Sex Addiction: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment Options & 9 Common Myths
by the Hope Rehab Team
What is Sex Addiction?
There is a difference between a healthy desire to have sex and an obsessional need to keep engaging in this activity. Sex addiction is not the same as enjoying sex. Even if people copulate five times a day on a regular basis, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are addicted. It is a compulsive need to engage in this activity despite obvious negative consequences that makes it an addiction. It is the fact that sex has now become a source of shame, remorse, and guilt that makes it a problem that needs to be dealt with.
Progression & Denial: Stages of Sex Addiction
People who have become addicted to sex will usually have experienced a progression of their condition. This means they now need to engage in more frequent, more intense, or riskier sexual activity to get the same feeling of release they enjoyed previously. This progression also means the negative effects of the behavior increase over time. The addictive process means people can be in a state of denial about this progression for a long time, but eventually, the negative consequences can become so obvious that they are unable to ignore them – it is at this ‘rock bottom’ that people will often become willing to seek help.
Sex addiction isn’t just about copulating with a partner. It could involve an obsession with masturbation, pornography, sexual fantasies, engaging in voyeurism or indecent exposure. In fact, some people may not have had sex with a partner in a long time, but they would still be considered addicted because of their obsession with the activity.
What is a Sex Addict Called? What is the Difference between Sex Addiction and Hypersexual Disorder?
Hypersexual disorder is the term most often used by professionals when talking about sex addiction. This condition can also be referred to as:
How Much of a Problem is Sex Addiction? – Sex Addiction Statistics
Statistics from the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health suggest as many as 9 million people dealing with this condition in the US alone. There has also been a significant increase in recent years of people looking for professional help for this problem in countries such as the UK and Australia.
What Is The Difference Between Sex Addiction And Porn Addiction?
Romantic love and sex often go together, but it is certainly possible to have one without the other. For those who are dealing with hypersexual disorder, the focus will be on the sex act rather than on developing a long-term loving relationship. This is different from a love addiction where the individual develops an obsessive need ‘to be in love’. In this case, the person uses romance to escape their problems, and their need to be in love can mean putting up with unhealthy relationships.
Is Sex Addiction Real?
The claim that humans can become addicted to sex in the same way as they can to drugs is still a controversial one. Cynics might view it as an attempt to justify ‘bad behaviour’. This kind of judgmental attitude is easily observed whenever a celebrity is caught up in a sex scandal and claims of sex addiction are offered.
Hypersexual disorder will soon be officially recognised as a condition in the DSM-5
We tend to associate addiction with the abuse of chemical substances, but there is a growing consensus among experts that it is also possible to become addicted to behaviours. A good example of this would be gambling addiction which is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Sexual addiction has not yet managed to make it into the DSM-5, but it is likely that hypersexual disorder will be officially recognised as a condition in the next edition.
Other Conditions Can Produce Similar Symptoms to Sex Addiction
One of the difficulties with describing sex addiction is there are other conditions that produce similar symptoms. Engaging in risky sex can also be a symptom of a personality disorder (e.g. borderline personality) or bipolar disorder (especially during the manic stage). It can also be a form of self-harm or a reaction to low self-esteem. Those who have experienced childhood sexual trauma can engage in damaging sexual behaviour in an unconscious effort to regain control. Substance abusers experience disinhibition and lose the ability to make good decisions when intoxicated, and this too can encourage unhealthy sexual behaviour.
What are the Potential Negative Consequences of Sex Addiction?
What Are the Causes of Sex Addiction?
There are different theories to explain why some people develop hypersexual disorder, but there is not yet one definitive explanation. Some people dealing with this condition respond well to antidepressants, so there is obviously some type of biochemical abnormality. Sex is a pleasurable activity, so like other addictions, it is likely to involve the brain’s internal rewards system. It is also likely that some people have a genetic disposition that makes them more prone to being impulsive and taking risks.
Environmental factors play a significant role in the development of sex addiction. It can be a response to childhood trauma (physical, emotional, or sexual) or exposure at a young age to inappropriate sexual material (e.g. porno movies). It is also common for those who develop this condition to have poor impulse control which may be due to some underlying condition such as bipolar disorder.
What are the Sex Addiction Treatment Options?
Hypersexual disorder differs from many other types of addiction in that the final goal is usually not going to be lifelong abstinence. People who are taking part in a treatment program will be expected to refrain from sexual activity, but the eventual aim is for the individual to be able to have a ‘healthy’ sex life.
There are several treatment options that are effective for helping people overcome hypersexual disorder including:
Sex Addicts Anonymous for Sex Addiction
Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) is a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The first step is for the individual to admit that he/she is ‘powerless over addictive sexual activity’. Once members can accept this state of personal powerless, they are then encouraged to seek strength they need to change by turning to a ‘higher power’ (this could be God or even the power of the group). The SAA approach can work well because there is so much support and understanding form other members of the group.
Therapy for Sex Addiction
A competent therapist will be able to help the client examine the underlying issues that are driving the addictive behavior. This could mean looking at childhood trauma or developing more effective coping strategies for dealing with life. It can take a bit of time for trust to develop between the therapist and a client, so this type of treatment usually needs to be ongoing for at least a few months. One of the benefits of going to rehab is there can be more of an opportunity for regular one-to-one therapy sessions.
Mindfulness for Sex Addiction
The goal of mindfulness is to help us see that we do not need to be a servant to our addictive impulses. This practice makes it possible to develop a new relationship with the thoughts and feelings that drive unhealthy behavior. It is our inability to deal with life that is behind the impulse to escape through drugs or sex, so it is vital that we find a more positive way of dealing with things. Mindfulness is not only effective at dealing with addiction, but it also provides the tools we need for dealing with stress, negative thinking, and low mood. It means we can reach a point where we experience such ease in the world that the no longer feel the need to escape.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Sex Addiction
CBT is an approach that focuses on the irrational thoughts and beliefs that go hand-in-hand with the addictive behavior. The idea is that if we look more closely at these thoughts using a tool such as ABC model, we will then be able to change our behavior more easily.
Rehab for Sex Addiction
If dealing with a sex addiction was just a case of having enough will-power or choosing to behave better there would be no need for rehab. The reality for those dealing with the condition is that they feel powerless and unable to keep their promises to change – it is not so much an issue with stopping the behavior but with staying stopped. This means it can be incredibly difficult for people to succeed in long-term recovery without sufficient support.
Entering a rehab likely offers the best chance of lasting recovery from hypersexual disorder. This is a serious condition that can destroy lives just like any other type of addiction. An inpatient program means the individual can be supported through the difficult early days of recovery, and it gives them the opportunity to pick up the tools they need to sustain this change. This intensive therapeutic approach also means that the individual has the opportunity to dig down into the underlying issues driving the behavior.
Do sex addicts have an addictive personality?
Research published by the Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity Journal current found that 83 % of those with hypersexual disorder were also dealing with other addictions such as alcoholism. Here at Hope, we have found that a significant number of our clients who have come for help with a drug addiction also have issues around sex. There is also a risk that those who give up one addiction will turn to sex as a new way to escape life.
This tendency for people with one addiction to be at high risk of other addictions is sometimes blamed on them having an ‘addictive personality’. There do seem to be certain genetic and personality factors that increase the likelihood of the individual moving from one addiction to another. This is why it is so important to deal with the underlying issues driving the behaviour.
What are the Signs of Sex Addiction? How to Tell if Your Partner is a Sex Addict
Here are some of the signs that your partner may be dealing with hypersexual disorder:
How Do I Deal with a Sexually Addicted Spouse/Partner?
The realization that your partner is addicted to sex may help explain his/her behaviour, but it also means facing a problem that can seem insurmountable. If your trust has been betrayed, or you have suffered in other ways due to your partner’s behavior, the situation can feel a bit hopeless. This is even more likely to be the case if this person has previously promised to change, yet failed to keep these promises. It is understandable that many will decide to end the relationship at this stage, and in some situations, this can be the best way forward, but there is hope to salvage the relationship if there is a genuine willingness to change.
The key to dealing with a sex addicted partner is getting support and finding out as much as you can about the condition. Organizations such as Sex Addicted Anonymous (see resources below) can be helpful in this regard.
Here are some things worth considering when dealing with a sex addicted partner:
9 Myths About Sex Addiction
Useful Resources for Sex Addiction
Where Can I Go for Sex Addiction Help?
If you are still unsure about what is needed to overcome your sex addiction problem, please feel free to contact the team here at Hope Rehab Thailand. Our inpatient program has already helped hundreds of clients dealing with similar problems using a combination of one-to-one counselling, group therapy, mindfulness therapy, CBT, 12-step work, and wellness therapy.