What Is Sex Addiction?

Can You Really Be Addicted to Sex?

Young Couple Making Love On Bed
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Sex addiction, like other addictions, is a maladaptive pattern of behavior with persistent dependence on various forms of sexual expression in order to cope with the stresses of life. Like other addictions, there is a cyclical pattern of behavior, involving:

  • urges and cravings to engage in sexual activity
  • a ritualistic way of planning and acting out sexual activity
  • a sense of relief and elation while engaging in the sexual activity, followed by a period of withdrawal and repeated cravings

    How Is a Sex Addiction Different Than Enjoying Sex A Lot?

    What makes sex addiction an addiction, as opposed to just enjoying sex with multiple partners a lot, is:

    • a repetitive pattern of thought processes and behaviors, which continues despite negative consequences
    • the addictive behavior continues over an extended period of time
    • once consequences become obvious and the addict is unable to stop the behavior, they feel they are losing control

    There are many sexual behaviors ranging from the benign to the criminal that result in different consequences, some of which affect everyone with sex addictions (such as relationship problems), and some of which affect fewer people (sexually transmitted diseases, financial issues, and legal problems).

    Sex Addiction Treatment

    Effective help is available for sex addicts. Some addiction centers originally set up to help people overcome alcohol and drug problems also treat people with sex addictions, although this is not the case with all addictions clinics.

    Specialist clinics, usually private institutions, offer treatment specifically for sex addiction and financial support is not as easy to obtain as funds for alcohol and drug treatment.

    There are also several 12-step support groups available for sex addicts.

    The Controversy of Sex Addiction

    There is increasing evidence sex addiction follows similar cognitive and behavioral patterns, and involves similar brain mechanisms to other addictions.

    However, sex addiction is not currently recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Although a new diagnosis of Hypersexual Disorder was proposed for DSM-V, it was not accepted.

    Sex addiction is a difficult concept for both professionals and the public to take seriously. There are several reasons for this:

    • Sex covers a wide and varied range of behaviors. Some, such as masturbation, are commonplace while others, such as unusual fetishes, are so unexpected and far removed from “normal” behavior that others find it difficult to relate to or understand the appeal of such behavior.
    • Unconditional acceptance of sexual desire as a universal and empowering force is the basis for sexology.
    • Confusion around what would constitute “recovery” from a sex addiction, as abstinence, the definition of recovery for most other addictions, is not a healthy course of action or reasonable expectation for most people.
    • Sex remains one of the most taboo topics in society, so people with sex addictions are often the subject of mockery and scorn in a way that people with other conditions are not subject to.
    • Because some people with sex addictions are, in some instances, sexually abusive to others, sex addiction can be seen as an “excuse” for irresponsible and abusive behavior.

    Sources:

    Canning, M. Lust, Anger, Love: Understanding Sexual Addiction and the Road to Healthy Intimacy. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks. 2008.

    Carnes, P. “Addiction or Compulsion: Politics or Illness?” Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 3:127-150. 1997.

    Carnes, P. “Sexual Addiction.” Normal Human Sexuality and Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders, 90-100.

    Cheever, S. “Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction." New York: Simon & Schuster. 2008.

    Klein, Ph.D, M. “Sex Addiction: A Dangerous Clinical Concept.” Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 5. 2002.

    Orford, J. Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of Addictions. (Second Edition). Chicester: Wiley.

    The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health. "Sexual Addiction." 12 Jan 2009.

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