Generally speaking, we all love sex. Although the intensity of desire for the act varies from person to person, for most, sex is a natural act. For others however, sex can become an addiction that leads them down a dangerous path of self-destruction, shame and disease.
According to Web MD, sexual addiction is defined as a person who continues to engage in sexual behaviors that are damaging to them and/or their families. Some examples of these damaging behaviors include:
- A person who spends the majority of their salary on prostitutes.
- An employee who frequents pornographic sites at work, despite warnings that they will lose their job.
- A person who has frequent, unprotected sex with multiple partners.
- A person who freely engages in sex with partners who are known to have HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases despite the possible consequences.
Dr. Lisa Bobby of Exaholics.com, says that sexual addiction is very similar to other addictions such as drugs or alcohol, in that, “(Sex) stimulates the ‘reward centers’ of the brain.” Bobby says that although it is instinct to believe that this behavior is the addict’s fault, to the contrary, it is typically caused by events that occurred during childhood.
In fact, she said that those who were sexually abused as children, grew up in cold and uncaring families or already have a substance abuse issue, have trouble forming healthy connections with others, including healthy sexual relationships.
What are the signs of sexual addiction? According to Bobby, some of the red flags to watch out for include:
- An attempt to change one’s mood through a substance or behavior.
- An obsessive/compulsive quality to the behavior in question.
- An inability to control these impulses even when the consequences for doing so are severe.
What are the emotional and physical drawbacks of sexual addiction? One may think that the only major draw back to sexual addiction is the possibility of contracting a disease, but according to Psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., the issues run much deeper than that. In addition to being at a higher risk for STD’s, Tessina said that sexual addicts are also more vulnerable to being abused and raped and more susceptible to domestic violence, due to the issue of being ‘caught in the act’.
She added that in addition to the physical damage, a person with a sexual addiction lives their life never feeling satisfied. This lack of fulfillment only intensifies their hunger for sex, ultimately interfering with their ability to bond and develop strong relationships with others.
How does sexual addiction affect the significant other and how can they cope? Although sympathy for someone suffering with this addiction is in order, one cannot help but to ponder on the effects the addiction might have on the significant other. Whether one has entered into the sacred bond of marriage or simply committed to a loving, monogamous relationship, sexual addiction can feel more like a betrayal than a medical condition.
According to Sherry Gaba, Psychotherapist and Life Coach at Soba Recovery Center, the partner of a sexual addict can be at great risk for physical and emotional issues as well. In addition to betrayal, Gaba said that most partners also fall victim to anxiety, embarrassment, being subjected to inappropriate behavior, being pressured into unwanted sexual behavior and of course, partners have the added fear of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
Gaba added that although this addiction is a difficult one to endure, unless the partner plans to end the relationship, the only coping method is acceptance. This of course does not mean that the partner should allow the behavior to continue, it does however mean that he or she must accept that it’s an addiction, and support whatever treatment is necessary.
What treatments are available and are the effective? Surprisingly, much like any other addiction, there are several treatments available for sexual addiction. Todd Creager, author of, “The Long Hot Marriage”, listed the following as the most common treatments:
- Individual therapy for the addict.
- Couple’s therapy when there is a significant other involved.
- 12-step programs.
- Group therapy.
- Private sexual addiction programs and therapy.
As with treatment for substance abuse, Creager said that the effectiveness of treatment on sexual addiction is very much reliant on the addict’s personal motivation and support system. Typical treatment programs last a minimum of 6-12 months, with many requiring ongoing sessions in an effort to avoid falling back into old ways.
Is a normal life possible again? With addictions such as alcohol or drugs, it is easy to think that one can be cured through treatment. In addition to the therapy, there is also the simple solution of removing the addicting substance, and anyone who provided it, from one’s life. But what about sex? With sex being such a huge component to a healthy marriage, can one recover from the addiction and still maintain a sex life?
Dr. Williams Lucena, sex therapist at The Brain and Behavioral Institute of South Florida, says yes. Lucena said that sexual addiction is in many ways, quite similar to food addiction; one could certainly not refrain from food forever, and refraining from sex is equally absurd. Lucena said that helping couples introduce sex back into the relationship is part of the therapy, “We need to evaluate the couple’s previous sexual activities. We look to see where they had real intimacy in their sexual encounters.”
Lucena added that although a brief prescription of abstinence is often prescribed in an effort to allow each person to evaluate their own sexual values, concerns, activities and fantasies, the goal of the therapy is to allow sex to become a normal part of life again, while avoiding a codependent role of the spouse.
Regardless of society’s opinion, sexual addiction is a real problem and one that has actually increased in the past decade. Doctors like Lucena contribute this increase to the constant availability of sexual material on our phones, tablets and computers.
Gone are the days of sneaking daddy’s Playboy from under the mattress for a peak, today’s informational highway leads to every sexual twist and turn one can imagine, and even some you’d never want to imagine. Fortunately, the awareness of the addiction has also increased, allowing for faster and better diagnosis and treatment options.
If you or someone you love is suffering from the symptoms of sexual addiction, be sure to seek treatment right away. Not sure where to turn? Take a look at these sites: Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Addiction Help.