Are You a Sex Addict?
What Is Sex Addiction?
A person addicted to sex is consumed with thoughts of sexual activity, yet may not take any pleasure from acting on them. Fortunately, there is treatment available for sexual addiction.
Sex addiction involves compulsive behavior, much like one might see in someone addicted to shopping, gambling, or surfing the Internet. Only in this case, the compulsive behavior revolves around sexual activity.
Some sex addicts may find they can't stop thinking about sex and neglect their work to engage in sexual daydreams or activities. Others indulge in sexually risky behaviors, going on "binges" in which they have sex with multiple partners or pay for prostitutes without any concern given to their current relationship. And still others may feel they have a so-called love addiction and try to fill a void in themselves with sexual activity.
Much of the time, people with a sex addiction barely enjoy what should be a pleasurable or deeply emotional experience. When these people try to stop their destructive sexual activities, they often find they either are unable to quit or eventually pick up their old habits again. Overcoming addiction is possible, but success may hinge on participation in addiction treatment and other forms of therapy.
Warning Signs of Sex Addiction
Sex addiction is not rare. Between 12 and 15 million people in the United States have a sexual addiction, according to some estimates.
Indications that a person might have a sex addiction include:
- Using sex to numb negative feelings or achieve a fleeting high
- Hiding sexual behaviors from your spouse
- Feeling that you've lost control over your sexual behavior
- Failing to heed self-imposed limits on your sexual behavior
- Finding that your sexual behavior has caused you to lose a relationship, fail at your job, or spend less time with your friends and family
- Knowing that your sexual behaviors could lead to problems in your life if people knew about them
- Finding that you can't permanently quit harmful sexual behaviors
Behaviors Typical of a Person With a Sex Addiction
People who are sex addicts exhibit four distinct types of behavior:
They are preoccupied with thoughts of sex, which causes a continually high level of arousal that prompts sexual behavior.
Their preferred sexual behaviors become ritualized, as they repeat similar activities or re-enact certain situations again and again. These behaviors are not necessarily intended to provide orgasm; they may serve to just constantly elevate the person's arousal levels.
They engage in sexual activity even though they experience negative consequences or truly want to stop what they're doing.
They feel intense guilt or shame over their sexual behavior and their inability to control themselves and regret the pain they've caused others through their actions.
There are many different reasons why a person might experience sexual addiction. The cause may be biochemical, with the person becoming addicted to the release of hormones and other brain chemicals that comes with sexual intercourse or climax. The cause also might be emotional, with a perceived love addiction sending them from sexual partner to sexual partner in a desperate attempt to feel cared for and valued. Sex addiction can grow out of early childhood abuse or as a result of chronic stress, depression, or anxiety.
Sex Addiction Treatment and Management
Sexual addiction treatment follows many of the same techniques that are used in overcoming addiction to gambling, shopping, and other behaviors. These include:
Therapy. Doctors have found that a combination of individual and couples therapy can help a person better understand and confront their addiction. The goal is to re-establish a healthy sex life based on shared intimacy, joys, and emotions rather than compulsions.
12-step programs. It can be very helpful for a sex addict to join a 12-step program. These provide moral and emotional support, as well as a degree of accountability from other group members.
Medication. Some drugs can help control a person's sex drive. These include anti-anxiety drugs, tricyclic antidepressants, progestational agents, and serotonin enhancers. However, doctors have found that taking these drugs alone does not serve as an ultimate cure for sex addiction, much as cleaning the home of a chronic hoarder will not stop the person from creating clutter again.
Sex addiction is a serious behavioral problem that requires an equally serious commitment to stop. Getting help is usually necessary to rebuild an existing relationship or be able to create a truly meaningful one.
Learn more in the Everyday Health Sexual Health Center.