Sexual addiction is any sexually related compulsive behavior that interferes with an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis. It impacts an estimated 12 million people in the United States. And the numbers are rapidly growing.
The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Psychiatric Disorders defines sex addiction as “stress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used.” It involves “compulsively searching for multiple partners, compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner, compulsive masturbation, compulsive love relationships and compulsive sexuality in a relationship.”
Sexual addicts also engage in high-risk behaviors. Not only do they jeopardize their relationships and careers, they’re at risk for personal injury or contracting HIV.
Sex addicts are seldom sex offenders. In fact, the Sexual Recovery Institute website reports only 20 percent have sexual offenses in their background. Still, the two groups overlap. According to Dr. Michael Herkov of the University of Florida, 71 percent of child molesters and 55 percent of sex offenders are also sex addicts.
Experts are unsure about what causes sexual addictions. But they believe chemical abnormalities or brain changes are involved. Herkov writes, “The brain tells the sex addict that having illicit sex is good the same way it tells others that food is good when they are hungry.”
Sexual abuse is another factor. Up to 80 percent of all sex addicts report being sexually abused as children. The Internet also plays a role. The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health notes that it doesn’t create sexual addicts. But it does provide a form of sexual acting out that can lead to the progression of sexually addictive behaviors.
Most sex addicts deny that they have a problem, so treating the addiction is difficult. It often takes a significant event, such as a divorce or an arrest, before they’re forced to seek the help they need.
Treatment focuses on controlling addictive behaviors and helping the sufferer develop a healthy sexuality. It may involve a combination of education, individual therapy, marital counseling and participation in a 12-step program such as Sex Addicts Anonymous. Medication may also be prescribed to treat obsessivecompulsive symptoms.
Wondering if you’re a sexual addict? Ask yourself the following questions from the Sexual Addiction Treatment Guide, and consult treatment if you answer yes to one or more:
Were you sexually abused as a child or adolescent?
Did your parents have trouble with sexual behavior?
Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?
Do you ever feel bad about your sexual behavior?
Has your sexual behavior ever created problems for you or your family?
Have you ever sought help for negative sexual behavior?
Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior?
Has anyone been hurt physically because of your sexual behavior?
Are any of your sexual activities illegal?
Have you made efforts to quit a type of sexual behavior and failed?
Do you hide some of your sexual behavior from others?
When you have sex, do you usually feel depressed afterward?
TIPS FOR SUFFERERS OF SEXUAL ADDICTION
Acknowledge you have a problem. Stop hiding from yourself and your loved ones. Face the issue head on to ensure that you get help.
Define your sexual sobriety. Unlike abstinence from alcohol or drugs, celibacy isn’t necessarily the goal. Deciding which troublesome activities to avoid lets you clarify your thoughts and behaviors. For instance, you might decide not to visit pornographic websites or meet anonymous partners in restrooms.
Make a plan that supports your sexual sobriety. Do it when you’re emotionally stable and not pulled toward a behavior you’ll ultimately regret. Your plan might include not using your computer when you are alone or not frequenting places where you’ve previously met lovers.
Be accountable. Let others know where you are at all times and when to expect you at home. Advise them of even minor changes. Your credibility has been tarnished by your addictive actions. You must work now to get it back.
Use technology. Put tracking devices on your iPhone and computers so that others can monitor your online behavior.
Get support. Join a 12-step program that specializes in sexual addiction. Tell a friend or clergy member about your struggles. There are plenty of people available to help. You don’t have to go it alone.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit http://www.lindalewisgriffith.com