Sex Addiction – Understanding These Compulsive Sexual Behavior

what is sex addiction

Sex addiction is perhaps best described by Doctor Michael Herkov. They describe it as a progressive intimacy disorder.

It is just like any other addiction. Characteristics of sex addiction can include compulsive sexual acts. In fact, these thoughts progress into something negative.

Just as a heroin addict chases a substance-induced high, sex addicts are bingeing on chemicals, in this case, their own hormones.

Alexandra Katehakis

She is a certified sex addiction therapist in Los Angeles. She is also the author of Erotic Intelligence – Igniting Hot Healthy Sex After Recovery from Sex Addiction

Synonyms: Compulsive sexual behavior (CSB), Hypersexuality, Excessive sexuality, Problematic sexual behavior, Nymphomania.

Sex Addiction is Real

Some therapists refer to sex addiction simply as Hypersexuality. However, sex can be an addiction of cyclical nature. This is when a person is very obsessed with sexual thoughts and actions. It it to the point that interferes with their daily lives. It include their ability to have meaningful relationships or work properly. Sometimes, suffering from withdrawal symptoms when going without sex for ‘’too long’’.

Understanding the Cycle

There is a book, Out of the Shadows, written by Licensed Clinical Social Worker Rob Weiss. He breaks down the cycle of sex addiction into six stages, namely:

Triggers

Shame, blame, and guilt. Emotional and physical discomfort are both ‘’pain agents’’ that act as triggers. Negative triggers include loneliness, stress, depression, anxiety, boredom. In fact, these are all things that will cause someone to try and avoid, escape, and disassociate.

Strangely enough, positive triggers could also occur. For instance, wanting to celebrate something by acting out sexually.

Fantasy

After a trigger, a sex addict will repeatedly turn to their key coping mechanism. In this case, it is a sexual fantasy. This includes memories of how much they had enjoyed sexual encounters in the past. In addition, they will anticipate how enjoyable future sexual encounters will be.

At this point in the cycle, they view every person that the sex addict encounters as a sexual object.

Ritualization

Ritualization happens when fantasy heads toward reality. In Defining and Understanding the Cycle of Sexual Addiction, Weiss explains this. In addiction terms, this stage is traditionally known as the bubble. This is when the addicts get lost in planning and preparation of his or her next encounter.

This stage includes watching porn excessively. Actually, they might plan a trip where they can act out without restraint. Otherwise, they may drive to a popular place where sex workers assemble. This is all preparation, not acting out.

Release (acting out)

This is the physical, sexual act, whether it be solo or with another person/people. This is also the stage where orgasm is not, like in normal circumstances, a good thing. It’s the point where they toss the addict back into the real world.

The release is where the ‘’high’’ ends. Of course, this is why sex addicts would typically try to stretch out the ritualization stage. Also, they will do this for as long as possible.

Numbing

After acting out, a sex addict will attempt to distance him- or herself emotionally. In addition, they will try to justify their behavior. This is the stage where denial sets in, as a protective measure against stage six.

Despair – shame, blame or guilt

Sometimes, a sex addict will realize how their behavior negatively affected themselves. This realization may include the lives of those around them. After, they are flung back into reality. This is with all the discomforts that triggered the process in the first place. As a result, they will usually feel a form of shame or guilt.

Symptoms of Sex Addiction

Emotional

  • Becoming involved with people easily;
  • Staying in unhealthy relationships just for sex;
  • Jumping between relationships;
  • Sexualizing other feelings such as loneliness, guilt or fear

Physical

  • Feeling unable to move due to sexual obsessions;
  • Repeated, compulsive seeking for sexual activity;
  • Participating in dangerous sexual activity, which can be harmful to oneself and others;
  • Withdrawal when going without sex for too long;
  • Tolerance to sex, needing more sex to feel satisfied

Dangers of Sex Addiction

Sexual Transmitted Diseases or Infections

Sexual health is a primary fear when it comes to dealing with sex addiction. The risk of contracting STDs or STIs are much higher with risky sexual behavior. For instance, it can be unsafe sex with a large number of different people.

Self-worth and Self Esteem

Many sex addicts have reported reduced feelings of self-worth and self-respect. Eventually, this leads to a complete loss of self-esteem.

Lack of Intimacy

Sex addicts are often unable to form and sustain relationships and close friendships. Actually, this is due to their lack of self-esteem and feeling of guilt and shame. In many cases, sex addicts report to being afraid that they will face judgement or rejection. This is if someone were to find out who they are.

Inability to Nurture Healthy Relationships

Many respondents admitted to feeling lonely. This is according to Patrick Carnes breakthrough study on sex addiction. In most cases, they were unable to foster healthy relationships. For this reason, they feel that they are lying to friends about living two separate lives. One of which they feel they must hide from the outside world.

Legal Issues

Of course, not all sexual behavior is natural and consensual. 58% of people with sex addiction have participated in illegal sexual behavior. This is according to a National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity study.

Co-occurrence

More than 80% of sex addicts have simultaneous addictions to either substance, gambling, or eating disorders.

Sex Addiction and the Brain

There was a study that observed the brain activity of 19 men. They were having compulsive sexual behavior. All of it was while they were watching either non-sexual or sexually explicit videos. At this time, it indicated that it activated certain areas of the brain. In fact, it was more than in men of similar age without the disorder.

The study showed similarities of the brain activity of someone with a drug addiction. This is according to the researchers from the University of Cambridge. However, these comparisons were theoretical. Therefore, they weren’t weighed up against one another directly during the study.

Co-Occurring Substance Abuse

Co-Occurring Substance AbuseAs previously mentioned, 83% of sex addicts also suffer from another addiction. Usually, it can be substance abuse, an eating disorder, or a gambling addiction. During treatment, they will treat sex addiction and substance abuse concurrently. It’s because both addictions often come from the same set of acts and underlying issues.

There could be many reasons for this. One of them is that someone with a sex addiction might need to be drunk of high. This is for them to even want to engage in some of their compulsive sexual behavior. Normally, this might be uncharacteristic for them. One addiction could also be a mechanism to cope with the other. Therefore, it might mask the shame, guilt, or pain of the other addiction.

Addictions often feed into one another. This is because addicts would sometimes use one addiction to dismiss or hide the other. For instance, denying a sex addiction or saying that the behavior only takes place when drunk.

On the other hand, addictions can also intensify each other. For instance, if a person only takes part in sexually addictive behavior when high or drunk.

Dealing with Sex Addiction

Three personal competencies should be properly developed by the sex addict. This will have to include his or her loved ones to overcome a sex addiction.

Honesty

It is imperative to be open and honest about sex addiction. In fact, a person must do it for both partner and oneself. Furthermore, do not lie about sexual activities. First, don’t rationalize addictive behavior. Second, it is important not to lie about the place one is and what is doing there. Third, don’t lie about whether or not one has had sex with someone.

For example, a person needs to accept the fact of having a sex addiction in order to deal with it. Above all, don’t lie to a partner about sexual activity. It could could place them in danger of contracting a STD or Infection or worse, HIV or AIDS.

Effort

To overcome a sex addiction, one must place effort into the exercise. Is someone helping a loved one overcome sex addiction? In this case, approaches based on scare, shame or guilt will not help. In fact, it will just make them back up even more.

Most sex addicts are already dealing with feelings of guilt and shame. Therefore, humiliating them will have the opposite effect from the target goals. As a result, one may need to adopt another approach.

Proper advice

Telling someone with sex addiction to “just stop behave in that way” is like telling someone with depression to stop being sad. A sex addiction can’t be ‘treated’ by simple repression. Therefore, they need proper guidance and advice from a professional to be overcome.

Sex Addiction Treatment: Things To Know

The exact cause is still not clear. However, they suggest a complex association between abnormal brain functions. Also, it could be some exposure to the risk factors. A person with a history of sex or substance abuse or problems with handling stress may be at a greater risk. Similarly, emotional instability, impulsivity, and introvert nature are some personality traits. As a result, they may lead to abnormal sexual involvement.

For these reasons, there is no specific medical approach to treating it. Unfortunately, a “cure” may not always be possible. Nonetheless, available sex addiction treatment approaches aim to:

  • Lower the urges and sex drive.
  • Reduce the levels of testosterone in the body. It is a male sex hormone that enhances sexual arousal.
  • Identify the triggers. Then, change their response to any of them.
  • Save them from legal charges and make them more sociable.

Here are some approaches to treating sex addiction.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to change the response to a trigger. The therapist teaches the ways to identify the triggers first. Then, they help one take a practical approach to change the attitude towards the problem. As a result, a person becomes more inclined towards solving it.
  • Emotional therapy to help them adapt to the urges. Is there a connection between the emotions and the resultant behavior? Here, one can learn to identify them. They also call it emotion-focused therapy.
  • Mindfulness to help recognize one’s present connections. They exist between external stimuli and internal feelings. Various studies have shown it to be effective in treating many mental illnesses. They include depression and anxiety. of course, it may help to keep the urges in check.

Key Takeaways

No doubt, the therapies mentioned above are helpful in managing the symptoms. These are in mild the cases of sex addiction. Nonetheless, they might be of little use if a case is severe. Similarly, the response to a sex addiction treatment may differ quite a lot from the next person.

Self-medication is dangerous and may pose severe health risks to a person. Never try to treat addiction by onself, especially if it includes medications.

What Medications Might Help To Treat Sex Addiction?

Currently, the US FDA does not approve any medication specifically to treat it. However, a doctor may still prescribe some medications. In fact, this approach relies largely on their experience and clinical judgment.  Currently, there are many medications that might help to treat sex addiction.  This is in addition to alternative therapies. They include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and hormonal therapies.

  • Depression-treating medications: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to reduce certain conditions. They include the temptations and control obsessive thoughts. For example, fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), fluvoxamine (Luvox), and escitalopram (Lexapro).
  • Mood-stabilizing agents to manage the symptoms. In fact, they might be beneficial. This is if sex addiction has some connections with a mental disorder. In this case, they call it a manic-depressive disorder. Examples include carbamazepine (Tegretol), divalproex sodium (Depakote), and lamotrigine (Lamictal).
  • Naltrexone to reduce sex drive or compulsions. Indeed, it may be more effective in treating internet sex addiction. This is according to a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
  • Hormonal therapy to lower testosterone levels in the blood. That way, they help to lower sex drive and desire. However, this is a temporary sex addiction treatment. Once a person stops the medication, it will restore testosterone levels — for example, cyproterone acetate.

The Bottom Line

  • Before using any of the medications, learn enough about them. Know the expectations and potential side effects.
  • Severe cases of sex addiction require an inpatient treatment.
  • The success of sex addiction treatment has a very high variability. For this reason, what works for others may bring little relief.
  • Regarding the medications, a doctor may implement a trial and error strategy. It is because no single medication has an evident advantage over another.
Any medication use should be under doctor’s supervision. The only doctor can prescribe drugs; patients should not do it by themself. Self-prescription can damage one’s health and lead to unpredictable reactions.

What To Expect From Sex Addiction Treatment

In many cases, early and effective sex addiction treatment results in a full recovery. However, success depends on a few underlying factors. They include co-occurrence of other mental illnesses. It can include the degree and type of addiction, and specific addiction-related behaviors.

The determinants of the success may also include:

  • Exposure to the tempting situation: It can be a workplace. Higher the exposure, lower the degree of treatment success.
  • Personality traits: There are some factors that may negatively impact treatment outcomes. They include a lack of empathy, strong sexual fantasies, and violent sexual behavior

Choosing the Right Rehab

Sometimes, sex addiction is likely to be concurrent with other addictions. Therefore, it is important to do proper research about rehabilitation centers. Also, find out the method they apply when it comes to sex addiction treatment.

Look for a center that offers gender-specific treatments. Also, top it off with gender-separate treatment and inpatient living environments. The rehab center must also have facilities to treat co-occurring substance abuse. Also, they should have a staff equipped to treat the following:

Therapists must be ready to deal with the deeper underlying issues. That way, we may find out what has caused the sex addiction in the first place. Also, we can discover the embarrassing sexual secrets. And we can unblock the shame associated with them. Also, we can heal the harm caused to family and wounded relationships.

What Is Sex Addiction Relapse?

Sex addiction relapse refers to a situation when the addicts have a moment of weakness. As a result, they fall back into the previous stage of addiction. This may occur after a period of voluntary abstinence. While some patients may leave the treatment and make a comeback. Indeed, the effects can be quite widespread. It hits hard on the treatment efforts. Furthermore, it may also dent their self-confidence.

How It Is Different From A Lapse?

Lapse and relapse are two very different phenomena. The earlier term represents just a single event of getting back to an addiction. On the other, relapse is more repetitive in nature. In fact, sex addiction relapse is a part of a cycle that runs from the beginning of an addiction to a full recovery.

Does Withdrawal Cause Sex Addiction Relapse?

In fact, sex addiction does not cause unbearable physical symptoms. This is in contrast to other forms of addiction. Actually, the problems sit somewhere deep inside the brain. For this reason, no one can exactly tell if withdrawal causes a relapse.

What Are The Signs Of Sex Addiction Relapse Or Withdrawal?

The signs of sex addiction relapse may not always be easy to catch. Nevertheless, staying away from the addiction causes a set of a few visible signs. These are due to the withdrawal.

The signs of sex addiction withdrawal are:

  • Increased appetite
  • Heavy smoking
  • Weight gain

Notably, they occur during the prolonged abstinence or during the initial days.

Key Takeaways

Tracking the signs in the loved ones may not be an easy thing to do. The signs above make a good starting point. In addition, pay close attention to other probable indicators. They may include changes in behavior. They may include sliding performances at the college or the office as well.

Also, notice their spending behavior and addiction to other substances.

What One Can Do

Identify the triggers. Then, stay away from them. No, this does not mean shutting down a laptop or giving up sexual fantasies forever.

Here are some tried and tested strategies that may help.

  • Fall in a meaningful relation: A relation defined by the depth of intimacy is key to making one happy. No doubt, sex is indispensable to a healthy relation. Nevertheless, it should not rely on just physical attachments. Make sure not to put sex at the top of a priority list.
  • Treat the potential underlying causes: Do one has a history or a current mental health issue? Then, seek medical treatment right away. It will largely help to tame urges.
  • Give up another addiction (if any): Essentially, this is never as easy as said. But seeking timely help from an expert can turn things around.
  • Set limits for sex-related activities. As a matter of fact, no one knows one’s limits better than a person onself. Others can just guess it. Therefore, delve in some soul-searching. Then work out a strategy to decide what’s normal.
  • Stay committed to the goal. A setback does not necessarily indicate failure of the treatment plan. Similarly, it does not mean one has problems with self-control or impulsivity. Do not lose the sight of the ultimate goal. Stick to the treatment and do not hold back when encounter any issue.

Understand that sex addiction relapse is not unusual. In fact, it can happen with any other form of addiction too. A slip, in no way, is a dead end on the road to recovery.

When To Seek Professional Help?

The journey from relapse to a full-blown addiction takes no more than a few weeks or months. Therefore, watch the symptoms. Are they getting worse or do not respond to the current medical interventions? Then, talk to a doctor immediately.

Revealing sexual health problems may be tough to vocalize. However, seeking help is indispensable to obtaining better outcomes.

No one is alone in the war against addiction. Family members, doctors, and addiction experts are always by a patient’s side.

Take Note

In some cases, sexually addictive behavior spirals beyond hours of sex acts. These include pornography phone sex, compulsive masturbation, and online sex services. This does not mean all sex addicts become sex offenders. In this case, they may not take part in illegal activities. These include voyeurism, obscene phone calls, molestation, exhibitionism, or rape.

It is also important to remember this. Just because someone has a high libido, doesn’t mean that they are a sex addict.

View Sources
  1. https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Call-Love-Recovery-Addiction/dp/0553351389
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18241634

Comments

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  • Emilio Hernandez
    Rob Weiss has written several books on sexual addiction but it is Patrick Carnes who wrote “Out of the Shadows”.
  • Jacob Rakosa
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