Sex addiction can be conceptualized as compulsive participation despite negative consequences. In addition, this is an emotionally distressing rather than fulfilling behavior. Although not always considered a legitimate diagnosis, sex addiction can have real consequences, including negative effects on relationships and well-being.
What is sex addiction?
The concept of sexual addiction has been considered in many ways. Sex addiction does have many characteristics of clinical addiction. One of these signs is that even if the negative consequences are obvious (or even likely), the person cannot control his behavior.
Contrary to people with healthy sexual desires, people with sex addiction spend a disproportionate amount of time seeking or participating in sexual activities while keeping others secret.
Unless there is some kind of intervention, people with sex addiction will not be able to stop this behavior. Therefore, personal and professional relationships may be affected. If a person cannot control their sexual drive, they may even increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Sex addicts often use sex as a way to escape other emotional and psychological problems, including stress, anxiety, depression, and social isolation.
Not everyone in the medical world believes that sex addiction is an established diagnosis. Therefore, it is not listed as a clinical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Therefore, the diagnostic criteria for sex addiction are usually vague and subjective. However, several defining characteristics common to sex addicts have been proposed:
- Sex controls a person’s life and excludes other activities.
- Sexual activities may be inappropriate and/or risky, and may include exhibitionism, public sex, having sex with prostitutes, or frequent participation in sex clubs.
- Constant desire for sex is often mixed with regret, anxiety, depression, or shame.
- The person engages in other forms of sexual activity alone, including telephone sex, pornographic content, or computer sex.
- The person has sex with multiple partners and/or has an extramarital affair.
- When alone, the person masturbates habitually.
In fact, the most common feature of sex addiction is the vicious circle of hypersexuality and low self-esteem. Although sex can bring short-term relief, the damage to a person’s mental health tends to increase and worsen over time.
A person does not have to engage in extreme or “strange” sexual behaviors to become addicted. Although they know that their actions may cause harm, they cannot stop themselves at all.
There are many theories about the causes of sex addiction. Some of them involve conceptualizing sex addiction as a form of impulse control, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or relationship disorder. They also include the idea that in some people, sexual addiction arises as a result and way of coping with early trauma (including sexual trauma).
In some forms of mental illness (such as bipolar disorder), hypersexuality may be a symptom. In some cases, neurological diseases (such as epilepsy, head injury, or dementia) are known to cause hypersexuality. Certain drugs that affect dopamine may rarely have the same effect.
Sex addiction requires treatment by a medical expert experienced in the field, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or sex therapist. Treatment may vary depending on the underlying cause, but counseling and behavioral therapy are usually performed in an outpatient setting.
If sex addiction is related to anxiety or mood disorders, medications can be included as part of the treatment plan. There are currently no established recommendations on the appropriate use of drugs to treat sexual addiction outside of these clinically classified diseases.
The first point of contact can be the family doctor or the local psychiatric association, both of which can be referred to the appropriate specialist. Marriage therapy may also help.
There are also more and more sex addiction support groups, some of which deal with co-additions (such as sex and drug abuse), while others are based on the 12-step recovery model.