In this blog article we will discuss sex addiction, the signs and symptoms, and how to get help.
What is sex addiction?
A great deal of stigma and controversy surrounds the diagnosis of sex addiction, or hypersexuality.
Although the fifth edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5) excluded sex addiction, it is still discussed and researched in psychology and counseling fields.
Furthermore, using both DSM-5 (as “Other specified sexual dysfunction”) and the “International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems” (ICD-10) criteria (as “Other sexual dysfunction not due to a substance or known physiological condition”), it can still be diagnosed.
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Sex addiction is defined as a compulsive need to engage in sexual acts in order to achieve the kind of fix that a person with alcohol use disorder gets from a drink or someone with opiate use disorder gets from using opiates.
Sex addiction, or the compulsive sexual behavior described here, should not be confused with disorders such as pedophilia or bestiality.
Sex addiction can be highly dangerous and result in considerable troubles and hinderances with relationships for some folks.
Like drug or alcohol dependence, it has great potential to completely detriment someone’s physical and mental health, personal relationships, quality of life, and safety.
Sex addiction is thought to be somewhat common, although statistics are inconsistent, and some argue that this disorder is usually left undiagnosed, untreated, and unrealized.
Oftentimes, a person with sex addiction will seek out multiple sex partners, though this in itself is not always an indication of a disorder.
Some report that it can also manifest itself as a compulsive need to masturbate, view sexual images or videos, or place oneself in situations which they view as sexually stimulating.
A person with sex addiction may significantly alter their life and activities in order to perform sexual acts multiple times a day and are reportedly unable to control their behavior, despite severe negative consequences.
What are the symptoms of sex addiction?
Since sex addiction isn’t outlined in the DSM-5, there is considerable controversy and debate regarding what the exact criteria are which constitute a sex addiction.
An indicator may be secrecy of behaviors, in which the person with the disorder becomes skilled at hiding their behavior and can even keep the condition secret from spouses, partners, and family members.
They may find themselves having to tell lies about their activities or engage in them at times and places where they won’t be found out.
Some sex addiction symptoms are present and quite noticeable to themselves and others around them.
A person may be experiencing an addiction to sex if they exhibit some or all of the signs listed below:
- chronic, obsessive sexual thoughts and fantasies
- compulsive relations with multiple partners, including strangers
- lying to cover behaviors
- preoccupation with having sex, even when it interferes with daily life, productivity, work performance, and so on
- inability to stop or control the behaviors
- putting oneself or others in danger due to sexual behavior
- feeling remorse or guilt after sex
- experiencing other negative personal or professional consequences
Compulsive behaviors can strain relationships, for example, with the stress of infidelity — although some people may claim to have a sex addiction as a way to explain infidelity in a relationship.
Please note that enjoying sexual activity is not neccessarily a direct indicator of sex addiction.
Enjoying the act of sex is normal, as sex is a healthy human activity.
In addition, variations in the level of sexual interest between partners does not mean that one partner has a sex addiction.
There may be underlying issues for the partners or one person may simply not enjoy or crave sex as much as the other person in the partnership.
What treatments are available for sex addiction?
Due to the controversial and contended diagnosis as well as societal stigma, evidence based treatments are unfortunately lacking.
Medical care providers who treat sex addiction may recommend one or more of the following methods.
Inpatient treatment programs
Sex addiction recovery programs are offered at many different inpatient treatment centers throughout all areas America.
In these inpatient treatment programs, those experiencing a sex addiction are taken out of their normal daily lives for at least one month or 30 days to help guide them to regain control of their impulses and begin the healing process.
Inpatient treatment programs oftentimes typically include in-depth, comprehensive, and personalized individual and group therapy sessions.
Programs such as Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) follow the same tried and tested recovery model as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
For some people, these programs are quite helpful for dealing with sex addiction and kickstarting their personal sex addiction healing process.
Members aren’t required to give up sex entirely, however they are encouraged to refrain from compulsive and destructive sexual behavior.
Group meetings with others addressing the same challenges provide a good support system and reminds the sex addict that they are not alone in this struggle as they are surrounded by people who are also dealing with the same or similar difficult challenges.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
When done correctly, cognitive behavioral therapy can help a person to identify triggers for sexual impulses and then ultimately teach them how to alter sex craving and sexual activity behaviors.
This is achieved through one-on-one sessions with a licensed mental health therapist.
Some people with sex addiction may do well with drug therapy to treat their addiction.
Certain antidepressants might help diminish sexual urges, which is separate from the potential side effects of some antidepressants that can cause decreased libido or impair other aspects of the sexual experience However, it is unclear whether or not a physician would prescribe drugs for a patient experiencing sex addiction.
What’s the outlook for sex addiction?
A person dealing with sex addiction faces a unique sort of difficult challenges.
They may be engaging in behaviors that put their relationships, their own safety and health, and the health of their partner in grave jeopardy.
At the same time, sex addiction is considered a controversial diagnosis and it’s lacking diagnostic criteria as well as evidence-based treatments.
If you suspect that you may be experiencing a sex addiction, start by talking with your primary medical care provider.
There are also organizations and helplines that can provide support and give you resources to lead you in the right direction and toward person healing.
If you or a loved one is experiencing sex addiction, these resources may be helpful:
- Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
- The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health
- Relativity at Elements Behavioral Health (formerly the Sexual Recovery Institute)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Sex Addiction:
What is sex addiction?
Sex addiction is an intimacy disorder characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts.
Like all addictions, it can have a greatly negative impact on the addict and on family members.
The negative impact increases as the disorder progresses.
Over time, the addict usually has to intensify the addictive behavior to achieve the same results.
What is typical sex addiction behavior?
For some sex addicts, their behavior does not progress beyond compulsive masturbation or the extensive use of sexual videos or images or phone or computer sex services.
For others, addiction can involve illegal activities such as exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, child molestation or rape. About 71 percent of child molesters are sex addicts.
For many, their problems are so severe that imprisonment is the only way to ensure society’s safety against them.
Do sex addicts become sex offenders?
Sex addicts do not necessarily become sex offenders. Moreover, not all sex offenders are sex addicts.
Roughly 55 percent of convicted sex offenders can be considered sex addicts.
What causes someone to be a sex offender?
Society has accepted that sex offenders act not for sexual gratification, but rather out of a disturbed need for power, dominance, control or revenge, or a perverted expression of anger.
More recently, however, an awareness of brain changes and brain reward associated with sexual behavior has led us to understand that there are also powerful sexual drives that motivate sex offenses.
How do professionals define sex addiction?
The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity has defined sexual addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.”
In other words, a sex addict will continue to engage in certain sexual behaviors despite facing potential health risks, financial problems, shattered relationships or even arrest.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, Volume Four describes sex addiction, under the category “Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified,” as “distress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used.”
According to the manual, sex addiction also involves “compulsive searching for multiple partners, compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner, compulsive masturbation, compulsive love relationships and compulsive sexuality in a relationship.”
Increasing sexual provocation in our society has spawned an increase in the number of individuals engaging in a variety of unusual or illicit sexual practices, such as phone sex, the use of escort services and computer websites which display sexual videos or images. More of these individuals and their partners are seeking help.
How is sex addiction similar to other addictions?
The same compulsive behavior that characterizes other addictions also is typical of sex addiction.
But these other addictions, including drug, alcohol and gambling dependency, involve substances or activities with no necessary relationship to our survival.
For example, we can live normal and happy lives without ever gambling, taking illicit drugs or drinking alcohol.
Even the most genetically vulnerable person will function well without ever being exposed to, or provoked by, these addictive activities.
Sexual activity is different. Like eating, having sex is necessary for human survival.
Although some people are celibate — some not by choice, while others choose celibacy for cultural or religious reasons — healthy humans have a strong desire for sex.
In fact, lack of interest or low interest in sex can indicate a medical problem or psychiatric illness.
What are various methods or treatments in which sex addiction can be treated?
Psychotherapy: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy
Medication: antidepressants, naltrexone, mood stabilizers, anti androgens
Self help groups: these groups are usually modeled after Alcoholic Anonymous’s famous 12 step programs.
If you are interested in learning more about sex addiction, here are some recommended readings!
Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, sexual videos & images, and Love Addiction, Robert Weiss
Treating Out of Control Sex Addiction, Douglas Braun-Harvey
Sex Addicts Anonymous Version Three, Sex Addicts Anonymous
A Couple’s Guide to Sexual Addiction: A Step-by-Step Plan to Rebuild Trust and Restore Intimacy, Paldrom Collins
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Sex Addiction Symptoms, Causes and Effects, Psych Guides
Sex Addiction, Health Line
What is Sexual Addiction?, Psych Central
Hypersexuality (Sex Addiction), Psychology Today
What to know about compulsive sexual behavior, Medical News Today
Compulsive Sexual Behavior, The Mayo Clinic
Sex Addiction: Symptoms and Who it Effects, Addiction Center