Sex is everywhere. It’s suggested on billboards advertising toothpaste, it shows up unsolicited as popup windows while you’re innocently browsing on the internet, it’s sometimes shown explicitly in movies, or it shows up in written form as erotica (a large genre of literature). Everyone supposedly is having good sex or at least trying to have it.
Of course, sex also shows up more obviously in the form of pornography, online sex chat rooms, websites offering covert liaisons that “your wife will never know about,” sex workers offering their services curbside, co-workers strongly hinting at an office affair, and much more. The pervasiveness of sex makes it a subject that’s hard to ignore.
When we speak about sex addiction, it’s a little hard to pin down what that looks like, especially because the picture of a healthy, virile adult portrayed in the media is that of a person with a highly active sex life. At what point, exactly, does it cross over into the territory of addiction?
One of the main indicators of sex addiction is the element of having and pursuing sexual thoughts, urges and activities compulsively. Sex addicts lack self-control and the ability to manage their impulses.
While sex addiction seems to have elements in common with other addictions such as substance addiction, it has not yet been officially recognized as a disorder, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health 5th Edition (DSM-5) does not list sex addiction as a disorder.
This article will primarily focus on the symptoms of sex addiction but will also delve briefly into its causes and available treatments.
Symptoms of Sex Addiction
Addictions are shown by several compulsive behaviors or thoughts centering around a particular object. Sex addictions center around sex, with compulsions in terms of sexual thoughts and actions. The kinds of compulsive behaviors that indicate sex addiction include:
- Multiple one-night stands, often with strangers and without protection
- Serial affairs
- Frequent masturbation
- Frequent voyeurism, even when it’s illegal
- Viewing pornography, and owning substantial amounts of pornographic material
- Engaging in cybersex, whether it’s through chat rooms, phone sex, or other media
- Soliciting the services of escorts, or prostitutes, and engaging in unprotected sex with them
- Pervasive sexual thoughts
- Talking about sex all the time
- Frequently trying or drawing friends into going to strip clubs, or adult stores
- Using sex to feel loved, enlightened, or accepted by others
These kinds of behaviors and thoughts dominate the life of a person with sex addiction, and their life is shaped by them. In other words, sex dominates their lives to the point that other legitimate pursuits often fade into the background.
A person with sex addiction engages these behaviors:
- Despite it derailing their social, personal, or professional life. They can get so caught up with thinking about sex and trying to find avenues for having sex that they can miss work deadlines. They can have multiple extramarital liaisons that destroy their marriage, and they will still feel compelled toward it. They let relationships with friends or family fall apart because they prioritize finding their next sexual partner instead or refuse to give up sexual habits their friends disapprove of.
- Despite contracting sexually transmitted diseases or have unwanted pregnancies due to their risky behavior. Their pursuit of sex will often lead them into risky sexual behaviors, such as having sex with total strangers and neglecting the use of regular precautions such as condoms.
- Despite the financial ruin that they bring upon themselves by spending money on escorts, or by losing their jobs because they are too focused on sexual pursuits or going to jail because they take part in illegalities to satisfy their compulsion.
- Even though they don’t necessarily enjoy the sexual encounters and behaviors in themselves. The compulsion drives a person towards those sexual behaviors, and the normal emotional and relational fulfillment that sex within the context of meaningful relationship brings is absent for them.
- Though it depresses them and makes them feel guilty every time they do it. The sexual behaviors and thoughts leave significant emotional and mental health problems in their wake, but they continue pursuing them regardless.
Causes of Sex Addiction
The causes of sex addiction are unclear and have not been clinically proven. While it is thought that the reward pathways and behaviors of sex addiction mirror those of other addictions, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health, 5th Edition does not yet recognize sex addiction as a disorder.
It has been suggested that a combination of social, psychological, biological, and environmental factors may be responsible for the development of sex addiction. Thus, early exposure to sex and sexual material through abuse may drive hypersexual behavior, as might a combination of a genetic predisposition to sensation-seeking behavior or impulsivity with elevated levels of hormones that affect libido. One may also engage in risky sexual behavior as a coping mechanism and to find love and acceptance from others.Treatment Options
Sex addiction in an individual’s life thrives while it remains hidden from view. As with other forms of addiction, there is hope for recovery by stepping forward into the light and starting to deal with the addiction and its underlying causes. While there are no medications that are indicated specifically for the treatment of sex addiction according to the Food and Drug Administration, some medications such as anti-androgens can be taken to address overwhelming sexual urges.
The most effective way to address sex addiction is through talk therapy, and there are several types of therapies available that can help to address sex addiction. Each of us has a unique life story, and whatever that may be, a counselor is trained to understand the complex feelings and pain that surround sexual addictions and is dedicated to creating a safe and compassionate space for people to deal with sex addiction.
One can look for a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) who has the training and proper skills to address unhealthy and unwanted sexual behaviors and thoughts. Your counselor will offer you support, accountability, and the non-judgmental space you need to find the healing and redemption that are in Jesus Christ and his promises.
Some of the options available as avenues for receiving talk therapy that can serve to address the underlying factors that support and drive a sex addiction, as well as repair some of the damage caused by sex addiction, include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This technique helps people manage harmful thoughts and behaviors by becoming more aware of how their thoughts, feelings, and actions may contribute to depression, and replacing negative perceptions and behaviors with healthy ones.
Individual Therapy: In a private session with a professional therapist, you can address your sexual behavior and other comorbid conditions such as anxiety or depression that you may be dealing with.
Psychodynamic Therapy: This method seeks out the root causes of depression by learning more about yourself and working through your past issues and memories, including your relationships, to arrive at better self-understanding and move beyond feelings of guilt.
Group Therapy: Led by a trained therapist, you and others who are struggling with sex addiction learn coping skills and how to replace negative behaviors and thoughts with positive ones.
12-Step Recovery Programs: This is group therapy that works like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. This is a 12-step program toward recovery geared at sex addicts that helps them to live a life free from addiction.
Couples Therapy: This is aimed at improving communication and trust in a relationship, and to address the concerns and struggles of either the addict or their partner and help to rebuild the relationship where possible.
While therapy is generally helpful, for those wanting to combine the resources of Scripture and prayer with these talk therapy techniques, Christian counseling for sex addiction will help you and your loved ones to discover the issues underlying your addiction, to help with your healing.
Additionally, it will help you to better understand sexual addiction generally, and your situation specifically, creating a space for you to begin connecting with other people in healthy ways, nurturing loving, meaningful, and intimate connections with God and others while forming healthy sexual habits and developing a positive sexual identity.
“Have a Taste”, Courtesy of Wright Brand Bacon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Dancing in the Wilderness”, Courtesy of Scott Broome, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Heart on Window”, Courtesy of Gaelle Marcel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Unmade Bed”, Courtesy of Cassidy Kelley, Unsplash.com, CC0 License