Engaging in healthy sexual activity is a part of the lifestyle of most people, just like eating and sleeping. It maintains the balance of our active lifestyle, promotes good mental health and helps us to fulfil basic desires that are imperative for human survival.

Some people, however, choose to be celibate for personal or religious reasons. Some people might hold back their desires due to the culture they were brought up in, which considers sex as something sinful.

Healthy humans are required to have a strong desire for sexual intercourse and it’s important for a healthy relationship. In fact, the lack of this desire can be a source of concern due to psychological or medical reasons. But when it crosses the boundaries and the individual starts feeling excessively high levels of sexual desire that start to impact their day-to-day life, then it might signify sexual addiction.

What is sexual addiction?

Sexual addiction is identified by the presence of an unusually strong sex drive or obsession with sex that can be either compulsive or impulsive. The sexual thoughts or acts dominate their lives to an extent that it starts influencing the health of their relationships.

The addict also develops a level of tolerance like any other form of addiction such that more intensified sexual behaviour is required to meet their increasing desires. As might be expected of an addict’s behaviour, a sex addict indulges in risky behaviour without fearing the consequences of his actions.

These addicts even rationalise and justify their inappropriate behaviour when questioned. Thus his personal and professional life begins to suffer, which can put the addict under great emotional and physical stress. They might get into trouble with the law over offenses like exhibitionism, molestations or stalking. But it should be noted that not all sex addicts end up being sex offenders.

The actual label of ‘sex addiction’ is a controversial one in itself, with many mental health professionals disagreeing whether the condition exists or not. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, Volume IV has the category of “Sexual Disorders Not Otherwise Specified,” and defines it as “distress about a pattern of repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are experienced by the individual only as things to be used.”

The DSM IV also describes that a sex disorder involves “compulsive searching for multiple partners, compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner, compulsive masturbation, compulsive love relationships and compulsive sexuality in a relationship.”

The behaviour of a sex addict

A sexual addict becomes a burden to the society and loved ones because they are bound to end up in inappropriate circumstances. They might also put their near and dear ones in uncomfortable situations and cause damage to a healthy married life or de facto relationship.

The following behaviours are characteristic and can help identify a sex addict:

  • Self-stimulation through activities like compulsive masturbation
  • Multiple sex partners who can be prostitutes or even complete strangers to them.
  • Multiple extra-marital affairs
  • Using pornography excessively or indulging in excessive cyber sex
  • Frequently engaging in unsafe sex
  • Getting involved in prostitution themselves to meet their own sexual demands
  • Exhibitionism, voyeurism or stalking
  • Indulging in online dating or going on blind dates excessively with the intention of having sex
  • Sexual harassment at their workplace, molestation or rape
  • Feeling anger or rage when unable to initiate the desired sexual activity

The psychology of sexual addiction

Most sexual addicts indulge in such activities only to achieve a sense of sexual satisfaction without forming any form of emotional connection with their sexual partner.

Society generally believes that sex addicts function in an unacceptable manner because of a need of power, authority and dominance. Some may also perform such acts out of revenge or as a perverted outburst of anger.

Recent  brain studies have  proved that there is a powerful sex drive that motivates sex offenders, which are not under their conscious control. Addicts get a sensation of intense euphoria from their sexual experience. The experience does not involve any form of intimacy however it is utilised as a means of seeking pleasure and fighting unpleasant feelings, such as stress at work or interpersonal relationship problems. In fact, the reward gained from this experience may arouse feelings of guilt and remorse but the addict continues to indulge in his activities despite the negative consequences.

Dr Joe Kort, a sex therapist in Michigan, U.S.A., states 9 facts about sexual addiction:

  1. It is common among those with Bipolar Disorder to engage in high-risk sexual activities during manic states.
  2. People with Borderline Personality Disorder engage in unsafe sexual activities as a general pattern of self-injurious behaviour.
  3. Often those with severe identity confusion regarding their own sexual orientation engage in compulsive sexual behaviour.
  4. People with sexual disorders like exhibitionism, pedophilia and severe fetishes require much more than sex addiction treatment since their behaviour victimizes others. Not all are sex addicts; some are antisocial personalities.
  5. Victims of childhood sexual abuse often repeat pattern of abuse in a subconscious attempt to gain control over their childhood trauma. People in this category generally suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder.
  6. Adolescents and young adults who are intellectually delayed can develop a pattern of compulsive sexual behaviour, as a result of not having developed an accurate understanding of healthy sexuality.
  7. Substance abusers frequently develop 
sexually addictive behaviour in one of two ways. Either the problem develops while they are abusing stimulants, or when they quit using drugs, sexual addiction develops as a sort of substitute drug addiction.
  8. Those with Dependent Personality Disorder, or love addiction, can become sexually addicted as well. Love addicts use sex to get love and can base their entire identity on the relationship, thus becoming totally dependent on that person.
  9. Men with Aspergers Syndrome often exhibit out-of-control sexual behaviours.

What causes sexual addiction?

What exactly causes sexual addiction has always remained a mystery but some biochemical or psychological abnormality might be the reason sex addicts behave in this manner.

Recently it has also been observed that some anti-depressants and psychotropic medication has shown to improve the symptoms of sexual addicts.

Studies have also proven that the signals for food, drugs of choice and sexual interests are similar in our brains. These three pathways are similarly connected to the brain’s survival and reward systems and the higher centre for rationalisation and judgement processes these signals. This way the the sex addict’s brain instructs him to have sex just like any ordinary person craves for food when hungry. The brain sends out signals that causes intelligent and goal oriented people to indulge in self-destructive behaviour.

Treatment for sexual addiction

Since it has been established that sexual addiction is a psychological disorder, it must be dealt with accordingly.

Most addicts live in a state of denial and sometimes it takes huge losses like losing a family or a job, becoming a victim of a STD or getting arrested before they muster up the courage to deal with the problem.

Treatment of sexual addiction will involve the sexual addict to control their destructive behaviour and adopt a healthy sexuality. Treatment programs can include education about healthy sexuality. These programs should also extend to the loved ones and family members. Individual counselling, marital counselling and family counselling can help these individuals overcome their problems. Several support groups and programs like 12-step recovery programs for sexual addicts, such as SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) can also be of assistance for sexual addicts. Medications for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder like Prozac and Anafranil can also be used to stop the obsessive nature of this problem.

Related articles:

Signs to Tell if it’s Habit or Addiction

How an Active Lifestyle Promotes Good Mental Health

How a Support Group can Help Depression

Pornography Addiction: An Overview of Symptoms and Treatment

Are you or someone you know suffering from sex addiction? Australia Counselling has a range of addiction counsellors and sex addiction recovery psychologists who are able to help you in overcoming sexual addiction. Visit our Addictions – Sexual page to find a counsellor or psychologist in your local area.

photo credit: Jordan Merrick, flickr

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