Sexual addictions cover a range of problematic behaviors and dysfunctional thinking, yet they can be some of the most difficult addictions to detect in a friend or family member. Not all addictions give off cues such as intoxicated behavior or unhealthy weight gain. In fact, many sex addicts may be otherwise successful, healthy individuals. Not unsurprisingly, being charming, pretty, and competent can enable damaging sex addictions precisely because these are desirable traits in a mate. The easier an addict’s access to their obsession, the more difficult it can be to quit.
The nature of sex addiction is that it typically remains secret even beyond evasions that usually cover more socially “acceptable” addictions, i.e., alcoholism or gambling habits. While an alcoholic may give themselves away at a party with their inhuman tolerance to liquor, the sex addict’s private escapades occur beneath a cultural fog of personal privacy. In fact, sex in masculine culture is so often celebrated that even addictions in plain sight may go unnoticed, interpreted by close friends as the enviable reward for a healthy libido and a good dash of charisma.
Meanwhile, sex addicts are privately suffering, bound by the invisible chains of obsessive thoughts that revolve endlessly around sexual impulses. If you or a loved one suspect that you or they may be suffering from sex addiction, don’t hesitate to contact us as soon as possible. The caring professionals at SCAC always see the human being behind the habit. Start today by reaching out.
What is Sex Addiction?
In short, sex addiction is the obsessive, destructive pursuit of sexual stimuli over time. Sex addictions have been recognized for over a century. In the 1800s, terms like “satyriasis” and “nymphomania” were the recognized male and female versions of sexual obsessions, respectively. Today, more than 30 million people in the United States suffer sexual addictions of one kind or another.
There isn’t a simple method for diagnosing sex addiction. Mental health professionals must collect information regarding a person’s medical history, family, and mental health status to begin making an assessment. It is particularly important not to confuse a separate disorder with sex addiction, as various mental illnesses may incorporate sexual behaviors in the broader context of the particular pathology.
Schizophrenia, for instance, may drive someone to engage perpetually in risky sex acts. These behaviors might assuage delusions that the person is being followed, and that sex with strangers will cause his or her pursuers to quit monitoring them temporarily.
True sex addictions persist more or less independently of coexisting disorders, though other conditions may ultimately cause them to arise in the first place or otherwise exacerbate them.
Sex Addiction and Accompanying Conditions
Studies indicate that sex addiction frequently occurs alongside depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. It is associated with traits like impulsivity, low tolerance to frustration, suboptimal emotional coping skills, and intimacy/relationship difficulties.
There is a cyclical nature to these things. To give an example, intimacy issues can lead to extramarital pursuits of sexual pleasure. This pleasure is a cheap substitute for real intimacy, which an addict desires but may not know how to achieve. The shame and anxiety of the affairs cause marital intimacy to crumble further, demanding an increasing quota of deceptive sexual pursuits. Eventually, the addict can hit what is known as “rock-bottom,” or a point of abject defeat. The marriage can crumble, the addict’s career can tank, and more.
Of course, when feeling low, they will more than likely dig further into the well of their deepening sex addiction. The inability to modify destructive behaviors in this way is part of what defines a questionable habit from a real psychological dependence in need of professional resolution.
This paints a picture of individuals who are profoundly suffering, overwhelmed by the difficult emotional burdens they carry, unable to manage sexual impulses that rarely give them relief — even when acted upon. Obsessive thinking provides another core incentive to pursue damaging sex acts. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder itself is characterized by obsessive thoughts that produce anxiety. These thoughts are temporarily quelled by compulsive repetition of certain behaviors. In this way, when the habitual action equals harmful sexual activity, sex addiction can be tangled up in OCD symptoms. Often, an irrational feeling of doom presides over the obsessive thinker, threatening vague or specific discomfort if the compulsive behaviors are not carried out.
A Few Words on Sex Addiction Variants
Whether instigated by OCD or not, sex addiction represents an ongoing mental preoccupation from which sufferers find little relief. There are different varieties of sex addiction, and it may be surprising to learn that they do not all deal directly with literal intercourse. Highly educated, introverted men are, for instance, more likely to have digital sex addictions characterized by the obsessive viewership of internet porn. By now, many sex addicts have developed unhealthy early relationships with sexual behavior through their computers. The advent of free, privately accessible pornography has become a questionable enterprise in at least this way.
Alternatively, sex addiction may take the form of what is known as a “paraphilia,” in which the sufferer is aroused by objects or actions considered unconventional or not explicitly sexual. Fetishes for inanimate objects, like shoes, can amount to a paraphilia, though this preference does not itself constitute a sex addiction. Only when the individual is preoccupied or obsessed with the fetishized item, usually to a dysfunctional degree, does it begin to qualify for addiction. The paraphilia category can also include acts somewhat peripheral to sex, like exhibitionism (exposing oneself in a sexual way) or voyeurism (witnessing someone else’s sexual exposure).
Dysfunction and Symptoms: Diagnosing Sex Addiction
What constitutes a dysfunction? Three common benchmarks for disorders in psychology are as follows:
- Dysfunction in career efforts
- Dysfunction in social efforts
- Significant personal distress
Here, dysfunction refers to consistent interference with success in the desired category (resulting specifically from the examined behaviors). In the context of sex addiction, career dysfunction may include frequent lateness to work due to an intense desire to perform sex acts, or the failure to fulfill work responsibilities due to the pursuit of sexual gratification. Similarly, in the social arena, a sex addict may have a dysfunctional social life because he or she cannot forestall viewing porn for long enough to properly socialize, or because his or her relationships always end prematurely with the addict inevitably cheating on the partner.
Personal distress may be the result of desiring freedom from sex habits, but feeling trapped. It may result from the negative impact of sex habits on the previously mentioned categories of career and social life. If even one of these three benchmarks is a noticeable presence in an individual’s sex life, it may be time for professional intervention.
Some frequently observed symptoms of sexual addictions include:
- Multiple one-night stands
- Multiple affairs
- Compulsive masturbation
- Viewing pornographic pictures or videos
- Contact with prostitutes
- Making obscene phone calls
Some of these behaviors, such as one-night stands and viewing porn, are not necessarily indicative of a psychological problem. Affairs, though usually indicative of underlying marital health issues, are also not necessarily symptomatic of addiction. Contact with prostitutes could be better understood in some cases as a simple matter of loneliness or a general bias for risky behavior. But if the above-bulleted symptoms add up, or if any of them occur in excess, especially to the point of qualifying for some of the three benchmarks mentioned above, sex addiction may be the most fitting explanation.
Sex Addiction and Pornography
One of the adverse consequences of digital life in the 21st Century is internet porn. Regardless of moral stances on porn itself, the psychology of porn consumption is an unsettling factor of undeniable influence in the world of sex addiction. Porn viewers do not need to put forth the same efforts required of their distant evolutionary ancestors in order to enjoy sexual gratification.
While masturbation is a normal sexual behavior, viewing porn activates the same centers of the brain that are triggered during instances of real sexual intercourse. The result is that pornography essentially feels like real sex to the human brain insofar as neural reward systems are concerned. This is especially true of the more visually triggered male audience, whose minds are overloaded by porn’s artificial harem of incredible diversity and specificity.
Porn offers a sexual experience that is not remotely something for which the brain’s pleasure and reward faculties are prepared. Even just a thousand years ago, imagine the sex lives of rural townsfolk. Free internet porn can be understood as the antithesis of such a rustic scenario.
Where our ancestors had the option of selecting mates from generally small candidate pools, and were often required to undertake social and/or legal action to even hope for intercourse, the modern person may instead press a button for prompt access to his or her precise desires, right down to the physical features, location, and attitudes of the actors.
Just as a more interpersonal sex addiction can be ruinous to an individual’s life, so can porn. In fact, where many otherwise healthy people would not suffer damaging sexual compulsions, porn creates an environment ripe for the cultivation of addicted men and women. Pleasure that is both easy and intense should always be carefully examined for repercussive potential.
Treatment for Sex Addiction
At SCAC, we take sex addiction very seriously. Our residential treatment methods allow inpatients to recover from their destructive behavioral patterns with the unintrusive calm of an environment that respects common sex addiction vulnerabilities. While the outside world is rife with imagery and other content that can easily cause one’s brain to begin the journey to yet another dangerous or compulsive sex act, our addiction center emphasizes peaceful isolation from these stimuli.
Our professional mental health counselors are at the ready 24/7 with guidance, an open mind, and an open heart. The world has a bad habit of condemning sex addicts in a way that is hurtful and personal. Words like “pervert” are unhelpful and drive addicts further into a negative spiral that they may attempt to self-medicate with more damaging sexual behaviors. We believe in the power of psychotherapy, including a strong emphasis on the behavior and its foundational thought patterns.
Medications are helpful to many recovering addicts, particularly selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors, or SSRIs. These medications are often used as antidepressants, working by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter — a chemical released between neurons into the synapse, or space between neurons. When a neuron receives a neurotransmitter, it releases its own chemical messenger to adjacent neurons in a particular pattern. Neurotransmitter material that fails to be transferred in this way is reabsorbed by the releasing neuron in a process known as “reuptake.”
SSRIs work by inhibiting the serotonin reuptake process, allowing more serotonin to remain in the synapse and potentially transfer to adjacent neurons. This can ultimately result in the proliferation of serotonin in brains that struggle to produce it or otherwise fail to effectively move it. With greater serotonin levels, depressed brains may enjoy improved senses of well being or happiness, two important experiences linked to serotonin. Sex addicts may also benefit through relief from anxiety, depression, or other symptoms that serotonin can improve.
SSRIs do feature sexual side effects that tend to inhibit sex drive or prevent orgasm, though, in the case of sex addiction, this can be a temporary relief from physical urges, allowing clear mental space for the adoption of new habits.
With the right cognitive tools and positive regard by our caring staff, addicts have the power to rebuild destructive neural patterning and replace it with new neural connections grounded in a commitment to change, an understanding of who they are, and an awareness of how to manage their old habits in healthy ways. Often, there are underlying reasons that addicts come to rely on a destructive pleasure. These reasons could be based in childhood, trauma, grief, genetics, or some combination of these and other factors. Knowing the self and knowing the addiction are essential tools in the possession of any addict who has regained control of his or her life. We call these individuals “transformations.”
If you or a loved one are suffering from addictions or similar damaging behavioral patterns, do not hesitate to contact us. SCAC’s mission is to provide a stable, loving, and caring environment that will help our clients obtain the goal of long-term recovery. We rescue and transform addicts, releasing the happier, confident person waiting within every addict to be released into the world. Let the world see who you or your loved ones really are. Let SCAC help.
Contact us today!
If you or you’re loved one is in need of help with addiction, contact us today. Our team is standing by, ready and willing to talk about your problems, and help you find the best solution.