Sex AddictionEn Español (Spanish Version)
While not all mental health professionals agree that a person can be “addicted” to sex, you need help if your sexual thoughts and behavior are interfering with your life and causing you distress.
How do you know if you have a problem? The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) points out that sex addiction can manifest itself in many different ways, but there are some general characteristics:
- Feeling like you have no control over your sexual behavior
- Having serious consequences because of your sexual behavior
- Thinking all the time about your sexual behavior (even when you do not want to think about it)
The particular sexual behavior that may be affecting you can vary greatly. Some examples include:
- Viewing pornographic material
- Engaging in cybersex or telephone sex
- Going to strip clubs
- Exposing one’s genitals or sexual organs to a stranger (exhibitionism)
- Secretly watching someone undress or engage in sexual activity (voyeurism)
- Sexually harassing someone
- Having sex with consenting adults (eg, prostitution, one-night stands, extramarital affairs)
- Molesting or raping someone
The main point to remember is that—in cases of sex addiction—you no longer feel in control of your behavior. Because of this, you may:
- Fantasize about sex without being able to control your thoughts
- Spend a lot of time planning for the sexual activity
- Engage in the sexual behavior and feel that you cannot control yourself
- Feel that the sexual thoughts and behavior are getting in the way of your job
- Have difficulty forming an emotional bond with your sexual partner
- Have difficulty being committed to your partner
- Feel shame or guilt because of your sexual behavior
If you are struggling with sex addiction, you may feel that you are leading a double life, trying to keep your sexual behavior a secret from your family, partner, friends, and coworkers. By constantly fantasizing about sex, planning for the sexual activity, and engaging in it, your home and work life suffer. You may experience problems with:
- Relationships (eg, separation or divorce)
- Mental health (eg, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders)
- Physical health (eg, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy)
- Your career (eg, loss of productivity, being demoted or fired)
- Finances (eg, losing your job, spending an excessive amount of money on pornography)
- The law (eg, getting arrested for soliciting a prostitute)
These problems can become more serious the longer you continue struggling with sex addiction.
What causes sex addiction? There is no clear answer. For some, traumatic childhood experiences, like being abused physically or emotionally, may play a role. Having a personality disorder could also increase your risk for developing sex addiction.
If you want to recover from sex addiction, help is available!
There are a number of support groups
for people who have sex addiction. Some of these include Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous.
These programs are all modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and feature 12 steps to recovery. The only requirement for membership is “a desire to stop addictive sexual behavior.” At the weekly meetings, you can get support from other people who have also struggled with sexual addiction. You can listen to others’ stories and learn coping strategies, as well as share your own experiences. By participating in the program and reading the literature, you can learn how to improve your emotional health.
Group therapy is similar to self-help groups, but there is a therapist to guide the members. Again, the emphasis is on supporting each other.
You can also choose to work one-on-one with a therapist. The therapist can help you to deal with underlying problems that may have led to the sex addiction. You can also learn new coping strategies and problem-solving skills.
If you feel that you need more intense treatment, there are outpatient and inpatient programs. Outpatient involves spending the day at a facility, where the doctors and therapists assess your physical and mental health and create a plan. The plan may include individual therapy, group therapy, a 12-step program, and spiritual guidance. The inpatient program is similar, but you are in a therapeutic environment 24 hours a day.
If you feel that your sexual thoughts and behavior are making it difficult for you to live your life, talk to someone! There are many support groups and therapists who can help you recover.
Society for the Advancement of Mental Health
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Am I a sex addict? The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health website. Available at: http://www.sash.net/en/am-i-a-sex-addict-topmenu-104.html. Accessed August 16, 2011.
Are you a sex addict? Sex Addicts Anonymous website. Available at: http://www.sexaa.org/IsSAAForYou/AreYouASexAddict/. Accessed August 16, 2011.
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Hypersexual disorder. American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5 Development website. Available at: http://www.dsm5.org/proposedrevision/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=415. Accessed August 16, 2011.
National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. Compulsive sexual behavior and sex addiction. The University of Hawaii System website. Available at: http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Compulsive%20Sexual%20Behavior%20and%20Sex%20Addiction.pdf. Published 1999. Accessed August 16, 2011.
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Sexual abuse and assault. Injury and Violence Prevention Program, County of Los Angeles Public Health website. Available at: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/ivpp/injury_topics/SexualAbuseAssault/sexabuseassaulthome.htm. Accessed August 16, 2011.
Sexual addiction. Wright State University website. Available at: http://www.wright.edu/rsp/Security/Eap/Sex.htm. Accessed August 16, 2011.
Sexual addiction: what is it? All About Life Challenges website. Available at: http://www.allaboutlifechallenges.org/sexual-addiction.htm. Accessed August 16, 2011.
Wood D. Drug abuse and drug addiction: treatment. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated September 20, 2010. Accessed August 16, 2011.
Last Reviewed September 2011