Sex addiction can be difficult to recognize, treat, and discuss because sex is itself a complicated subject. Most cultures have strong stigmas surrounding sex, and often even bringing it up is prohibited. Cultural standards determine which kinds of sexual partners, which sexual activities, and even which sexual thoughts are appropriate. In this oppressive social climate, it is common for the majority of people to occasionally (or frequently) feel that their sexual behaviors or thoughts are wrong or deviant. The fact is, however, that sex is a normal part of life. Not only are the biological drives that make people want to have sex natural, but sex itself can be a powerful source for individual fulfillment. Sex offers people pleasure, a way of communicating and connecting with others, and even a form of self-expression. Unfortunately, sex can also cause significant problems for people, most notably when their desire for it interferes with their ability to function. When an individual suffers from sex addiction, sex can become an oppressive, joyless, and even a destructive activity.
Because sex, like food, is a natural and healthy part of life, however, sex addiction can be difficult to diagnose. Psychiatrists and mental health professionals use a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in order to make diagnoses. Currently sex addiction is not listed in the DSM-5, and therefore it is not officially recognized as a concrete mental health disorder. However, the disorder is nonetheless studied by psychologists and researchers, and there is a growing body of research on the phenomenon of sex addiction. In practice, the majority of mental health professionals, doctors, and addiction counselors recognize the lived experiences of people who suffer from the disorder of sex addiction. While it may not be possible at this time to receive an official diagnosis of the condition, receiving treatment is always an option.
Sex addiction is characterized by strong compulsions, obsessions, and behavior patterns related to sex. Individuals who suffer from sex addiction frequently experience negative consequences due to their compulsions, intrusive thoughts, and behaviors. These consequences can include relationship problems, physical health problems, and even unwanted pregnancy. However, sex addiction can also indirectly interfere with a person’s ability to live life normally, serving as a constant unwelcome distraction. Individuals who suffer from sex addiction often recognize these unhealthy consequences and have a strong desire to manage or curb their sexual compulsions. However, without outside help most people are unable to do so, no matter how strongly they wish to live life normally.
It is important to note as well that, despite a common stereotype of sex addicts as people who are constantly engaged in sexual activity, suffering from sex addiction is not dependent on the quantity of sex a person has. An individual can suffer from sexual obsessions and compulsions that interfere in their life without necessarily having sex on a regular basis. Many individuals seek treatment for sex addiction because masturbation and pornography have begun to affect their livelihoods. Others find that their unhealthy sexual thoughts are overly burdensome. There are also individuals who do not necessarily have sex regularly, but their sex addiction leads to infedelity. The harms and consequences of sex addiction vary considerably from person to person. Because everyone has their own concept of what a normal sex life is, a person’s understanding of what constitutes sex addiction can vary considerably. However, if an individual believes that their life has been negatively impacted by their sex addiction, and if they find that they are unable to manage their thoughts and behaviors on their own, they can be said to legitimately suffer from the condition.
The term “sex addiction” is often used interchangeably or in conjunction with the term “love addiction.” While there is plenty of overlap between the two disorders, there are also fine distinctions between them. Love addiction generally refers to an obsession with the pleasures of falling in love, the excitement of building an emotional bond; it is associated sometimes with patterns of unhealthy codependency, but many people who suffer from love addiction move from relationship to relationship, repeatedly seeking that thrill of the initial love connection. Many people who suffer from love addiction suffer from sex addiction as well, but sex addiction does not necessarily entail the same drive for emotional intimacy.
The DSM-5 usually defines mental health disorders using lists of symptoms. While sex addiction is not listed in the book, it shares many common traits with substance use disorders and other impulse control disorders. In fact, there is significant overlap between substance use disorders and sex addiction. Many people with sex addiction suffer from comorbid substance use disorders as well. Drug or alcohol addiction can emerge as a self-soothing coping tool for dealing with the consequences of sex addiction. Just as often, however, sex addiction emerges as a consequence of regular substance abuse. These disorders are often linked in practice, and proper treatment for either one requires that the other one be managed as well. However, the disorders are not only commonly comorbid, but they share a common symptomatology. The intense cravings, lack of self-control, and destructive consequences of substance use disorders are characteristic of sex addiction as well. The main difference is that substance use disorders cause people to develop an obsession with drugs or alcohol, whereas with sex addiction the object of a person’s obsession is sex.
While the body of research around sex addiction is rapidly growing, psychologists are only just beginning to study sex addiction. The current understanding of the disorder is that there is no one single cause that drives a person to develop a sex addiction. The majority of researchers believe that sex addiction arises from a combination of factors that are both environmental and genetic in nature. While it is not possible to predict with certainty whether a person will develop a sex addiction or not, there is some statistical evidence linking the presence of sex addiction to a history of addiction in the family. Individuals whose parents or other close family members suffered from an addiction, ranging from drug addiction to alcohol addiction, are more likely to develop an addiction of their own later in life. The chances of developing sex addiction are higher for these individuals in part because addiction often arises due to genetic factors. However, environmental factors also play an important role. Being raised by or among addicts creates an unpredictable and often violent environment for a child. Individuals who experience trauma early on in life often develop addictions. Activities like substance abuse and sex are common ways for individuals with mental health disorders like anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or major depression to self-medicate and soothe their emotional distress. Over time, unfortunately, sex addiction tends to exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness, which ultimately leads to a vicious cycle.
On the neurological level, sex is addictive in much the same way that alcohol and recreational drugs are addictive. Sexual activity, like substance abuse, is essentially an activity that people pursue because it provides pleasure. The pleasure that people derive from sex stems from dopamine, a neurotransmitter that the brain releases to “reward” itself. Dopamine is implicated in the brain’s decision-making centers and controls motivation and desire. When people perform an activity (such as drinking alcohol, using opioids, or having sex) that releases dopamine, the surge in dopamine actually exerts an effect on the brain that makes reinforces the behavior and makes it more likely that they will repeat it again. While sex does not release dopamine in nearly as high quantities as recreational drugs do, the effect is significant. Additionally, people who engage in sexual activity while abusing drugs simultaneously experience even more elevated levels of dopamine. For this reason, individuals who suffer from drug addiction are at an increased likelihood of developing the disorder of sex addiction.
Sex addiction can be difficult to recognize. Many people feel shame or discomfort with even the healthiest of sexual thoughts or activities, making it challenging to determine when sexual behavior has actually become dangerous or unhealthy. Furthermore, sexual mores, standards, and culturally accepted practices differ considerably among different populations and individuals. What one culture or individual considers abnormal might be widely regarded as acceptable among others. Sex addiction is a subjective experience. Ultimately, the people best suited to recognizing the presence of sex addiction are the sufferers themselves — as well as their loved ones. When a person experiences negative consequences as a result of their sexual thoughts or behaviors, there is cause for concern. When individuals are unable to control or manage these thoughts or behaviors despite a desire to do so, they can be said to suffer from sex addiction and likely require treatment.
While no individual suffers from sex addiction in the same way, sex addiction frequrently manifest itself via common symptoms. If you have ever wondered, “Am I a sex addict?” check below for these signs of sex addiction. Sex addiction is a spectrum disorder, meaning that you do not need to experience all of the below symptoms to be considered a sex addict. Experiencing even one or two symptoms is sufficient cause for concern. Sex addiction, like other addictions and impulse control disorders, is a progressive disorder, meaning it tends to get worse over time. As such, recognizing the signs early is essential for avoiding dangerous long-term consequences.
Common signs of sex addiction include:
Sex addiction is associated with frequent unsafe, impulsive sexual encounters. Doing so can have unpredictable results that impact physical health. The primary danger is that a person will contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are over 30 viral and bacterial infections that medical professionals recognize as being transmitted through sexual activity. Of the 8 most common sexually transmitted infections, only 4 are curable. The curable infections include syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis. Individuals who contract one of the 4 incurable sexually transmitted infections, namely hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV or herpes), HIV, and human papillomavirus (HPV), must live with them for life. While these conditions can be managed, doing so requires regular intensive treatment. Individuals who fail to treat their sex addictions and continue to behave recklessly are at a high risk of exacerbating the symptoms of these conditions, spreading them, and experiencing further life-threatening physical dangers.
However, infection is not the only physical danger of sex addiction and unsafe sex. Individuals who engage in unsafe sex are at a higher risk for domestic violence, nonconsensual sex, and other forms of sexual abuse. Having sex with partners who are strangers increases the likelihood of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, individuals who suffer from sex addiction are often unable to distinguish between safe encounters and potentially dangerous ones. Even those who are able to distinguish between safe and unsafe encounters are often helpless to say no to them, since sex addiction diminishes a person’s ability to make decisions for themselves. When individuals suffer from substance use disorders as well as a sex addiction, these risks are compoounded. Substances like alcohol and benzodiazepines have a disinhibiting effect, making it not only more likely for a person to engage in unsafe sex, but increasing the chances that one or both parties will behave in a dangerous manner. Individuals who enter a “blackout” or experience memory loss during a sexual encounter due to substance abuse are at further risk. Sex addiction poses physical dangers, but combining unsafe sex with substance abuse significantly heightens the risks.
Individuals who suffer from sex addiction often experience significant distress during their periods of sexual obsession. However, when individuals suffer from sex addiction for a sufficient period of time, the negative consequences can become more severe. Sex addiction inflicts harm that can be both physical and psychological in nature. Certain consequences can alter the course of a person’s life, harming relationships, finances, health, and even a person’s ability to function normally in their everyday life. Long-term consequences of severe sex addiction vary considerably from person to person, but common ones include:
If you suffer from sex addiction, recovery is possible. However, it is crucial to understand that sex addiction cannot be managed through individual willpower alone. Cultural stigmas surrounding sex and sex addiction make many people reluctant to seek treatment. While it may be tempting to try to manage the condition on ones own, doing so is rarely successful. Like substance use disorders, sex addiction changes people’s brains on the neurological level, making it difficult for them to follow through on their decisions. No matter how strongly a person desires to control or manage their sexual compulsions and behaviors, most are unable to do so very long on their own.
For individuals suffering from sex addiction, it is always best to reach out to trained and experienced experts at a licesned treatment center. The approach that treatment centers offer for sex addiction generally involves a combination of treatment modalities, ranging from psychotherapy to support groups. Outpatient treatment centers allow individuals to receive treatment for a significant portion of each day while returning home each day to their own beds and continuing to live their lives normally. These resource centers provide individuals with the tools they need to manage their compulsions and cravings. They often also work one-on-one with people to help them restructure their lives and repair the damage that sex addiction inflicted.
Outpatient treatment centers also recognize that sex addiction arises froma a variety of causes, ranging from underlying mental illness to substance use disorders. Addiction treatment centers help individuals recover from sex addiction by giving them the tools they need to manage these underlying conditions. For many people, seeking treatment for sex addiction allows them to recognize a variety of related problems. While the initial days of sex addiction recovery can be challenging, it often offers people their first experience of relief from emotional pain that they have lived with and numbed for decades.
Outpatient treatment centers utilize a variety of treatment approaches to help people recover from sex addiction. These approaches include:
● Cognitive-behavioral therapy
● Couples Counseling
● Dialectical-behavioral therapy
● Group Therapy
● Support Groups
● 12-Step Programs
People who suffer from sex addiction have higher rates of mental health disorders than the rest of the population. Common mental health conditions include mood disorders, anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and substance use disorders. The comorbidity between sex addiction and mental illness can be attributed to a causal relationship that works both ways. People who suffer from mental health conditions are frequently drawn to sexual activities as a way of coping with their distress; sex can offer pleasure and temporarily relieve the symptoms of a mental health disorder. On the other hand, sex addiction can itself lead to the development of mental health conditions. Individuals who are facing the devastating consequences of their sex addiction can easily become anxious, depressed, or have a mental breakdown.
Given the interdependence of sex addiction and other mental health conditions, it is absolutely essential that treatment programs work to comprehensively address both conditions. Even when sex addiction is treated effectively on its own, if a person experiences a relapse related to their other condition, they will be prone to relapsing sexually as well.
It is important to understand that sex addiction is a treatable condition. Individuals who suffer from sex addiction may find it difficult to recognize, admit, or talk to others about their problems. However, for most people it is all but impossible to manage the condition without outside help. This is because sex addiction by its very nature interferes with a person’s ability to manage their own thoughts, cravings, and behaviors. Sex addiction is also a comples condition that is often driven by other underlying issues, most commonly substance use disorders.
Create Recovery Center is an outpatient treatment program that is experienced in helping people treat and manage sex addiction, substance use disorders, and other impulse control disorders. Our program is designed to treat people holistically as complete human begins. Recognizing that sex addiction is often bound up with drug and alcohol addiction, mental health disorders, and other conditions, we offer individualized treatment plans that address all of a person’s unique needs and circumstances. At Create Recovery Center, people can begin unravel the underlying issues that drive their sex addiction.
Meanwhile, people in our outpatient program have the opportunity to work with other people who suffer from the same condition. Sex addiction can be a lonely disorder, with many sufferers feeling like no one would understood them if they opened up. Working with other individuals who suffer from sex addiction can be a deeply healing, revelatory experience. For many, it is the most important first step to recovery. Developing a community of other individuals pursuing sex addiction recovery helps people develop accountability, feel supported, and it can be a source of wisdom and advice. Moreover, the support system that people develop at Create Recovery Center tends to remain with a person in the years to come, offering not just recovery support, but joy and companionship.
At Create Recovery Center, we aim to provide individuals suffering from sex addiction with the tools they need to avoid relapse. To that end, our outpatient programs offer a comprehensive array of treatment modalities, ranging from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to 12-step-based support groups. It is our philosophy that recovery from any addiction, whether sex addiction or substance use disorder, is about more than mere abstinence. It involves healing past damage and building a new life. Individuals whose lives have been wrecked by sex addiction enter our outpatient programs hopeless and despondent, but they emerge ready to face the world — and themselves. If you or a loved one suffers from sex addiction, substance use disorder, or any other impulse control disorder, reach out for help today. Our compassionate and evidence-based treatment programs will provide you a new path forward.