Sex is a natural act and one that is enjoyed by most people. It can bring two individuals together intimately and it can create life. However, for some, sex can become an addiction. Having said that, it must be stressed that enjoying sex or having a high sex drive does not mean having an addiction. Rather, a sex addiction is classed as (according to relationship counselling service Relate) ‘any sexual activity that feels out of control’. How sex addiction affects people can differ from one person to the next. For some it can involve unhealthy sexual relations with a partner, while for another it can involve, for example, the excessive use of pornography.
In general, an addiction is any pattern of behaviour that causes negative consequences for the individual or affects his or her day-to-day life. So if your sexual activity is harming your everyday life, you could need help to overcome. How sex addiction impacts your life can vary hugely. But if sexual activity or thoughts are beginning to crowd out everything else in your life, it is probably time to reach out for help.
How Sex Addiction Manifests
There are many different forms of sex addiction, but all involve an unhealthy obsession with a particular sexual activity. Those who are affected often find that sex dominates their thoughts and actions. It typically gets to the point where these unhealthy thoughts and actions start to interfere with other activities and interactions with other people.
While the following sexual activities are not a problem in and of themselves, when they become excessive and begin to interfere with a person’s daily life, they can become an addiction:
- sexual fantasy
- sex with multiple partners
- voyeurism or exhibitionism
- using sex chat lines
- cyber sex
- visiting prostitutes
- sadistic or masochistic sexual behaviours
Engaging in any of the above does not necessarily constitute a sex addiction; they are only a problem if they are out of your control. For example, if you like to watch pornography but find that once you start watching you are unable to stop, even when you have other things to do, you could have a problem that requires help.
Similarly, if you are spending all your money on internet or phone sex lines to the detriment of other financial responsibilities, you might require professional help to get your life back on track.
Could You Have a Sex Addiction?
If you are struggling to control your sexual activity, you probably have a problem that requires treatment. If you are unable to stop, despite your sexual activity leaving you feeling ashamed, guilty, or depressed, it is likely that you are in trouble. Below are some of the signs that might indicate a sex addiction:
- Engaging in sex more often and with more partners than you intended
- Being unable to stop thinking about sex to the point where it is having a negative impact on other activities and responsibilities
- Being unable to stop engaging in sexual activity despite knowing that it will have negative consequences
- Being unable to quit or cut back on a specific sexual activity despite wanting to
- Feeling agitated or irritable when unable to engage in a specific sexual activity
- Spending far more time than planned engaging in sexual activity
- Needing to escalate your sexual activity to achieve the desired effects, i.e. watching more graphic forms of pornography or visiting prostitutes more often
- Neglecting family members and friends in favour of engaging in sexual activity.
If you can identify with any of the above, you could have a problem. If you can relate to more than one, then it is worth considering the fact that you need help.
How Sex Addiction Affects Individuals and their Families
There are several types of addiction, but few have such a devastating impact on a marriage as a sex addiction does. The partners of those with sex addictions often feel deeply hurt when discovering the illness. Those who find out that a partner has been engaging in excessive masturbation, pornography or visiting prostitutes will feel hurt and betrayed, and many will also suffer feelings of low self-esteem and low self-worth.
Sex addiction has been the butt of many jokes for decades, with many believing the illness to be a ready-made excuse for those involved in extra-marital affairs. Those affected by this behavioural disorder are often ashamed or embarrassed and unwilling to admit their illness for fear of ridicule and scorn from others.
Nevertheless, a sex addiction can ultimately have a devastating impact on the individual. Those who are affected by this condition often suffer mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, which can stem from their feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. Some will turn to mood-altering chemicals such as alcohol or illegal drugs to self-medicate, which can lead to even more problems with both mental and physical health.
With a sex addiction capable of becoming an obsession, many of those affected will neglect responsibilities at home and at work, which can in turn lead to a decline in personal and work relationships. Some sex addicts find they are unable to hold down their job because of continual absenteeism or poor performance.
Family breakdowns are also common as the sex addict is unable to maintain healthy relationships with others due to his or her obsessive thoughts and actions.
What Causes a Sex Addiction?
Like all other addictions, it is impossible to pinpoint an exact cause of sex addiction for each affected person. There are a range of factors however that are said to contribute to the development of a sex addiction in some individuals.
Genes are known to be a factor in some; for example, you may have a predisposition to sensation-seeking behaviour and may be prone to impulsivity. Early exposure to sexual activity can also contribute to a sex addiction in some people, while mental health problems such as personality disorders, performance anxiety and depression can also cause some individuals to seek solace in sexual activity.
For others, sex addiction can be triggered by traumatic events such as any type of abuse or the death of a loved one. Some may even look to find gratification in unhealthy ways after being rejected by peers or someone in a relationship.
Is Treatment Available for Sex Addiction?
Despite the stigma attached to sex addiction, it is a very real illness, but one that can be treated. If you are a sufferer, there is no need to continue with your addictive behaviour when treatment is available that could help you to overcome your illness.
For most people, a period of abstinence from sexual activity will be required, while various therapies are used to help get to the root cause of the addictive behaviour. It is likely that you will take part in both individual and group therapy sessions to help challenge your negative thought patterns.
You will learn more about your illness and why you became addicted, and you will learn various ways of avoiding a return to addictive behaviour in the future. As part of a rehabilitation programme, it is likely that family therapy will be offered as well. It is important that you and your family members overcome the addiction together.
It is very unlikely that your addiction has not had a negative impact on your family members, so it is important that they are given the chance to deal with any issues that have resulted from the illness. It might also be the case that there are some family issues that contributed to the addiction in the first place and these will need to be addressed also for everyone to move on.
Rehabilitation programmes for sex addiction are available from the NHS, charities, local counsellors, and private clinics. Here at Primrose Lodge, we offer comprehensive programmes to help sex addicts overcome their illness in the shortest amount of time. We have a team of counsellors and therapists with the knowledge and experience required to help you turn your life around. Please contact us today for more information on how sex addiction can be beaten once and for all.