One definition of sex addiction describes it as “a dysfunctional preoccupation with sexual fantasy and behavior, often involving the obsessive pursuit of non-intimate sex, pornography, compulsive masturbation, romantic intensity, and objectified partner sex.” (Rob Weiss).
What is Sex Addiction?
Like other addictions, sex addiction is the repeated, compulsive seeking of an activity, despite adverse social, psychological, and physical consequences. It involves a loss of control over one’s behavior, despite failed attempts to gain control over the problem. As a result, one’s work, school, relationships, and physical and mental health suffer. Sex addiction can even lead to legal problems.
Sex addiction is often accompanied by another type of addiction. This is used to deaden (or heighten) the sex addict’s feelings about themselves as they pursue activities that make them feel great in the moment, but often leave them with feelings of shame and guilt. It is not uncommon for sex addict to also be addicted to alcohol, drugs, spending, or some other problematic addiction.
How Does Sex Addiction Develop?
Sexual addiction can start innocently, such as stumbling across pornographic pictures on the web, or in a magazine. The addict feels real pleasure and excitement and starts to seek more stimulation. The problem with any addiction is that it needs to continue to build on itself in order for the addict to experience the same feeling as they did at the beginning. As with other addictions, the “high” needs to be fed, and the sex addict’s brain chemistry changes as they become more and more preoccupied with seeking opportunities to act out.
What may have started innocently now requires more and more of the addict’s time and attention. An addict will find opportunities to engage in their behaviors to the detriment of other parts of their lives.
Signs of Sex Addiction
Dr. Patrick Carnes uses SAFE as an acronym for Secret, Abusive, Feelings, and Empty. In his book Out of the Shadows, he outlines how to determine if you or someone you love is a sex addict. He writes that: “Signs of compulsive sexuality are when the behavior can be described as follows:
- It is a secret. Anything that cannot pass public scrutiny will create the shame of a double life.
- It is abusive to self or others. Anything that is exploitive or harmful to others or degrades oneself will activate the addictive system.
- It is used to avoid or is a source of painful feelings. If sexuality is used to alter moods or results in painful mood shifts, it is clearly part of the addictive process.
- It is empty of a caring, committed relationship. Fundamental to the whole concept of addiction and recovery is the healthy dimension of human relationships.”
Myths about Sex Addiction
It is important to note that not all people who watch pornography or engage in affairs are sex addicts. In his book Sex Addiction 101, Rob Weiss lists some things that sex addiction is not:
- It’s not fun – it is a compulsion that leads to shame and depression, among other things.
- It’s not an excuse for bad behavior, such as having an affair.
- It’s not related to sexual orientation or gender identity.
- It’s not related to fetishes or paraphilias. It’s not defined by what turns you on.
- It’s not just for men – women can be addicts too.
- Sex addiction is not related to drug use, although it can occur together with it, causing the person using the drug to become hypersexual.
- Sex addiction is not a symptom of some mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder, ADHD, or OCD.
- Sex addiction is not the same thing as sexually offending. Although around 10% of sex addicts may escalate into offending behavior, these offenders may seek to use sex addiction to try to escape punishment.
Christian Counseling for Sex Addiction
There is hope for the sex addict. If you or a loved one are struggling with sex addiction, there is hope. Accepting that there is a problem is the first step. The next step is to find a qualified sex addiction counselor to help you through. As a Christian counselor and a certified sex addiction candidate, I am here to help you with the difficulties you face.
“Secrets,” courtesy of dickuhne, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “In Silence,” courtesy of Nick Kenrick, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)