Or at least that’s what is estimated in a study or two. Unfortunately, there is no large epidemiological study that would allow us to get a true statistic about how many people suffer from sexual addiction.
So then, what exactly is sex addiction?
Sexual addiction has had many different labels over the years: compulsive sexual behavior, paraphilia-related disorder, sexual impulsivity, hypersexual disorder, etc. All these labels suggest that the history and the causes of this clinical syndrome has something to do with problematic, compulsive sexual behavior. Unfortunately, there is not enough empirical evidence to support any specific factors as the main cause behind sexual addiction.
Sexual addiction is characterized by an increase in risky behaviors, “depression and anxiety, impulsivity, loneliness, low self-worth, and insecure attachment styles.” Does this sound familiar? It should, because many of these are very similar characteristics of addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Is Sexual Addiction Actually a Disorder?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is practically a clinician’s right hand man. The manual is used by therapists, psychologists, clinicians of all backgrounds as a tool to help diagnose almost every disorder out there in a systematic way. Notice how the key word of that last sentence is “almost?” Well, that is because the DSM doesn’t have sexual addiction categorized as a disorder in its lengthy pages.
In a book with over 900 pages, you would think they’d be able to fit in sexual addiction in there. Unfortunately, the truth is, because of the lack of empirical evidence focusing on sexual addiction, it has not been categorized in the DSM.
However, not all hope is lost. Recently, there has been an increase in the research and interest on sexual addiction. There is even a proposed diagnosis for sexual addiction that would allow clinicians to systematically diagnose their patients should they show signs or symptoms of sexual addiction.
In this proposed diagnosis, it is defined as a disorder where a sexual addict would experience an “increased frequency and intensity of sexually motivated fantasies, arousals, urges, and enacted behavior in association with impulsivity component–a maladaptivethe behavioral response with adverse consequences.”
What Exactly Are “Sexual Behaviors”
Sexual behaviors encompass a wide variety of actions and urges. They can emerge in different forms, and some may not necessarily be a physical thing that other people can see, such as thoughts or fantasies. Other forms of sexual addictive behavior may include:
The list is most definitely not an exhaustive list as there are many other forms that sexual behaviors may show up as. As you can even see, many of these sexual behaviors are behaviors that can be seen even in a non-sex addict. However, the main difference is that for a sex addict, these sexual behaviors are excessive, compulsive, or impulsive.
Even now, it is not completely understood why some people develop sexual addiction and others don’t. Some say it is due to brain changes and biochemical developmental differences that causes sexual addiction. Truth is, there just isn’t enough evidence to effectively say that sexual addiction is due to changes in the brain.
What is clear is that sex addicts often have a history of abuse throughout their childhood and often come from dysfunctional, broken homes. The following are all characteristics associated with those who are sex addicts:
Do I Have Sex Addiction?
There have been numerous attempts to define the disorder by researchers and clinicians even as there is no standard official diagnosis in the DSM. Much like other addictions, sexual addiction follows a cyclical pattern where an addict experiences urges and compulsive behaviors that are intense and cause distress or strain on their daily life, showing at least 3 of the following symptoms in a 6 month time period:
It must be noted that sexual addiction is only considered to be sexual addiction if it is not a symptom in and of itself for another disorder. For example, if the addict in question shows signs of substance-use disorder or developmental disorder and the sexual addiction is a symptom of those disorders, they are not a sex addict. A person’s sexual orientation and sociocultural groups must also be taken into account when considering if a person has sexual addiction.
Physical effects of sex addiction
Sexual addicts often experience sleep problems, dysregulation in appetites. Many sexual addicts often suffer from other psychiatric disorders as well. Addicts have a difficult time concentrating and have low productivity levels. They are more at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.
Patrick Carnes’ Survey of Sex Addicts in 1991
In this survey, Carnes had 932 participants answer surveys and questionnaires about their sexual activities, the factors that contributed to their sexual addiction, and the effects that their addiction has had on them.
– 38% of the men and 45% of the women indicated that they had contracted venereal disease, and even moreso, 64% stated that they continued with their risky sexual behaviors even at the risk of disease.
– Sex addicts are usually physically exhausted as they often pursue their sexual activities (59%) and some even continue pursuing sexual activity in the face of physical injury (38%).
– Even with the risk of unwanted pregnancy, 70% of women still continued with sex without using birth control, and 42% of the women surveyed reported that they have experienced unwanted pregnancy.
Mental effects of sex addiction
Sex addiction can have profound psychological effects upon the addict where they experience feelings of shame, inadequacy and emotional distress. Addicts are unable to maintain healthy relationships in their lives and are unable to keep up with family, work, and social engagements which only exacerbate the feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
Often there are co-occurring problems in an addict’s life and they show signs of symptoms of other psychological disorders such as anxiety disorder, depression, substance-use disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Because addicts are acting in such a way that goes against their personal beliefs and values, they experience a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance. Their compulsive sexual behavior is so inconsistent with their values and moral compass that they cause such a sense of distress in sex addicts that addicts are usually left feeling hopeless and emotionally exhausted. They know logically they have to stop, and they do want to stop, but they just can’t seem to do so.
As if the physical effects of sexual addiction weren’t enough, there are also the mental effects that addicts have to contend with just like with any other addiction. Because even though the term ‘sex’ seems to connote only the physical, the mental aspect of sex addiction bears just as large of a weight upon the addict.
You Can Recover and Get Treatment
It’s natural to wonder whether a cure for sexual addiction even exists, especially if you or someone you know is affected by sexual addiction. And the answer is that treatment for sexual addiction is similar to addiction to alcohol or drugs or any other addiction out there. While there is no magical cure, with the right treatment, you can take control of your addiction and wrangle it back into something much more manageable.
The goal of treatment for sexual addiction is not complete abstinence of the behavior in general such as the case with alcohol or drug addiction. It would be wholly unrealistic to expect for patients to give up sex altogether. Not to mention, not many would want to seek treatment if they knew that they would have to give up sex forever.
Instead, treatment focuses on the termination of the addiction part of sexual addiction, not the sex part. In other words, the “termination of compulsive, unhealthy sexual behavior” is the goal. Rather than looking solely at the desire and physical aspects of sexual addiction, it would be pertinent to focus on the excessive preoccupation with sexual thoughts, urges, fantasies and behaviors in order to truly find a systematic approach to a diagnosis for the addiction.
Although the end goal is to stop the compulsion of unhealthy behaviors, most treatment programs do require abstinence from sex for the first phase of treatment. This is to isolate and understand the triggers and emotional cues that often precede sexual compulsions and obsessions because many addicts have trouble distinguishing the healthy behaviors from unhealthy behaviors.
If you or someone you know has sexual addiction, know that treatment is available in a wide variety of ways. There are plenty of therapy strategies designed to fit the individual such as sex therapy, cognitive-behavior therapy, mindfulness training, psychoanalysis etc.
To find out how sex addiction can affect loved ones, and how they can help a person suffering from sex addiction, take a look at this video. To learn more about sexual addiction and how to overcome it.
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