It is becoming an ever increasing question in my office, “Am I a sex addict?”
Often, this question comings from folks who simply like masturbating, enjoy viewing porn and want sex in normal (but high sex drive) way.
Yet, there are some folks who have more than a high (and healthy) sex drive.
What to know about Sexual Addiction
No single one behavior pattern defines sexual addiction. Which makes it a little confusing to diagnose.
The most common unhealthy behaviors of sex addicts include: compulsive masturbation, compulsive use of pornography, compulsive relationships, compulsive desire to create sexual experiences with a sex worker, exhibitionism, obsession with voyeurism and obsession with indecent phone calls (there are a few more but these are the most common).
While erotic energy is core for a healthy human self expression, in some instances, an unhealthy pull for towards sex can create self-defeating behaviors that ruin lives.
The following behavior patterns can indicate the presence of sexual addiction. An actual diagnosis for sexual addiction should always be carried out by a mental health professional.
Individuals who see any of these patterns in their own life, or the life of someone they care about, should seek professional addiction help.
It is not helpful to diagnose yourself or anyone around you.
1. “Acting out” is a pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior. For example:
- Compulsive masturbation
- Compulsive indulging in pornography
- Having chronic affairs that feel out of control
- Obsession with exhibitionism
- Dangerous sexual practices
- Compulsive desire to create experiences with sex workers
- Anonymous or casual sex that puts your health at risk
- Compulsive sexual episodes
- Obsession with voyeurism
2. Experiencing severe consequences due to sexual behavior and an inability to stop despite these adverse consequences.
In Patrick Carnes’ book, Don’t Call It Love, 1991, some of the losses reported by sex addicts include:
- Loss of partner or spouse (40%)
- Severe marital or relationship problems (70%)
- Loss of career opportunities (27%)
- Unwanted pregnancies (40%)
- Abortions (36%)
- Suicide obsession (72%)
- Suicide attempts (17%)
- Exposure to STI & STDs (68%)
3. A persistent and consistent pursuit of self-destructive behavior.
Even understanding that the consequences of their actions will be painful or have dire consequences does not stop addicts from acting out. They often seem to have a willfulness about their actions, and an attitude that says, “I’ll deal with the consequences later.”
4. An ongoing desire, effort or sense that there they need to limit their sexual behavior.
Addicts often try to control their behavior by creating external barriers. For example:
-some move to a new neighborhood or city, hoping that a new environment removed from old affairs will help
-some may think marriage will keep them from acting out
– an exhibitionist might buy a car in which it’s difficult to act out while driving
– attempting to seek control over their behaviors, they might try to immerse themselves in religion, only to find out that, while religious compulsion may soothe their shame, it does not end their acting out
Many go through periods of sexual anorexia during which they allow themselves no sexual expression at all. Such efforts, however, only fuel the addiction.
5. Constant sexual obsession and erotic fantasy as a primary coping strategy.
Through acting out sexually can temporarily relieve addicts’ anxieties, they still find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time in ‘obsession and fantasy’.
By fantasizing, the addict can create a level of arousal. Combined with obsessing, the two behaviors can create a kind of analgesic “fix.” Just as our bodies generate endorphins, such as natural anti-depressants during vigorous exercise, our bodies naturally release peptides when sexually aroused. The molecular construction of these peptides parallels that of opiates like heroin or morphine, but is said to actually be many times more powerful.
6. Regularly increasing the amount of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer sufficiently satisfying.
Sexual addiction is often progressive. While addicts may be able to control themselves for a time, when untreated, their addictive behaviors will return and often quickly escalate to previous levels and beyond.
Some addicts will also add additional acting out behaviors.
Typically, addicts will have three or more behaviors which play a key role in their addiction. For instance: masturbation, affairs, and anonymous sex. In addition, 89% of sex addicts reported regularly “bingeing” to the point of emotional exhaustion.
It is also reported that the emotional pain of withdrawal for sexual addicts can parallel the physical pain experienced by those withdrawing from opiate addiction.
7. Severe mood changes related to sexual activity.
Addicts experience intense mood shifts, often due to the despair and shame of having unwanted sexual experiences.
A sex addict is caught in a crushing cycle of shame-driven and shame-creating behavior. While shame drives the sexual addicts’ actions, it also becomes the unwanted consequence of a few moments of euphoric escape into the sex.
8. Inordinate amounts of time spent obtaining sex, being sexual, and recovering from sexual experiences.
Two sets of activities organize sexual addicts’ days.
- obsessing about sex, time devoted to initiating sex, and actually being sexual.
- time spent dealing with the consequences of their acting out: lying, covering up, shortages of money, problems with their spouse, trouble at work, neglected children, and so on.
9. Neglect of important social, occupational or recreational activities because of unhealthy sexual behaviors.
As more of addicts’ energy becomes focused the sexual addiction, other relationships and activities, family, friends, work, talents and values, suffer and atrophy from neglect.
Often, longer term relationships become challenging and short-term relationships become the norm because of sexual over-extension and intimacy avoidance.
However, sometimes, the desire to preserve an important long-term relationship with a partner or children will act as the catalyst for addicts to admit their problem and seek help.
I want to emphasize again, only a professional should diagnose sexual addiction. If you or someone you love seems to be experiencing some of the above behaviors, reach out to a medical professional.
There are many treatment options varying from inpatient treatment centers, outpatient, therapist, virtual therapist. The most important thing is to begin to seek treatment from reputable professionals.