Sex is a good thing, right? Most people think that, but most people are not struggling with sex addiction. People who classify themselves as sex addicts spend so much time thinking about sex and trying to have it that it overwhelms their lives.
If you believe you may be struggling with sex addiction, you’ll want to keep reading. We will review the basics of recognizing sexual addiction, what to do if you think you might be an addict, and what treatment options are available.
What Is Sex Addiction?
The broad and widely misunderstood term “sex addiction” is a problem that also goes by the names hypersexuality and hypersexuality disorder. Some mental health professionals also prefer to classify it as compulsive sexual behavior.
In general, sex addiction is an over-the-top preoccupation with sexual urges, fantasies, or behaviors that cause stress or negatively affect your relationship, job, health, or other important aspects of your life.
Compulsive sexual behavior can include a wide range of activities that are usually considered enjoyable sexual experiences, such as masturbation, cybersex, having multiple sexual partners, using pornography, or paying for sex.
Of course, there are plenty of people who engage in these types of behaviors but do not classify themselves as sex addicts. It crosses the line into compulsive sexual behavior when these experiences become the main focus in your life, when you struggle to control them, and when they disrupt or harm you or others.
Left untreated, compulsive sexual behavior, hypersexuality, sex addiction, or whatever you want to call it, can harm your self-esteem, relationships with others, job, and health.
What Are Some of the Symptoms of Sex Addiction?
There are some clues that you may be struggling with compulsive sexual behavior. Some of these indications include:
- You use sexual behaviors to escape other problems or feelings, such as loneliness, anxiety, depression, or stress.
- You feel driven or almost forced to do certain sexual behaviors but then feel guilty afterward, even if you had a moment of pleasure or release.
- You have difficulty getting into or maintaining a healthy and stable relationship.
- You don't feel like you can manage your sexual impulses.
- You continue to engage in sexual behaviors even if they have severe consequences, such as getting an STD, losing a relationship, having financial troubles, or getting in trouble at work.
- You have tried to control your sexual urges or behavior but have been unable to do so successfully.
- You have started to hide your sexual behaviors.
- You are concerned or distressed by your sexual impulses, urges, or behaviors.
If several of those indicators resonate with you, it might make sense to seek professional intervention through psychotherapy or other avenues. Seeking help for this type of problem can be incredibly difficult because of the societal stigma attached to sexual behavior and because it is such a personal matter.
Try to remember that you are not alone in the struggle. Many people struggle with sexual compulsivity. Leave your embarrassment or shame behind, and focus on taking steps towards living the life that you want.
How Can I Get Diagnosed With Sex Addiction?
Okay, so you've decided that you need help. That's great! Well, maybe it's not great, but it's good that you prioritize your health and get the help you need. The first step is getting a diagnosis.
You'll first need to reach out to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional to get a psychological evaluation. An evaluation will probably involve answering questions about your mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
Get yourself mentally prepared for this because you will likely have to answer some fairly probing questions about your sexual thoughts and sexual acts, and it can be a little uncomfortable.
Don't forget that mental health experts can handle it, but not all specialize in it. You may want to consider finding someone with experience in this particular behavior.
How a Mental Health Professional Ultimately Makes a Diagnosis
This is a continuous debate in the medical community because many are unsure exactly how to define compulsive sexual behavior. After all, it's not always the easiest to figure out when sexual behavior crosses the line from normal to addictive behavior.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is often used to diagnose mental disorders. What makes sex addiction tricky is that it doesn't have a diagnostic category in this manual.
It is often diagnosed as a subcategory of a different mental health condition such as a behavioral addiction or an impulse control disorder.
What Types of Treatment Are Available for Compulsive Sexual Behavior?
If you’ve made it this far, it’s fair to say that you are invested and might just have a problem.
Since an actual diagnosis is a bit controversial in the medical community, there is not the same wealth of evidence-based treatment options as other addiction treatments.
However, some treatments people have found helpful over the years, and many experts recommend, include the following.
1. Inpatient Treatment Programs
Believe it or not, many inpatient treatment centers focus on sex addiction recovery. Though treatment of sex addiction does not require the type of round-the-clock medical monitoring necessary for those with substance abuse problems, having significant time away from regular daily life can help people regain control of their sexual impulses.
An inpatient program will typically last 30 or more days, depending on health insurance coverage or the patient’s ability to pay for that time. Residential programs like this tend to focus on talk therapy in individual and group settings.
2. Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is one of the most common approaches to dealing with addiction in general but can be especially beneficial for those struggling with sex addiction. CBT focuses on identifying potential triggers that spark sexual behaviors and reshaping ideas surrounding compulsions.
For example, many people will justify their behaviors by thinking, “It’s not really cheating if I’m in another state,” or “Plenty of people pay for sex. There’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing!” Identifying triggers and allowing people to recognize logical fallacies helps people to prevent relapse.
CBT is often used in inpatient programs but many other applications, including outpatient therapy. Going to an individual therapist may be more realistic and doable for some people, and CBT in this setting can be very effective.
3. Family Therapy
Does it sound like your worst nightmare to sit around with a bunch of your family members or your significant other talking about your sex life? Yeah, us too. However, there's no denying that much of our inner psyche is influenced by our upbringing and those closest to us.
Plus, addiction is a disease that affects communities and relationships, so it makes sense to include others in therapy. Most often, couple’s and family therapy is in conjunction with individual talk therapy. Don't worry; there's no need to share the most intimate details of your sexual impulses.
Couple’s therapy is often used to discuss how addiction affects your partner and how the partnership can work together to heal from the negative consequences of collective trauma.
Although there are no FDA-approved medications for sex addiction or sexually compulsive behaviors, some options are proven to be effective, at least anecdotally. One reason medication can be effective is that often sex addiction functions as a symptom of a bigger problem.
Some doctors have tried prescribing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and antidepressants such as Zoloft, which can positively affect those with co-occurring mood disorders like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
There have been preliminary studies done on an opiate called naltrexone, which works by dulling the feeling of euphoria associated with compulsive sexual behaviors. Naltrexone is also used to treat drug and alcohol dependence.
Mood stabilizers, such as lithium, can also be a promising form of medical treatment, especially for those who suffer from both bipolar disorder and compulsive sexual behaviors.
Unfortunately, there is still no drug that has been approved specifically for the use of sex addiction. Still, co-occurring disorders are common, so medication may be a route worth exploring.
5. 12-Step Programs and Support Groups
Self-help and support groups can be life-changing for some people with compulsive sexual behavior. Not to mention, groups like this are super helpful in dealing with some of the aftermath and problems due to addiction.
You may have heard of 12-step groups because of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which aim to support those dealing with substance use disorders. Many other 12-step programs are modeled after AA.
Groups like this are sometimes local in-person groups or maybe online. If this is an option of interest to you, you might want to talk to your therapist or doctor and find a reputable group where you feel comfortable.
Support groups are not for everyone, and many people don't feel comfortable discussing their problems during group therapy with strangers. Still, all friends start as strangers, and it can be a sigh of relief to meet others who know just what you're going through.
Other Tips For Living With Sex Addiction
- Avoid your triggers. Learn what your triggers are through therapy and figure out how to avoid the things that trigger you to engage in compulsive sexual activity.
- Stick to the plan! Whatever you decide to do to get help, keep it up. Keep going to therapy, take your medication, and attend group sessions.
- Seek treatment for other problems. Your mental health issues and addictions can feed off of each other, so make sure you take care of yourself in other ways.
- Find healthier ways to cope. If you have learned that you use sexual behavior to cope with negative feelings, find better ways such as journaling, a new hobby, or exercising.
- Eyes on the prize! Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Recovery can take time, but it’s worth it. Never forget that.
If you or a loved one are dealing with sexual addiction, start by talking to a doctor. From there, you may be able to find help through therapy, inpatient treatment, medication, or other means.
Remember that you are not alone; there are people here to help support you on your journey to total health and wellness.