Sex addiction, which is also sometimes referred to as sexual dependence or hypersexual disorder, is an often-misunderstood disorder that is characterized by obsessive sex-related thoughts and a compulsion to engage in sexual behaviors. Sex addiction can take many forms including compulsive masturbation, obsession with pornography, frequent online sex or phone sex, and sex with multiple partners.
Many people who develop sex addiction are also dealing with a primary substance use disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or a host of other mental health concerns.
As is the case with other forms of addictions or compulsive behaviors, men and women who have become addicted to sex feel compelled to continue acting on their urges even after having experienced negative repercussions, and they often experience significant guilt and shame about their inability to control their behaviors. For the addicted individual, sex ceases to be a source of pleasure and instead becomes a self-defeating preoccupation that detracts from and inflicts damage upon virtually all other aspects of the person’s existence.
Though sex addiction can be a devastating experience, effective treatments exist and recovery is achievable. However, in many cases, the shame, guilt, and prevalent misunderstanding (and, in some cases, disbelief) that are associated with sex addiction prevent individuals from getting the professional care that can help them regain control over their behaviors and once again live healthier and more satisfying lives.
Definitive statistics related to the prevalence of sexual addiction are difficult to find, but various experts estimate that between 4% and 8% of the adult population in the United States (or 12 to 24 million Americans, ages 18 and above) struggle with sex-related behavioral compulsions.
One aspect of sex addiction that is able to be closely tracked is viewing online pornography. There are more than 25 million pornographic websites on the Internet, and these sites are visited by an average of 40 million people every day. Though most people who view pornography are not addicted to sex, experts believe that the prevalence of and ease of access to online pornography is a major contributor to increased rates of sex addiction and related compulsive behaviors.
Causes of Sex Addiction
As with most, if not all, forms of addictions and behavioral compulsions, the development of a sex addiction cannot be easily attributed to one conclusive cause. Most cases of sex addiction are the result of several internal and external influences, along with co-occurring disorders that may contribute to or exacerbate the problem.
One of the fundamental biological components of sex addiction involves the way that the brains of sex addicts “reward” these individuals for their behaviors. For most people, pleasurable activities and experiences prompt the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with improved mood, motivation, and similar positive feelings. Dopamine release can be triggered by activities ranging from innocuous (such as eating a chocolate bar) to life-threatening (such as injecting heroin).
For sex addicts, the experience of thinking about or engaging in their compulsive behaviors triggers a flood of dopamine that, in turn, prompts a euphoric sensation that approximates the feeling of certain types of drug abuse. While sex is pleasurable for most people, the rush experienced by sex addicts, and the resultant crash that often follows, can be so intense that it can compel them to sacrifice their health, their relationships, their careers, and other important aspects of their lives in search of sex.
A common external or environmental precursor to sex addiction is a history of trauma, often involving abuse or assault. Many people who seek treatment for compulsive sex-related behaviors find that the genesis of their problem is rooted in abuse that they endured during childhood. Many sex addicts engage in their compulsive behaviors in much the same way that individuals who struggle with alcoholism reache for a bottle, as a means of temporarily distracting from or numbing themselves to the psychological pain associated with the trauma that has not been addressed in a healthy manner.
Regardless of the internal or external factors that contribute to a sex addiction, it is important to understand that this disorder is not simply a matter of promiscuity for purposes of personal enjoyment. Sex addiction is a dangerous and often degrading experience that is marked by an inability to control one’s thoughts and impulses.
Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction
Though addictions and behavioral compulsions manifest in a variety of ways, certain commonalities will often eventually become evident. The following are among the common signs and symptoms that may indicate a person is struggling with an addiction to sex:
- Frequent sex with multiple (often anonymous) partners
- Excessive viewing of online pornography
- Frequent masturbation
- Engaging in increasingly more dangerous, risky, or otherwise unsafe sex
- Spending an inordinate amount of time on looking for and/or having sex
- Paying for sex via prostitutes or escort services
- Withdrawing from social, occupational, or recreational activities in order to have sex
- Having multiple affairs
- Abusing drugs in order to intensify sexual experiences
- Becoming angry or agitated when incapable of having sex or engaging in other sex-related behaviors
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) due to unprotected sex
- Physical pain related to abusive or excessively degrading sexual experiences
- Preoccupation with thoughts that are sexual in nature
- Obsessions with sexual activity
- Poor impulse control and decision-making abilities
- Lowered sense of inhibition
- Experiencing profound guilt or shame about one’s sexual behaviors
- Anhedonia (being incapable of experiencing pleasure except through activities involving sex)
- Loss of interest in non-sexual activities or issues that were previously of great importance
- Mood swings (especially from pre-sex mania to post-sex depression)
Treatment for Sex Addiction
As noted earlier on this page, sex addiction is an uncontrollable behavioral compulsion that often impacts men and women who are also struggling with one or more additional mental or behavioral health issues, including but not limited to substance abuse and addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, trauma, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When a person is dealing with one or more of these disorders or challenges, the presence of co-occurring sex addiction can make life significantly more difficult, and can complicate efforts to achieve long-term recovery.
At Life Healing Center, we are uniquely prepared to empower men and women to overcome such complex challenges and experience improved quality of life.
The dedicated treatment professionals at Life Healing Center has significant experience at helping men and women who are struggling with the complex challenge of a primary substance use disorder or mental health disorder, in addition to a secondary diagnosis of sex addiction.
Our comprehensive services and specialized programming have proven to be extremely effective at identifying, addressing, and developing strategies for overcoming all of the obstacles that have been preventing our clients from regaining control over their behaviors and resuming their pursuit of healthier and more satisfying futures.
Life Healing Center includes gender-specific programs for adult men and women that address co-occurring sex addiction in terms of each client’s spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physiological well-being. Our programs provide a safe and supportive environment in which to explore sexual stressors and triggers, engage in shame-reduction activities, develop healthier coping and relationship skills, and prepare for a future in which sex ceases to be a source of compulsion and shame.
To learn more about how Life Healing Center can help men and women experience true and lasting recovery from addiction, trauma, other primary diagnoses, and co-occurring sex addiction, please do not hesitate to contact us at your convenience. A knowledgeable and friendly member of our team is available 24/7 to answer all of your questions and provide you with the details that you need to make the most informed decisions for yourself or on behalf of a loved one.