Sex addiction is defined as a lack of control over sexual thoughts, urges, and impulses. As opposed to someone with a healthy drive, a person with sex addiction will spend a disproportionate amount of time seeking or engaging in sex while keeping all of it secret.
It is a serious problem with increasingly negative physical and emotional consequences. A person with this addiction will not be able to stop themselves except through external intervention which is why it’s important to be able to identify it. Most people will also have a hard time creating lasting intimacy with others which leads to intense loneliness.
Here are the signs and symptoms of sex addiction as well as treatment and management options.
Signs and symptoms of sex addiction
Preoccupation with sex to the exclusion of all else
Preoccupation with everything related to sex. Sex ends up dominating the person’s life to the exclusion of other activities. Addicts find themselves thinking about sex and the next time they’ll have it even when they should be focusing on other things like work. Many stop participating in other activities that they previously engaged in in favour of pursuing opportunities to engage in sex. People often neglect personal and financial responsibilities and other obligations in favour of sexual activity.
Risky sexual activities
Involvement in risky sexual behaviour including, exhibitionism, public sex, sex with prostitutes, and sex with many different partners. They may also engage in other activities including telephone sex, watching pornographic content, and even engaging in online sex. Addicts also masturbate excessively when alone.
Efforts to stop fail
Inability to cut down on sexual activity even after trying and making promises or engaging in efforts to stop. The person is fully aware that they are harming themselves and others, but they are unable to stop themselves. It is a destructive, compulsive pattern they are unable to get themselves out of. The person feels out of control.
Negative feelings and consequences
People with sexual addiction have a constant desire for sex that is often mixed with regret, anxiety, depression, and/shame. This vicious cycle of hypersexuality and low self-esteem is one of the most common features of sex addiction. The person continues to engage in sexual activity despite it causing problems at home or in their own life.
Cheating on partners
People with sex addiction feel compelled to seek out new partners and often engage in affairs. They cheat on a regular basis and multiple times with different partners. Addicts need more sexual activity or more extreme forms to feel the same pleasure.
Commit criminal sexual offences
In extreme cases, sex addicts engage in activities like stalking, rape, or even child molestation.
Causes and risk factors
Many experts feel that sex addiction is not a diagnosis but a symptom of underlying issues. Sex is not like smoking which regardless of your background you risk getting addicted. Many adults engage in sexual activities without risking addiction. Some causes and risk factors include:
It may be a way to cope with early sexual abuse, sexual trauma, or rape.
Unresolved trauma that may not be of a sexual nature.
A sexualized upbringing without boundaries.
Isolation or loneliness. For example, someone who works in an oil rig may use porn and be unable to stop even after going back home.
An inability to regulate emotions.
It’s a form of impulse control or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
A symptom of mental illness such as bipolar disorder.
A product of neurological disorders such as epilepsy, head injury, or dementia.
Certain drugs or medications that impact dopamine may also have that effect although it’s rare.
Treatment and management
Sex addiction treatment depends on the underlying cause and how it manifests in the person’s life. If the addiction is accompanied by an anxiety or mood disorder, medication may also be a part of the treatment plan. Treatment may include:
- One-on-one therapy
- Group therapy
- Support groups
- Inpatient treatment
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Couples counselling or marriage counselling
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
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