Human sexuality is not only necessary for the survival of the species; it is a great source of pleasure, intimacy, and inspiration for many adults.
Yet the intimacy and beauty of sex can be undermined by sex addiction, a disorder that causes an unhealthy obsession with seeking, observing, or engaging in sexual activity. Individuals with an addiction to sex will go to extremes to satisfy their cravings or live out their fantasies, regardless of the consequences to themselves or others. We estimated that sex addiction affects approximately 12 million adults in the US.
Also known as hypersexual disorder, sex addiction is a condition marked by fantasies or urges that consume excessive amounts of time and resources. An individual with sex addiction typically spends hours planning for sex or engaging in sexual activity, at the expense of jobs, family activities, or social interactions. The person may also spend a great deal of money pursuing gratification in the form of pornography, prostitution, online sex forums, strip clubs, telephone sex lines, and other expensive outlets.
The costs of sex addiction can be enormous, affecting all aspects of the individual’s life as well as the lives of loved ones.
Sex addiction treatment programs can intervene in the destructive progression of this disorder and help clients rebuild their lives on a foundation of integrity, self-worth, and trust.
Can Sex Be an Addiction?
Like other positive, life-affirming behaviors, eating, exercising, and falling in love are similar examples â€” sex can become an addiction if the need for sexual gratification begins to take precedence over other needs, responsibilities, or values.
ALTHOUGH IT IS NATURAL FOR SOME ADULTS TO HAVE A STRONGER SEX DRIVE THAN OTHERS, THOSE WITH A HEALTHY APPROACH TO SEXUALITY ARE ABLE TO KEEP THEIR NEEDS IN PERSPECTIVE AND SET LIMITS ON THEIR SEXUAL BEHAVIOR.
People with sex addiction, on the other hand, display the following characteristics:
- Displaying a lack of ability to set limits or boundaries on sexual urges
- Spending an inordinate amount of time pursuing or engaging in sex
- Experiencing negative consequences as a result of sexual behavior, such as the loss of a job, the breakup of a relationship, financial difficulties, or legal problems
- Ignoring personal obligations or social activities in order to spend more time indulging sexual fantasies
- Frequent use of impersonal sources of sexual fulfillment that do not require emotional engagement, such as pornography, prostitution, and cybersex
- The need to intensify sexual behavior or risk-taking activities in order to achieve the same high
- Experiencing a sense of shame, guilt, or self-loathing about one’s sexual behavior, yet still being unable to stop
- Engaging in frequent attempts to stop the behavior and relapsing during times of tension or distress
Even though sex is frequently associated with love and emotional intimacy, sex addiction usually lacks an emotional component. The drive for sexual fulfillment comes from an unmet psychological need to relieve anxiety, depression, or psychological tension, not from a need for closeness or the desire to form a relationship. Treating sex addiction requires an exploration of the underlying causes of the problem, along with the development of effective coping strategies to deal with triggers and resolve psychological needs.
Sex addiction is not included in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5); however, people who struggle with this condition are aware that it is all too real. The popularity of support groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous, a 12-Step program for people seeking freedom from sex addiction, and the growing availability of rehab programs for sex addicts offer evidence of the widespread need for treatment for this disorder.
Risks and Consequences
Hypersexual behavior poses serious risks to the individual, to the individual’s intimate partners, and to children or other close family members. Engaging in high-risk sexual activities can endanger the individual the following ways:
- Health dangers: Promiscuous sex can result in the transmission of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, human papilloma virus, and syphilis. As the disorder progresses, people with sex addiction tend to pursue more intense highs through increased risk-taking behavior, which may include having unprotected sexual encounters.
- Legal consequences: Many illicit sexual activities are subject to legal consequences. Engaging in sex with prostitutes, exposing oneself in public, or having nonconsensual sexual contact with others are all punishable by fines, jail time, and other penalties.
- Occupational risks: Sexual addiction on the job can quickly lead to demotion or unemployment. For instance, employees who use company computers to surf pornographic websites are in danger of punishment or termination.
- Loss of trust and intimacy: Although the behaviors involved with sex addiction rarely have an emotional component, these behaviors can undermine intimate relationships, destroying a partner’s sense of trust. Pursuing sexual impulses, even in a strictly visual or auditory form, requires a certain amount of secrecy or dishonesty, which can create an atmosphere of suspicion even in the most solid marriage or partnership.
- Damage to family bonds: When sex addiction leads to spousal conflict or divorce, the whole family suffers. Following the disclosure of sexual addiction, parents may lose custody of their children. They may also lose their children’s trust and respect.
- Substance abuse: People who suffer from sex addiction may use alcohol or drugs to numb feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse. They may also use these substances to overcome the psychological barriers that would otherwise prevent them from indulging in their fantasies.
Finding Freedom from Addiction
The goals of sex addiction treatment are to help clients find the sources of their compulsive behaviors, to aid them in developing healthy approaches for dealing with triggers, and to strengthen their sense of self-worth. By striving for these goals, clients in sex addiction treatment programs can attain a sense of freedom from destructive, obsessive behaviors.
Approaching a loved one about the topic of sex addiction can be painful or embarrassing; however, the sooner the problem is brought out into the open, the sooner the issue can be addressed and the greater the chances of avoiding harmful consequences. Too often, the pain and shame of sex addiction remain a secret, with even the addicted individual denying the reality of the disorder.
Treatment programs that target sex addiction are the most effective way to resolve the issues that drive this disorder and to overcome the obstacles to recovery.
You Might Want to See These Websites for Sex Addiction Online Help
Resources for victims of clergy sexual abuse
Support and encouragement for recovering families
Faith-based recovery groups
Certified Sex Adiction Therapist directory
Searchable list of Certified Sex Addiction Therapists
Christians in Recovery
Christian based 12 Step recovery program
Online monitoring service
Faith Trust Institute
Prevention of sexual and domestic violence
Fight the New Drug
Resources and education about pornography
The Hope of Survivors
Resources regarding clergy sexual abuse
Hope for the Heart Ministry
Resources and radio
You May Also Read These Books:
Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction
by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D.
This is the landmark book introducing and legitimizing sexual behaviors and sexual fantasies as an addictive disease. Dr. Carnes proposes three levels of sexual addiction, describes the addiction cycle and its progression, and presents the faulty core beliefs of the addict and the coaddict and their healthy counterparts.
In the Shadows of the Net: Breaking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior
by Patrick Carnes, David Delmonico, and Elizabeth Griffin.
Applies Carnes’ theories to the growing phenomenon of cybersex addiction.
Contrary to Love: Helping the Sexual Addict
by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D.
In this sequel to “Out of the Shadows,” Dr. Carnes adds to his original descriptions of sex addiction describing the stages of the illnesses. He presents here his Sexual Addiction Screening test, useful to therapists and addicts alike.
A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps
by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D.
This is the first workbook on the Twelve Steps specifically designed with sex addicts and coaddicts in mind. It offers comprehensive and practical exercises for each of the twelve steps for anyone for anyone working a sexual recovery program.
Don’t Call It Love: Recovery from Sexual Addiction
by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D.
Based on research involving over 1,000 recovering sex addicts and coaddicts, this comprehensive work outlines the stages of recovery and presents advice from the addicts and coaddicts themselves as they work to overcome their compulsive behavior. Recommended both for counselors and for recovering people.
Cybersex Exposed: Simple Fantasy or Obsession?
by Jennifer Schneider and Robert Weiss.
An excellent discussion of cybersex addiction from two experts in sex addiction. Both trained with Carnes and advocate recovery using 12-step programs. Practical suggestions for getting control of online sexual behavior.
Disclosing Secrets: When, to Whom, and How Much to Reveal
by Deborah Corley and Jennifer Schneider.
A valuable primer with clear, direct advice about the most effective way to disclose secrets to your spouse, especially secrets about sexual acting out. Practical examples and sample disclosure letters. Also discusses when and how to disclose to other family members, children, employers, and new romantic partners.
Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men
by Robert Weiss.
Just published in 2005, finally a discussion of sexual addiction for and about gay men. Helpful criteria for identifying addictive behavior, without judgment about homosexuality or “kinky” sexual practices.
Lonely All the Time: Recognizing, Understanding and Overcoming Sex Addiction, for Addicts and Codependents
by Ralph Earle, Ph.D. and Gregory Crow
This book addresses the needs and concerns of all sexual addicts, regardless of their sexual orientation, and also of the addict’s codependent partner. The authors explore the causes and symptoms of sex addiction. They also include a comprehensive and practical approach to recovery for the addict and family.
Sex Addiction: Case Studies and Management
by Ralph H. Earle, Ph.D. and Marcus R. Earle, Ph.D.
Written for the professional who treats sex addiction, this book describes a comprehensive treatment program for the addict and family. It is highly recommended for professionals.
Women, Sex, and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power
by Charlotte Davis Kasl, Ph.D
This book is a major contribution to the understanding and healing of sex addiction, romance addiction, and sexual codependency in women. It is full of wisdom and insight, shedding light on what happens to women in our society, how they survive it, and some roads to self-respect.
The Secret Sin: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction
by Mark Laaser, Ph.D.
This book approaches sex addiction and recovery from a Biblical perspective. Dr. Laaser traces its roots in families and in culture; shows how sex addiction can poison the lives of pastors and lay people alike; and describes a Twelve Step program for treatment and recovery.
Is It Love or is it Addiction?
by Brenda Schaeffer
This book helps readers understand love addiction and to sort out the unhealthy, addictive elements in their romantic relationship. Brenda presents a solid theory of love addiction and healthy love, with practical examples to illustrate her concepts.
Back From Betrayal: Recovering From his Affairs
by Jennifer P. Schneider, M.D., Ph.D
Dr. Schneider’s pioneering work is the first written for women whose husbands keep getting involved in affairs. Based on interviews and her own experience, she addresses the anguish and helplessness which codependents feel daily. In clear, compassionate, and informed writing she describes the nature of sexual coaddiction, helps coaddicts understand their own disease and their denial and isolation and outlines a path to recovery.
Many Roads, One Journey : Moving Beyond the Twelve Steps
by Charlotte Davis Kasl
From the author of Women, Sex, and Addiction, a timely and controversial second look at 12-step programs, helping all readers to draw on the steps’ underlying wisdom, adapting them to their own experiences, beliefs, and sources of strength.
Sexual Addiction : An Integrated Approach
by Aviel Goodman M.D.
Goodman presents an extensively documented and very scholarly examination of the causes of sexual addiction along with a sampling of treatment approaches, including his preferred approach. Intended for the well-educated reader.
Craving for Ecstasy : How Our Passions Become Addictions and What We Can Do About Them
by Harvey B. Milkman, Stanley G. Sunderwirth
The authors describe the variety of addictive ways individuals lose control of their lives while striving for pleasure and escape. The biological, chemical, sociological, and psychological processes of addiction are explained in understandable terms.
Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families
by Pamela Paul
Written by a journalist, this is a thorough, thoughtful discussion of the impact of pornography since the advent of the Internet. Well researched and documented, including results of a 2004 Harris poll she commissioned and over 100 interviews she did with heterosexual consumers of pornography, including many cybersex addicts.