Finding Freedom from Addiction Human sexuality is not only necessary for the survival of the species; it is a great source of pleasure, intimacy, and inspiration for many adults. Yet the intimacy and beauty of sex can be undermined by sex addiction, a disorder that causes an unhealthy obsession with seeking, observing, or engaging in sexual activity. Individuals with an addiction to sex will go to extremes to satisfy their cravings or live out their fantasies, regardless of the consequences to themselves or others.
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy estimates that sex addiction affects approximately 12 million adults in the US. Also known as hypersexual disorder, sex addiction is a condition marked by fantasies or urges that consume excessive amounts of time and resources. An individual with sex addiction typically spends hours planning for sex or engaging in sexual activity, at the expense of jobs, family activities, or social interactions.
The person may also spend a great deal of money pursuing gratification in the form of pornography, prostitution, online sex forums, strip clubs, telephone sex lines, and other expensive outlets. Sex addiction treatment programs can intervene in the destructive progression of this disorder and help clients rebuild their lives on a foundation of integrity, self-worth, and trust.
Can Sex Be an Addiction? Although it is natural for some adults to have a stronger sex drive than others, those with a healthy approach to sexuality are able to keep their needs in perspective and set limits on their sexual behavior.
People with sex addiction, on the other hand, display the following characteristics: The drive for sexual fulfillment comes from an unmet psychological need to relieve anxiety, depression, or psychological tension, not from a need for closeness or the desire to form a relationship. Treating sex addiction requires an exploration of the underlying causes of the problem, along with the development of effective coping strategies to deal with triggers and resolve psychological needs.
Sex addiction is not included in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5 ; however, people who struggle with this condition are aware that it is all too real.
The popularity of support groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous , a Step program for people seeking freedom from sex addiction, and the growing availability of rehab programs for sex addicts offer evidence of the widespread need for treatment for this disorder.
Engaging in high-risk sexual activities can endanger the individual the following ways: As the disorder progresses, people with sex addiction tend to pursue more intense highs through increased risk-taking behavior, which may include having unprotected sexual encounters.
Many illicit sexual activities are subject to legal consequences. Engaging in sex with prostitutes, exposing oneself in public, or having nonconsensual sexual contact with others are all punishable by fines, jail time, and other penalties. Sexual addiction on the job can quickly lead to demotion or unemployment. For instance, employees who use company computers to surf pornographic websites are in danger of punishment or termination.
Loss of trust and intimacy: Pursuing sexual impulses, even in a strictly visual or auditory form, requires a certain amount of secrecy or dishonesty, which can create an atmosphere of suspicion even in the most solid marriage or partnership.
Damage to family bonds: When sex addiction leads to spousal conflict or divorce, the whole family suffers. Following the disclosure of sexual addiction, parents may lose custody of their children. People who suffer from sex addiction may use alcohol or drugs to numb feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse. They may also use these substances to overcome the psychological barriers that would otherwise prevent them from indulging in their fantasies. Can Sex Addiction Be Treated?
The underlying causes of sex addiction are still under exploration, but many researchers agree that brain chemistry plays an important role in hypersexual behavior. A sexual encounter can trigger the release of dopamine, a brain chemical that generates feelings of elation, happiness, or contentment.
These positive sensations encourage the individual to pursue sexual gratification again, ensuring that reproduction will occur and the species will continue. For sex addicts, the release of dopamine that occurs after a sexual experience may resemble the euphoric rush of a chemical high.
The pursuit of this high encourages the individual to continue the same behavior, even if it is risky or destructive. Other researchers propose that sex addiction is often part of a cluster of psychiatric conditions that are characterized by impulsive, uncontrollable behavior.
One study revealed the following statistics about sexual addiction: Substance abuse, in particular, is very common in individuals with sex addiction. Drugs or alcohol may be used to release inhibitions, to overcome feelings of shame and guilt, or to soothe feelings of depression. Because substance abuse impairs judgment, it also increases the risk of dangerous behavior that exposes the individual to harmful consequences.
Carnes, PhD , quotes statistics showing that up to 72 percent of people with sex addiction have a history of physical abuse in childhood, while as many as 81 percent were exposed to physical abuse.
People who grew up in a household where one or both parents displayed addictive behavior were significantly more likely to experience sex addiction as adults.
The treatment of sex addiction often requires therapeutic interventions that address unresolved traumas and past emotional pain. Learn More Because of the social stigma involved with sex addiction, many individuals with this disorder are reluctant to admit their need for help, or to seek help in ways that might jeopardize them socially or personally. However, sex addiction can be treated if the individual is willing to accept professional help.
According to WebMD , the therapeutic approaches used to treat impulse control disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD are often applied to the treatment of sex addiction. These approaches may include medication, individual therapy, support groups, Step programming, trauma therapy, and other research-based modalities. Additional benefits of sex addiction support groups include providing a sober support network and encouraging the client to maintain a sense of accountability to others.
According to Psychiatry , Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is especially effective at helping clients confront the self-defeating, delusional thoughts that are typical of sex addiction. With CBT, clients are taught to identify their behavioral triggers and to develop new coping strategies for managing these situations or emotions in positive ways.
CBT can be applied in conjunction with intensive talk therapy, participation in support groups, trauma therapy, and family counseling to maximize the outcomes of treatment. When sex addiction co-occurs with substance abuse, detox may be required to clear intoxicants from the body before the more intensive work of rehab can begin.
In rehab, medications may be prescribed to help control sexual urges and manage symptoms of depression or anxiety. Drugs in the SSRI selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors category, such as citalopram Celexa , sertraline Zoloft , and paroxetine Paxil have been prescribed to help individuals with sex addiction relieve their symptoms. Clients who suffer from bipolar disorder may benefit from mood-stabilizing drugs, such as valproic acid Depakote or lithium to manage their impulses and control their emotional states.
Inpatient or residential treatment offers the advantage of a focused, supportive environment where the client can concentrate exclusively on recovery, and where triggers and distractions are minimized.
Outpatient treatment provides a greater level of independence and autonomy for clients whose personal obligations prevent them from leaving home, or for those who start treatment with a high level of autonomy and motivation.
Because this disorder involves a great deal of emotional pain and personal shame, members of the treatment team must be highly sensitive to the potential for increased depression or even suicidal ideation. A sex addiction treatment program must include a comprehensive set of recovery resources that include therapies which address the multiple dimensions of this disorder, including past trauma, substance abuse, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders.
Finding Freedom from Addiction The goals of sex addiction treatment are to help clients find the sources of their compulsive behaviors, to aid them in developing healthy approaches for dealing with triggers, and to strengthen their sense of self-worth. By striving for these goals, clients in sex addiction treatment programs can attain a sense of freedom from destructive, obsessive behaviors.
Approaching a loved one about the topic of sex addiction can be painful or embarrassing; however, the sooner the problem is brought out into the open, the sooner the issue can be addressed and the greater the chances of avoiding harmful consequences. Too often, the pain and shame of sex addiction remain a secret, with even the addicted individual denying the reality of the disorder.
Treatment programs that target sex addiction are the most effective way to resolve the issues that drive this disorder and to overcome the obstacles to recovery. We're Here For You.