Sex addiction is a compulsive, out of control , destructive process of addiction which involves any form of sexual activity. The addict will organise their lives around their sexual activities and like the substance abuser will go to any length to get their ‘fix.’
The addict will pursue their sexual activity at a cost to their well-being, relationships, career and social lives. The consequences of sex addiction will also greatly affect the mind of the addict, they will often suffer with depression, anxiety, shame and distorted thinking. The Sexual Recovery Institute reported that
“ Research shows that 70 to 75 percent of sexual addicts report having had suicidal thoughts related to their sexual behaviour patterns.”
Despite these consequences the sex addict is consumed with their addiction and continues the cycle of addictive behaviour.
Like substances sex becomes a ‘high’ during sex feel good chemicals are released. The sex addict has become addicted to these chemicals and will seek more and more to feel that high.
What are the signs and symptoms of sex addiction?
There is no official diagnosis for sex addiction and it is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DVSM).
However behaviours indicative of sex addiction may include:
- compulsive masturbation
- using prostitutes
- having unsafe sex
- sexual exhibitionism
- multiple one night stands and sexual partners
- sexual harassment
- persistent use of pornography
Dr Patrick Carnes a leading expert in the field of sex addiction treatment has defined warning signs that you may be suffering from sex addiction. These warning signs include:
- feeling that your behaviour is out of control
- wanting to stop what you’re doing but feeling unable to despite the disastrous consequences
- needing more and more sexual activity to get the ‘buzz’ you need
- spending large amounts of time planning , engaging in and recovering from sexual activity
- neglecting other areas of your life to sexual activity
Sex addicts will also use sex to avoid difficult feelings. Sex becomes the primary coping mechanism and subsequently this becomes a dependency and way of ‘numbing’ the feelings like substance addictions.
How sex addiction works
In the book “Out of the Shadows” Dr Carnes discusses the cycle of sex addiction. This is a cycle of 4 phases which increases in intensity each time it is repeated:
1- Preoccupation- the addict is consumed with thoughts and plans of acting out sexually.
2- Ritualization- this is the sex addicts routine which leads up to acting out. The ritualization causes the preoccupation to intensify.
3- Compulsive sexual behaviour- the acting out of the preoccupation, the sex addict is unable to control this behaviour.
4- Despair- the feeling of shame and hopelessness that the addict has found themselves in this position again.
Where can you get help for sex addiction?
Most residential addiction treatment settings are able to treat sex addiction. 12 Step Fellowship Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) meetings can also support a sex addict in their recovery.