Is there such a thing as sexual addiction? Whether or not behavioural addictions are “real” addictions is a central controversy within the addiction field. However, it does appear that behavioral addictions are increasingly becoming recognised as a real problem and sexual addiction is no exception.
Behavioral addictions are patterns of behavior, which follow a cycle similar to that of substance dependence.
This begins with the individual experiencing pleasure in association with a specific behaviour and then seeking that behaviour, initially as a way of enhancing their experience of life, and later as a way of coping with stress. The process of seeking and engaging in the behaviour becomes more frequent and ritualized until it becomes a significant part of the person’s daily life. When the person is addicted they experience urges or cravings to engage in the behavior, which intensify until the person carries out the behaviour again, usually resulting in a feeling relief and elation.
While negative consequences of the behaviour may occur, the individual persists with the behavior in spite of this.
- Frequently engaging in more sex, and with more partners than intended.
- Being preoccupied with or consistently craving sex; wanting to cut down and unsuccessfully attempting to limit sexual activity.
- Thinking of sex to the detriment of other activities or continually engaging in excessive sexual practices despite a desire to stop.
- Spending considerable time in activities related to sex, such as cruising for partners or spending hours online visiting pornographic web sites.
- Neglecting obligations such as work, school or family in pursuit of sex.
- Continually engaging in the sexual behaviour despite negative consequences, such as broken relationships or potential health risks.
- Escalating scope or frequency of sexual activity to achieve the desired effect, such as more frequent visits to prostitutes or more sex partners.
Other behaviours associated with sexual addiction include:
- Feeling irritable when unable to engage in the desired behaviour. Compulsive masturbation (self-stimulation)
- Multiple affairs (extra-marital affairs)
- Multiple or anonymous sexual partners and/or one-night stands
- Consistent use of pornography
- Unsafe sex
- Phone or computer sex (cybersex)
- Obsessive dating through personal ads
- Voyeurism (watching others) and/or stalking
- Sexual harassment
You may have a sex addiction problem if you identify with three or more of the above criteria. Generally, sex addicts tend to organize their world around sex in the same way that cocaine addicts organize theirs around cocaine. Their goal in interacting with people and in social situations is obtaining sexual pleasure.
The term “sexual addiction” is used to describe the behavior of a person who has an unusually intense sex drive or an obsession with sex. Sex and the thought of sex tend to dominate the sex addict’s thinking, making it difficult to work or engage in healthy personal relationships.
Sex addicts engage in distorted thinking, often rationalizing and justifying their behavior and blaming others for problems. They generally deny they have a problem and make excuses for their actions.
Usually a person with a sex addiction gains little satisfaction from the sexual activity and forms no emotional bond with his or her sex partners. In addition, the problem of sex addiction often leads to feelings of guilt and shame. A sex addict also feels a lack of control over the behaviour despite negative consequences (financial, health, social, and emotional).
Most sex addicts live in denial of their addiction, and treating an addiction is contingent on the person accepting and admitting that he or she has a problem. In many cases, it takes a significant event, such as the loss of a job; the break-up of a marriage; an arrest; or health crisis, to force the addict to admit to his or her problem.
Treatment of sexual addiction focuses on controlling the addictive behavior and helping the person develop healthy sexuality. Treatment includes education about healthy sexuality, individual counseling, and marital and/or family therapy.
Author: Linda Thomson, B Arts, Social Science, Human Services, Masters of Counselling, Master Social Work Studies, Social Work, Member – AASW.
Linda Thomson has many years of experience in different fields of counselling, and has also managed counselling services in the Not for profit sector. She has been involved in training and mentoring counsellors, and providing professional supervision. Linda has extensive training in and a passion for sex therapy as she believes that it is such an important and often misunderstood part of our lives.
Please call 1800 877 924 or book online to make a confidential appointment with Linda.