Sex Addiction: What Is It And Is it An Illness That Needs A Cure?
Sex is amazing, right?
It feels good. It burns calories, creates intimacy in a relationship and enables us to procreate. That all sounds pretty great! In most cases having a healthy sex life is a good thing; it's a positive thing. But did you know there can be such a thing as too much sex?
Although it is not officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-05), sexual addiction is a real illness, which people suffer from and often seek to cure. The proper term for the disorder used by doctors and psychologists is Hypersexual Disorder or Compulsive Sexual Disorder. The terms are used to describe someone whose sexual behaviour and needs are so high, so out of control or so compulsive that it becomes detrimental to their life or the lives of others around them.
An example of this would be someone who spends most of their day masturbating or watching porn instead of engaging in normal, everyday things like going to work, spending time with their family or neglecting their responsibilities. Often times, people who suffer from the disorder engage in risky behaviour like getting sexual gratification from prostitutes or escorts, having numerous affairs or even engaging in criminal activities such as soliciting or having sex with minors.
Unfortunately not enough information is available on how many people suffer from the illness. While it is not specific to any one type of sexual orientation, it is generally believed men are more likely to suffer from the disorder than women. There is also no real data available on what causes this disorder and in fact psychologists and professionals continue to debate on whether sex addiction has anything to do with an actual addiction to sex.
Dr. Rory Reid, a psychologist at UCLA has argued that sex addiction isn't necessarily about wanting a lot of sex but rather it is an outlet for individuals suffering from other underlying issues such as anxiety or depression. He further theorized that the addiction could be linked to an abnormality in the dopamine or serotonin levels of the brain. But again, not enough research has been done to state that with certainty.
What research does show is that certain people may be at a higher risk for developing the disorder such as:
- People who already struggle with an alcohol or drug abuse problem
- People who have other mental health issues like bipolar disorder, depression or addictions
- People with Huntington's disease, Epilepsy or Dementia
- Someone taking medication Parkinson's disease (the medication contains dopamine)
- Being the victim of some type abuse (physical, mental or sexual)
Symptoms of Sex Addiction:
Sex addiction can be a tricky illness to pinpoint and diagnose because who doesn't enjoy having sex and lots of it? So how can you tell at what point sexual urges and needs cross the line from being normal and pleasurable to becoming a problem?
The following are some signs and symptoms, which may be experienced by an individual suffering from sex addiction:
- Intense and uncontrollable sexual desire and impulse
- Feeling compelled to engage in sexual behaviour even though there is a lack of sexual pleasure or gratification
- Using sex as a distraction and an escape from reality or personal problems
- Neglecting people, activities and other priorities in order to engage in sex or sexual behaviour
- Spending a reckless amount of money on sex, continuously watching porn etc.
- Feeling emotionally distant with close people including life partner;
- Unable to refrain from harmful sexual practices even when it leads to serious problems such as loss of employment, divorce, being at a higher risk for health issues like HIV, AIDS or STDs.
If any of the symptoms mentioned above seem familiar to you or if you're questioning your sex life, chances are there may be a problem that needs to be addressed. A good way to gather some more information about your situation is to take an online quiz or test. The types of questions asked in these quizzes may provide you with some insight on what you're struggling with.
Please keep in mind the results derived from any type of sex addiction screening test is not a real diagnosis from a health professional. The tests found online simply provide a starting point and can help you better understand your situation or help answer some questions regarding your own sexuality and whether you might be at risk for sex addiction. Based on the results, you can decide whether you should seek additional, professional help. But if you have any concerns at all, a consultation with your doctor is a good idea.
When sex becomes a problem, i.e. takes on addictive properties, it can have a negative impact on the individual's professional life, social life, and their personal relationships. Individuals often suffer financially as well when they obsessively purchase sexual services or pornography. All these negative consequences in turn can lead to poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety and even other addictions (such as alcohol or drugs) as a coping mechanism for the sexual addiction. Like most addictions and disorders, it turns into a vicious cycle and the only way to stop it is to get treatment.
Some might wonder whether it's possible to get help for sexual addiction if it's not recognized as a mental illness.
Yes, it is possible.
How to Cure Sex Addiction - Treatment Options
The first thing to do if you have concerns about being a sex addict is make an appointment with your family doctor. Have an open and honest discussion with them; remember there is no shame in what you're going through. Your doctor may conduct a physical exam to check for other health issues and then refer you to a mental health profession. If you don't have a family doctor, go to your local clinic or the hospital and they will also be able to help you.
Once you meet with the appropriate person they will conduct an evaluation by asking you questions about your life, your sexual behaviour, your relationships etc. Based on the answers you provide, they will evaluate whether:
- You exhibit extreme sexual behaviour and tendencies;
- Your sexual habits are detrimental to you and others;
- You are compulsively preoccupied with sex and sexual activities;
- You have tried to control the negative aspects of your sexual behaviour with little or no success;
- Sex is making you unhappy.
Because sex addiction is not included in the DSM-05, the diagnosis may fall under a different disorder with similar properties. Once a proper diagnosis has been made, you can start being treated.
There is no one sure way of curing sex addiction and treatment can be done at inpatient facilities or outpatient ones and usually involve a mix and match of different methods:
- Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
- Group therapy and self-help groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous (this is similar to the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Program)
- Family Therapy
- Individual one-on-one therapy
- Treatment for other underlying mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder etc.
- Certain types of medications, such as mood stabilizers, and anti-depressants
While certain medications help treat sexual addiction by curbing or diminishing the 'compulsive' aspect of the disorder, psychotherapy has proven to be the most effective and successful treatment method. Recovery is not swift or easy and treatment is an on-going process, but over time and by working closely with their counselor or mental health professional, patients:
- Find non-threatening, healthier outlets for their sexual behaviour;
- Avoid situations where they will be at risk with their addiction for instance a strip club, heavy partying at clubs etc;
- Learn stress management and meditation techniques;
- Have a better understanding of their disorder;
- Are able to delve into the crux of their problems, learn their sexual triggers and how to manage and/or avoid them;
- Through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, the patient learns to replace their negative thoughts and behaviours with positive ones.
Acknowledging there is a problem and asking for help is the first and hardest step. In many cases, an individual may hesitate to seek treatment for sex addiction or even label it as such due to the stigma attached to it. They may be concerned that admitting to a sex addiction will somehow make them feel or turn them into a pervert or a 'sicko'. It is important to remember that suffering from a sexual disorder makes you neither and the sooner you get the help you need, the sooner you can return to a normal life.
People often only seek help or recognize they have a problem when they face a crisis of some sort like losing their partner through a divorce, alienation from family and friends, losing their job, contracting a life-threatening illness etc. But that's a mistake. Don't wait till you hit rock bottom and lose everything that matters to you before getting help. Recovery from an addiction is easier to handle when you have loved ones around you. Family support is always a great help and yields more positive and lasting results.
Sex addiction is like any other addiction- there will be setbacks, relapses and periods of frustrations but the key is to stay focused and determined because you can and will succeed. Remember, the sooner you get help, the sooner you will recover and gain your life back. While waiting to get the help, you need to confide to someone you love and trust. Speaking about your condition openly is the first step to getting better.
If there is nobody in your life you can turn to, look up local hotlines. It's free, it's anonymous and more importantly, they care. Help is always available, you just have to ask for it.
Sources: WebMD, PsychCentral, MayoClinic