Sex Addiction – The Myths and the Controversy

Much controversy surrounds sex addiction. Although it is widely recognized as a mental disorder in psychological and counseling circles, it is yet to be formally recognized as such in the medical field. Like any form of addiction, an unhealthy relationship with sex can affect a person’s mental and physical health and relationships.  It also places a person’s safety at risk and can result in STDs and unwanted pregnancy. People with sex addiction often arrange their lives to accommodate multiple sexual experiences per day, which can impact work and family life due to the stress of logistical pressures and elaborate lies to facilitate their activities. Being controlled by sexual desires can have serious consequences.

When Does Your Sex Life Move Beyond the Bounds of Healthy?

Sex addiction is currently classified as a sexual dysfunction. Like any other addiction, it is defined by a compulsion to perform acts.  In this case, the acts are sexual and are analogous to how someone suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) would seek out their substance of choice in order to chase an insatiable high. It should not be confused with sexual disorders/paraphilia and fetishes (of which there are eight, including sadism and pedophilia) as set out by DSM-5 and discussed in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. These paraphiliae are described as “noxious” but, like sex addiction, are not classed as criminal offences. 

Along with seeking out numerous sexual experiences, often with multiple partners on a daily basis, the compulsion can be expressed through viewing pornography, masturbating, or placing oneself in hyper-stimulating environments such as strip or lap dancing clubs. As with other disorders, the lack of control over the situation without regard for the negative consequences to wellbeing is the point at which things become problematic for the sufferer and their loved ones. According to author, Paula Hall, “[t]here is of course no single or simple answer to why someone develops sex addiction, whether it’s attachment-induced, trauma-induced or purely opportunity-induced. Understanding how something came to be is almost always a complex interweaving of many different factors whether that’s understanding how you got into the job you do or why a car crash happened. There are always multiple factors to be taken into consideration, many of which are dependent on another.”

Just How Common is it?

Sex addiction is on the increase, which is unsurprising considering the proliferation of internet pornography, cybersex, online dating (or hook-up) apps, and more available paid-for services. A recent study on male sex addition found a striking correlation between depression and sex addiction. At 28%, depression in sex addicts is more than double that noted in the general population (12%). When a further hypothesis was explored, participants in the study who received treatment for sex addiction also scored lower on their Beck Depression Index (BDI) scores.  Sex addiction figures can be somewhat unreliable due to a combination of misdiagnosis, sufferers not coming forward due to shame and fear of being judged, and some professionals not recognizing the existence of the condition at all. There is agreement, however, on the fact that the emergence of the Internet has allowed sex addicts (and others) to both increase and complement their sexual activity and that Internet sex addiction is a specific condition in and of itself.

How Can You Spot a Sex Addict?

Unlike other forms of disorder, sex addiction may be a little more difficult to detect (even in oneself), but as the consequences can be devastating for partners and other family members, being able to identify and combat any potential issues are crucial. If you have noticed any of the following in yourself or another person, you may need to seek or suggest treatment for sex addiction:

  • Uncontrollable sexual activity, including with multiple parties and strangers, often in a short space of time
  • Obsessive preoccupation with sexual thoughts and fantasies
  • Being powerless to cease or alter behaviors
  • Allowing your obsession to interfere with daily activities such as work and family life
  • Placing others or yourself in danger as a result of your activities
  • Feeling regretful about your behavior but being incapable of modifying it
  • Lying to cover your tracks

As high-profile cases have illustrated, however, sex addicts can become so adept at spinning lies that not even their partners suspect there is an issue.

Finding Support

Like all disorders of a similar nature, sex addiction is treatable.  Recognizing this and reaching out are the first steps toward recovery. If you suspect that you or a loved-one has an unhealthy relationship with sex, the best place to start – if you feel comfortable – is with your doctor. If you’re not comfortable with that option, there are many available in-person and online options such as:

  • A trusted therapist who you can consult. If they don’t specialize in the condition, they can point you to someone who can. A comprehensive psychiatric assessment can identify root courses for the unwanted behavior before a suitable course of treatment is drafted.
  • Talk therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can assist with modifying behaviors and unhelpful thought patterns and identifying methods of avoiding triggers.
  • Residential programs can be helpful in removing patients from temptation’s way under the watchful eye of expert doctors, psychologists, and caregivers. This facilitates the regaining of control in a supervised setting in order to enable a behavioral reset.
  • Group meetings aren’t just for substance users. Organizations like Sex Addicts Anonymous follow the same principles as other 12-step programs and provide safe spaces for sufferers to be heard, understood, and supported through recovery.
  • If an underlying condition such as depression is diagnosed, the patient could benefit from antidepressant medication in conjunction with counseling/therapy to tackle the issues on both physiological and psychological fronts.

As with all forms of treatment, the most important element is securing treatment that is unique to the person, their situation, and the severity of their condition. Love, sex, and affection aren’t required to keep us alive as humans, but they are life-enhancing and part of who we are. Creating healthy relationships and experiences will help bring about more balance and less stress in our lives, and we all deserve nothing less.

If you are concerned about any issues discussed in this blog, please contact Heather R. Hayes & Associates.  Call 800-335-0316 or email today.

Online Resources and Treatment Options

For articles and other resources and advice on treatment see: Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous FWS Relativity

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