What is Sexual Addiction?
Sexual Addiction is a progressive intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. Sex and the thought of sex often dominates the thinking patterns of an individual with a sexual addiction, which make it very difficult to develop healthy interpersonal relationships.
A sex addict rationalizes their behavior and justifies their addiction - often blaming others for their problems - in a pattern of distorted thinking.
While sex addicts often have multiple sexual partners, a sex addict generally does not derive much satisfaction from the sexual act, nor does he or she form emotional attachments to their sexual partner. Sex addicts often feel shame and guilt regarding their addiction to sex and, like other addicts, a lack of control over the behavior despite negative consequences.
There is an association between sexual addiction and risk-taking behaviors as the individual engages in sexual activity with little or no regard to the consequences. This may put the person at risk for emotional and physical injury. The negative impact of sexual addiction on the addict and family members intensifies over time, as the addict has to intensify their addictive behaviors to achieve the same rush.
Some sex addicts progress to involvement with illegal sexual activities, including exhibitionism, obscene phone calls, or molestation; however, sex addicts do not necessarily become sex offenders and not all sex offenders are sex addicts.
Some Symptoms Associated With Sexual Addiction:
There are currently no published clinical diagnostic criteria for sexual addiction; however these criteria attempt to define the disorder. You may have a sexual addiction if you identifies with three or more of the following and it impacts your daily life:
- Consistent use of pornography
- Multiple extramarital affairs
- Compulsive masturbation
- Multiple and/or anonymous sexual partners
- One night stands
- Practicing unsafe sex
- Phone sex
- Cyber sex
- Prostitution or use of prostitutes
- Neglecting other obligations - such as work, school or family - in favor of sexual activities
- Feeling irritable when unable to engage in sexual behavior
- Obsessive dating through personal ads
- Sexual harassment
What Is Hypersexual Disorder?
In 2010, the APA (American Psychiatric Association) drafted preliminary criteria that may define sexual addiction, which is formally called Hypersexual Disorder. This disorder can only be diagnosed in adults 18 years or older. The symptoms of hypersexual disorder are as follows:
- Over the period of six or more month, a person engages in intense and recurrent sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior in association with four or more of these criteria:
- Excessive time consumed by sexual fantasies and urges, planning for and engaging in sexual behavior.
- Repeatedly engaging in these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to dysphoric (depressed, anxious, bored, irritable) mood states.
- Repeatedly engaging in sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to stressful life events.
- Repetitive - yet unsuccessful - attempts to control or significantly reduce these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior.
- Repetitively engaging in sexual behavior while disregarding the risk for emotional or physical harm to self or others.
- The person experiences clinically significant personal distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning associated with the frequency and intensity of these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior.
- These sexual fantasies, urges and behaviors are not due to direct effects of drugs or medications or due to manic phases.
Must specify if these involve:
- Sexual behavior with consenting adults
- Cyber sex
- Phone sex
- Strip Clubs
What Causes Sexual Addiction?
It's not understood why some people - and not others - develop an addiction to sex. It may be related to a biochemical abnormality in the brain, as evidenced by the fact that some people are effectively treated through antidepressants and psychotropic medications.
There are studies that show that food, drug abuse, and sexual interests share a common pathway in our brain's survival and reward systems. This pathway happens to lead into the area of the brain responsible for higher thinking, judgments, and rational thought.
The same way the brain tells us to eat food when we are hungry, the brain of a sex addict tells the individual to engage in illicit sex. These brain changes lead to the preoccupation with sex above other interests, compulsive sexual behavior despite consequences, and failed attempts to change the sexual addict's behavior.
Those addicted to sex receive a rush of euphoria when engaging in sexual behavior that seems to go beyond what is reported by those not addicted to sex. Addicts of sex (very similar to a substance abuser with drugs) use sexual activity to avoid unpleasant feelings, seek pleasure, and/or as a response to other stressors - like work or relationship troubles. The reward, however, leads to feelings of guilt, remorse and vows to change.
Research has also shown that sex addicts tend to come from dysfunctional families - often describing their family members as substance abusers, distant, rigid and uncaring. It's been shown that sex addicts have been abused or neglected as children.
Sexual Addiction Treatment:
There are a number of centers around the US that treat sexual addiction - most of them based upon the treatment used for chemical dependency. It's important to note that the goal of sexual addiction treatment is not one of life-long abstinence, but the cessation of compulsive and unhealthy sexual behavior. Most treatment programs suggest that a 60-90 day period of self-imposed abstinence is important to understand and treat underlying issues.
Sex addiction treatment focuses upon two primary issues:
1) Logistical concerns regarding separation of the addict from the harmful sexual behaviors. This may require a stint at an inpatient treatment center, to place the addict in a highly controlled environment.
2) Facing and addressing the guilt, shame and depression associated with sexual addiction.
Treatment for sexual addiction may occur in a variety of settings:
- 12-Step Programs, such as Sexaholics Anonymous - where the goal is to abstain only from compulsive, destructive sexual behavior.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy - focuses upon triggers and looks for methods to short-circuit the sexual behavior (i.e. substituting sexual behavior with another behavior like exercising).
- Interpersonal therapy - may help to work through emotional issues from their early years.
- Group Therapy - helps a sex addict see that they are not alone in their problems, compare strategies for treatment of sex addiction, and realize how powerful denial and rationalization can be in perpetuating an addiction.
- Medications such as antidepressants have been shown to improve mood and reduce sexual addiction.
If You Have a Sexual Addiction:
Seeking treatment for sex addiction may be hard because your brain craves the sexual pleasure and stimulation like an alcoholic craves alcohol. Addiction manages to tell your brain to go into "survival mode," which creates a biochemical reward mechanism to continue sexual behavior despite the harmful effects.
If you're looking for help for sexual addiction, tell a family member, friend or clergy member to have them help you get treatment. Addiction specialists can be found through local addiction treatment centers or by asking your general care physician for treatment.
Admitting that you have an addiction does not change all the good things about you. You're still a great person - who has an addiction.
These are the three things the evaluation will be based upon:
1) Severity of sexual addiction - which depends upon type, frequency of sexual behavior, and the harmful effects. The therapist will ask you some form of these questions to decide how severe your sexual addiction is:
- Irritability when unable to complete desired behavior
- Increasing guilt, remorse and/or suicidal thoughts
- Pronounced mood swings
- Heated arguments with family and loved ones about sexual behavior
- Severe financial problems
- Job loss
- Preoccupation with sex or persistent craving for sexual behavior
- Increased substance abuse and/or dependency
- Tolerance developed - more of the behavior needed to achieve desired effects
- Unable to change behavior despite desire and/or attempts to stop
- Engaging sexual behavior to the detriment of important familial obligations
- Continuing sexual behavior despite negative consequences
2) Motivation to change - often sex addicts do not seek treatment on their own; instead, they are ordered by a court or the threat of some other loss to seek treatment. The decision to enter treatment may come when they can no longer reconcile their values, morals, or beliefs. The sex addict is aware that he or she has a problem, it's just that he or she cannot stop on their own.
3) Social support - ironically, those whom a sex addict has hurt the most deeply are those who must play a critical role to the treatment.
First, the significant others can demonstrate that the sex addiction has significantly impacted their own life.
Second, they can acknowledge that they've covered up for the sexual addict, and, by doing so, perpetuated the addiction.
When family members recognize and treat the sexual addiction as an illness and see their role in recovery, the chance for recovery is greatly increased.
How Do I Know if My Partner is a Sex Addict?
It can be very, VERY hard to decide whether someone who is close to you has an addiction to sexual behaviors. Here are some common things to look for.
Does your partner:
- Stay up late to watch TV or surf the Internet?
- Give no appropriate communication during sex?
- Lack intimacy before, during and after sex?
- Offer little intimacy in the relationship?
- Look at pornographic material, including books, magazines, videos or catalogs?
- Rent a lot of pornographic movies?
- Hide pornography at home or work?
- Always have a good reason for looking at pornography?
- Use a lot of sexual humor?
- Become angry if someone shows a concern about problems with pornography?
- Frequently leave you not knowing where they are?
- Act preoccupied in public?
- Act controlling during sex or have mood swings before or after sex?
- Get demanding about sex - especially time and place?
- Fail to tell you about the increasing number of calls to 800 or 900 numbers?
It's important to remember that a sexual addict - like any other addict - cannot easily control their behavior without appropriate treatments.
How Does a Sex Addict's Behavior Affect Their Partner?
There is a wide range of effects of sexual addiction on their partner. In some ways, the sexual codependent's experience is similar to someone whose partner is addicted to a substance. A sexual addict's partner, though, often experiences the ultimate in betrayal through infidelity. It is extremely hard for a partner of a sex addict to be understanding, compassionate, and kind toward a partner who has been repeatedly sexually unfaithful. Trust has been broken.
Sex addiction is a closeted addiction, and the social stigma is considerable. There may be a feeling of extreme shame for the addict and the addict's partner, especially if the sexual behavior involves an object, cross-dressing, dominance and submission, or children.
What Are The Common Characteristics of Codependents?
Partners of sexual addicts experience a traumatic loss of self as they make sexual compromises that go against their moral values. They also demonstrate denial, enabling, rescuing, preoccupation, taking excessive responsibility, emotional turmoil, the compromising of self, anger, and problems with sexuality.
In addition, these traits may be displayed:
- Forgiving the addict, over and over.
- Becoming used to living with a lot of drama, chaos, and intensity.
- Rescuing the addict.
- Giving the addict the benefit of the doubt.
- Becoming someone they do not like.
- Spend a lot of time focusing upon the addict, often neglecting themselves or children.
- Tolerating behaviors from the addicts that others would not.
- Sacrificing with the expectation that it will create loyalty.
- Setting rules, boundaries and ultimatums but not sticking with them.
- Trying to keep the peace at all cost.
- Becoming disabled by the addict's behavior.
How to Overcome Being a Sexual Codependent:
Often attending S-Anon or COSA twelve-step programs for partners of sexual addicts can bring about a huge sense of relief. Simply knowing they are not alone, that they can freely break the patterns of shame and isolation, can bring about tremendous release.
Treatment for sexual codependence is a continual process of personal growth, self-transformation, and self-realization, as feelings of victimization are addressed.
Additional Sexual Addiction Resources:
Sexual Control - Articles, advice and support for someone overcoming sex addiction or loving someone with a sexual addiction.
Sex Addicts Anonymous - 12-Step fellowship of men and women who share experiences, strength and hope with each other so they can overcome their sexual addiction and help others recover from sexual addiction or dependency. Links to material as well as a meeting finder available on the website.
COSA - twelve-step recovery program for men and women whose lives have been affected by sexual addictions.