to sex. A study found out that 82 percent of sex addicts reported having been sexually abused during their childhood. The parents and families of these sex addicts were described by them as uncaring, rigid and distant. Such families are also believed to be serious substance abusers.
Treatment for Sex Addiction
The diagnosis of sexual addiction still remains controversial due to the fact that it was removed from the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) which is why evidence-based treatments for it have also been severly lacking.
However, there are certain strategies and therapeutic methods that can be implemented to treat sexual addiction.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This is a popular therapeutic method that has been found to be extremely effective against beating sex addiction. CBT helps individuals identify their triggers for sexual impulses and simultaneously also helps them figure out how to manage and control those triggers. This is typically achieved through one-on-one sessions between the individual and an experienced and licensed mental health therapist.
These include programs like Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) that have proven to be extremely helpful when dealing with sexual addictions.
The main goal of such programs is to help sex addicts manage and control their extreme impulses and urges by encouraging them to refrain from engaging in destructive sexual behaviors. Often times, these programs include group meetings with other people who are battling with similar addictions, which provides a great support system for these addicts.
As with any other addiction or disorder, sex addiction often resorts to the use of medication in extreme cases. This is referred to as “drug therapy” that involves the use of certain antidepressants that are believed to help curb sexual urges. An example of a type of medication often prescribed to sex addicts is Prozac which significantly helps decrease intense sexual urges.
It is very important to understand that any person going through, and recovering from an addiction really needs immense support from family and friends, other than the standardized treatment strategies. It is equally vital to realize that sexual addiction brings with it extreme forms of destructive behavior that others should try to understand, tolerate and give the individual enough time and space to recover from it.