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.