When a person is overwhelmed with preoccupations, obsessions, and/or compulsions to engage in sexual activity, it is likely that that individual is battling an addiction to sex. For many individuals addicted to sex, the overpowering urges for sexual stimulation or contact are acted upon and can result in a number of devastating effects that have the capacity to affect the addict and close loved ones alike. Depending on the severity of a person’s sex addiction, the resulting effects can disrupt functioning in occupational settings, create discord within relationships, and expose addicts to diseases and infections if proper precautions are not taken. For many individuals with such an addiction, sexual compulsions are given in to and often escalate despite attempts to manage compulsions and any consequences that occur as a result.
In many cases, those addicted to sex are hesitant to seek treatment for their addiction as these individuals often experience feelings of shame and/or guilt because of their sexual thoughts and behaviors. However, a key thing to know is that there is help available that can restore healthy functioning to the lives of those addicted to sex; help that can assist these people in managing their addiction and lead happy, productive lives.
It is estimated that nearly 12 million people in the United States suffer from an addiction to sex. Researchers expect this number to increase due to the fact that sexually explicit content is readily available on the internet. Furthermore, these same researchers estimate that this number is actually higher because there are a number of individuals addicted to sex that do not report their addiction due to the stigma associated with this type of concern.
Causes for Sex Addiction
Many experts in the field of mental health agree that there can be several causes for the development of a sex addiction. Much research has concluded that many individuals addicted to sex possess a history of abuse or trauma that could cause them to act out in sexually explicit ways in the future. However, the most common cause explained in studies done on sex addiction state that individuals become addicted to sex in the same manner that people become addicted to drugs, alcohol, and/or food.
Through research, it was realized that the consumption of drugs, alcohol, certain foods, and engaging in sex all stimulate the same sections of the brain that trigger the release of dopamine. When dopamine is released in large quantities, a person will experience pleasurable sensations. Should an individual lack the skills needed to manage impulses and urges to engage in certain behaviors, that person will partake in activities that trigger the release of dopamine in order to experience the desired effects. For many, such activities can include regular, and sometimes risky, sexual behaviors that could ultimately turn into an addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction
The signs and symptoms that may be displayed by an individual who is struggling with an addiction to sex will not only vary from person to person, but some will inevitably be more apparent than others. The following are possible examples of various types of symptoms that may be experienced by a person who has a sex addiction and could warrant the need for professional intervention:
- Purchasing and possibly hiding sexually explicit content from friends and loved ones
- Excessively using pornography
- Making explicit or obscene phone calls to others
- Frequent masturbation
- Having multiple extramarital affairs
- Regular use of escorts or prostitutes
- Frequently attending strip clubs
- Engaging in cybersex or phone sex
- Displaying sexually offensive behaviors to others / engaging in sexual harassment
- Partaking in risky sexual behaviors
- Having anonymous sex with others
- Presence of sexually transmitted diseases or infections due to unprotected sex
- Preoccupation with thoughts that are sexual in nature
- Obsessions with sexual activity
- Poor impulse control
- Inept decision-making
- Euphoria when anticipating or engaged in sexual activity
- Feelings of guilt or shame following sexual encounters
- Depressed mood
- Oscillating moods
Treatment for Sex Addiction
Should an addiction to sex become long-standing, a person battling such an addiction will likely experience a number of adverse consequences as a result. Those who are married and addicted to sex have a high risk for discord with their spouses, as the compulsion to engage in sexual activity could lead a person to engage in extramarital affairs with others. Financial problems are also common among sex addicts as a great deal of money is often spent on subscriptions for sexually explicit materials and sexual exploits. With regards to a person’s mental health, depression and anxiety are common among addicts as the intense feelings of guilt, shame, and worry are known to trigger symptoms of such conditions. Additionally, substance abuse is prevalent among those with a sex addiction as drugs and/or alcohol is often utilized during sexual exploits or taken as a means of coping with a depressed mood or anxious feelings. Lastly, those who have an addiction to sex have an increased risk for exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and infections, especially if these individual do not use condoms or other methods for preventing such health concerns.
In order to successfully overcome a sex addiction, an individual must seek treatment. One of the most effective treatment options in existence that can effectively treat individuals with such an addiction is residential treatment. Within this type of care, a person can step away from the stressors and triggers of everyday life and focus strictly on healing. Professionals who are expertly-trained in assisting addicts in developing the skills and tools needed to manage urges and compulsions are readily available to offer guidance and support. These same professionals also play an integral role in helping those addicted to sex understand why and how they have come to develop this type of addiction. Furthermore, if there are any co-occurring mental health conditions or chemical dependency concerns that are taking place at the same time, residential treatment can care for these needs as well. By engaging in residential treatment for a sex addiction, individuals grappling with this type of concern can come to realize the happy, healthy, and productive life they deserve to be living.