We recently covered lust in our series on the Seven Deadly Sins, but we did not mention one seemingly related topic: sex addiction. To some, this would seem like a notable omission. That said, it was actually very intentional. We left it out primarily so that we could discuss the true issues behind sex addiction in this very article. And the primary issue at hand is that sex addiction, when analyzed to the fullest extent, actually has less to do with sex than most would probably anticipate.
Another interesting thing about sex addiction that you may not have known is that many do not believe it to be real. People hear the words “sex addiction” and assume that the sufferer is simply trying to justify their heightened libidos or acts of perversion. In other words, there are people who treat sex addiction the same way they treat drug addiction and alcoholism—they deny its existence, and accuse the addicts of over-hyping some made-up condition as a lame excuse for their immoral behaviors.
This, however, is not the case. Not only is sex addiction real, but it is much more complicated than many might expect. Just as the alcoholic suffers from numerous character defects that are not always caused by their drinking, the sex addict’s condition is not entirely defined by sex. If this sounds strange to you, do not worry. Below, we will outline precisely what makes the sex addict tick. We will also talk a little bit about why sex addiction ruins lives before going into how one may recover. Some hear the word “sex” and joke that this is the best addiction ever. As you are about to discover, it is as tragic as any other addiction from which a person may suffer.
What Exactly Is Sex Addiction?
First of all, sex addiction does exist. That much should be obvious, or else we wouldn’t bother to take the time to write about it. As far as whether or not it’s all about sex, WebMD quotes UCLA research psychologist Rory Reid:
“That’s a common misconception. It is no more about sex than an eating disorder is about food or pathological gambling is about money.”
So, what is it about, then? Well, sex addiction is like any other addiction in that there are often several co-occurring disorders which may drive the addict to pursue means of self-medication and mood alteration. One of the most common disorders is depression, but others may include stress or anxiety. The sufferer may also be grappling with some level of underlying shame, and they are simply seeking some way of feeling better about themselves. The rush of endorphins released during coitus is one way of doing this. If the addict feels as if it has worked once before, they will try again and again in the hopes of replicating that same result. Houston addiction counselor John O’Neill says of problems such as those listed above:
“Those are some of the core issues that you start to see when you treat someone with sex addiction. You can’t miss those pieces.”
The term “sex addiction” has actually become something of a faux pas in recent times. We use it here because it is the common name, the one with which most readers will be familiar. But in truth, experts have taken to using the name “hypersexual disorder.” Because that’s essentially how they view it—as a mental disorder, one which has been around for a long time despite its long absence from the DSM. Those who suffer from this disorder are, however, much like addicts in every sense of the word. Alcoholics drink to excess, even after they have witnessed that their drinking is hurting both themselves and those who care about them. Those who suffer from hypersexual disorder or sex addiction take very much the same approach to their sexual behaviors.
And the harm that can be done is very real. Sex addiction, hypersexual disorder, whatever you choose to call it…it destroys lives. If you aren’t aware of the potential fallout from this condition, you just may run to risk of letting it destroy yours.
The Effects of Sex Addiction
The extent of the harm that may be done by sex addiction can vary greatly, depending upon how it manifests itself. For those who have read our recent article on lust, the most obvious effects are those done to the people with whom we share our sexual encounters. If we engage in sexual congress with someone who is reading more into the situation than we are, emotions have the potential to run high. People who are trying to overcome their own internal struggles by focusing on sex may leave behind an unfortunate trail of broken hearts.
Of course, not everyone is able to go out at night and simply find someone with whom they might share a bed. Instead, many will turn to the paid services of escorts. Men may visit the VIP rooms of their local gentlemen’s club in the hopes they will receive some extra service. Or some will simply sit at home and watch pornography. And while pursuing any of these activities, money will be spent. Some have nearly driven themselves to abject poverty because they could not stop spending money while attempting to fulfill their sex addiction.
There will also be great harm done to the family of the hypersexual. It is quite difficult to balance sex addiction and fidelity, and the latter will often fall by the wayside in favor of the former. As the addict struggles to maintain their addiction while keeping it a secret from those they love, they will inevitably strain their relationships with spouses, offspring, and others who wonder why they have become so distant. Add to that the health risks such as STDs, and sex addiction begins to look on par with any other dangerous addiction that a person might develop over time.
Rory Reid, the psychologist quoted above, remarks upon the crisis caused in the lives of those who suffer from sex addiction.
“The world comes crashing down, and some say ‘I’m glad that I got caught.’”
And as unfortunate as it is, many must get caught if they are ever going to stop. In fact, addiction counselor John O’Neill has noted this quite specifically.
“I see in them an inability to stop what they’re doing. They’re preoccupied; their brain just keeps going back to it. It often leads to loneliness and isolation. There’s such intense shame and pain.”
Please note that loneliness and isolation are both signs of potential relapse in those who have seemingly recovered from drug and alcohol addiction. Sex addiction is no different. Leave these feelings unchecked, and it will be nigh impossible to overcome the condition that ails you. Proper means of recovery must be sought.
How Sex Addicts May Recover
Since sex addiction stems largely from the addict’s own internal thought process, Reid has discovered that one of the best methods is to challenge these thoughts directly. He seeks a very practical approach, one that sounds humorous but that he has often found effective:
“If a patient says he has a craving and he can’t control it, I confront the ‘can’t.’ I ask, ‘What’s going to happen if you don’t satisfy that craving? Is your penis going to fall off? No.’ I try to get the patient to see things more realistically.”
Other methods of treating sex addiction are very similar to the methods used to treat drug addiction or alcoholism. These include support group meetings through Sex Addicts Anonymous, general relapse prevention tips, and other tried-and-true recovery tools. According to O’Neill, it helps to have a strong support network.
“You want to make connections with other people who are also struggling, and you have to know who you are going to call, what you are going to do, and how you are going to attend to your feelings. If they’re willing to really follow through, work with the families and their support networks, in my experience, people can get significantly better and stay in recovery.”
Sex addiction can also be treated to some extent through medication. The medication used to treat hypersexual disorder is often the same medication that doctors use to treat those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other impulse control disorder medications may suffice as well. Since hypersexual patients are generally suffering from a compulsion to engage in sexual behaviors, this makes a great deal of sense. These medications, however, will not always do much to treat the underlying feelings that lead to said behaviors. For that, the methods outlined above are the ones that will most likely do the trick.
In truth, those who suffer from sex addiction will find that there is no shortage of outlets for them to receive the help they need. If they rely on the support of the ones they love while also seeking professional help from therapists or addiction counselors, they should be able to enter recovery with as much chance for long-term abstinence as any other addict. Do not give up just because the situation feels hopeless. Keep searching for solutions, and remember that you don’t have to do it alone. With enough help from trusted loved ones and professionals, you can let go of your compulsions and put your sex addiction to rest.