Sex Addiction Treatment
What is Sex Addiction?
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.
The Physical Dangers of Sex Addiction
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.
Long-TermLong-Term Consequences of Severe Sex Addiction
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:
- A higher risk of developing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Individuals who suffer from sex addiction are more likely to engage in unsafe and unprotected sex. People who have sex with strangers expose themselves to increased risks because the sexual history of their partners is unknown. Failure to use condoms or other forms of protection increases the chances that a person will contract an STI, such as HPV, gonorrhea, HIV, or Hepatitis B.
- Unwanted pregnancy. Unprotected sex can also lead to major life changes, such as getting pregnant or getting someone else pregnant. Having children when you’re not ready can have a damaging impact on your future.
- Individuals who cheat on their partners or cross boundaries can damage their relationships with their significant others past the point of repair.
- Interpersonal issues. Unwise sexual encounters can lead to conflict with a variety of people, ranging from friends to close family members.
- Financial problems. It is common for people suffering from sex addiction to spend their money in the pursuit of sex. Doing so can harm a person’s budget. Additionally, the harmful consequences of sexual obsession can cause problems at work, making it difficult to follow through on commitments, and can sometimes lead to termination.
- Legal consequences. Engaging in illegal or illicit sexual activities, hiring sex workers, and commiting sex crimes like indecent exposure can result in criminal consequences. Legal problems can exacerbate existing financial issues, especially when a person needs to hire a lawyer to defend themselves in court.
- Comorbid conditions. Individuals suffering from sex addiction are at an increased likelihood of developing physical or mental health conditions.
Sex Addiction Treatment
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