The notion that someone has sex addiction is often greeted with disbelief, disdain and even amusement. It is a common misconception that sex addicts are merely looking for an excuse to explain their sexual behaviour rather than admitting that they are weak-willed and submit too easily to urges that everyone feels. The fact is, however, that for many people sex addiction is very real and has a huge negative impact on their lives.
Sex addiction: the debate
The number of people said to be suffering from sex addiction is not known. However, it is estimated that, in the United States, anywhere from 12 million to 30 million might be affected to some degree, which strongly suggests that the sex addiction phenomenon has a basis in fact – despite the views of the doubters.
If you are one of them and have doubts about the existence of sex addiction as a genuine disorder, then you are not alone. Even in informed scientific circles there is some argument about whether or not sex addiction should be classified as a mental disorder. Indeed, the latest version of the American Psychiatric Association’s handbook DSM-5 does not include sex addiction in its list if new disorders; it does, however, include problems such as hoarding and binge eating.
Also, recent tests on brain activity show that sex addicts do not experience the patterns of brain waves usually associated with addiction. Instead, the studies suggest that contrary to earlier findings, rather than being a mental disorder per se, sex addiction could simply be a result of extreme desire.
However, you should not be misled by the debate – sex addiction is a real condition that can and should be treated. The fact is that much more research needs to be done to establish its true nature. It is only in recent years that the existence of sex addiction has been acknowledged, sexual behaviour being a particularly sensitive issue, involving shame, embarrassment and, like most addictions, denial. And remember, it is not all that long ago that problems like alcohol and substance abuse and dependence were dismissed as the result of character weakness. Yet these are very real problems and we now know that these are genuine disorders and that genetic and social factors play a role in their occurrence.
Who is susceptible to sex addiction?
As yet, researchers may not have found a physiological cause for sex addiction (some medications have proved effective in treatment, which suggests the possibility of a chemical abnormality in the brain), but there are factors that appear to increase the likelihood of someone falling victim. Childhood experiences are among the most important influences and, in simple terms, include:
- Lack of good role models.
- Feelings of isolation.
- Belief that sex is an unhealthy activity.
- Early exposure to sex.
- Over-bearing or controlling parents.
- A background of abuse or neglect.
- A family history of addiction or substance abuse.
The signs of sex addiction
Sex is a normal part of being human; what differentiates normal behaviour from sex addiction, however, is the element of compulsion. Like other addictions, sex addiction serves to give the sufferer a “high” and is a diversion from unpleasant feelings and stress. It also leads to withdrawal if the desire is not satiated. Following the act, sufferers feel remorse but the behaviour escalates, despite attempts to stop, and often results in negative consequences in relationships, employment and social interaction.
Sex addiction is manifested in a number of ways, including:
- Secretive behaviour.
- Frequent visits to strip clubs, massage parlours and shops selling pornography.
- Use of prostitutes or escorts.
- Desire for increasingly exotic sex.
- Reckless and unsafe sexual practices, like unprotected sex with numerous partners.
- Increasing demand for sex.
- Ignoring the consequences of aberrant sexual behaviour.
Help is available for those suffering from sex addiction. Treatment is usually centred on therapy and includes group work, often with the sufferer’s spouse or partner. The aim is not only to establish sexual sobriety but also to re-establish a trusting relationship.