Just what is a sex addiction and can it be easily treated? If only there were easy answers to those questions.
We don’t have to go further back than to the eighties before we can safely say that most people wouldn’t have heard of sex addiction and even psychologists wouldn’t have known how to treat it. Even today it’s difficult to define whether or not a person has an addiction or is merely highly sexed and yet sexual addiction has been with us throughout recorded history. Today it’s estimated that around 8% of the male population and 3% of females are sex addicts.
There’s no doubt that sexual addictions have been heavily fuelled by the popularity of the Internet, simply because it’s made sex easily available in both real and cyber forms. You can log on, meet somebody and be having cyber sex within a matter of minutes! And dating sites specifically designed to bring together people looking for no strings sex can be found on the virtual equivalent of every street corner.
Symptoms of Sex Addiction
Sex addicts are similar to any other addict in that they use their addiction as a means to controlling their stress levels. When things get on top of them, they turn to their preferred sexual activity in order to regain their personal equilibrium.
What’s important to understand is that while most of us tend to believe that sex addicts will have any kind of sex just as long as it leads to orgasm, this is far from the truth. Just as with anybody else, those suffering from a sexual addiction have their preferred sexual practises but it’s only when those practises interfere with an otherwise normal sex life or their lives in general and become a habitual need that can we say a person is a sex addict.
Simply put, those suffering from sex addiction display classic signs of compulsive behaviour. They MUST masturbate when they feel stressed; they MUST have sex with strangers in order to feel they have control over their lives; they MUST look at pornography on the Internet whenever they’re unhappy. And it becomes a vicious circle: they become unhappy because they haven’t looked at pornography, or they feel stressed because they haven’t masturbated.
Sex addicts will increasingly need to move their boundaries in order to experience the same sense of relief or control. Where masturbation was once enough, they may move on to exhibitionism. This may then progress to meeting online ‘friends’ in person or paying prostitutes for sex. As with any other form of addiction, what once appeared to be an innocent form of sexual fulfilment escalates until it’s uncontrollable.
Given a sex addict’s preoccupation with sex it often comes as a surprise to others that those suffering from a sexual addiction probably aren’t enjoying sex any more than the rest of us.
Aside from the breakdown of relationships, most forms of sexual addiction are harmless to anybody other than the addict. However, some sex addicts find themselves dependent on rape or child abuse in order to get their ‘hit’. It’s these cases that cause a real danger to society.
It’s not unusual for sex addicts to experience shame because of their addiction. They know they spend too much time in chat rooms, or that they shouldn’t risk hurting their partners by visiting prostitutes but are unable to stop themselves. Even though they try to stop they find themselves unable to. The result of sex addiction can be horrendous: marriage breakdowns, financial problems, low self-esteem, and sometimes arrest.
Can Sexual Addiction be Treated?
Luckily, the answer to this is yes but as with any treatment for addiction, the sex addict must understand that there is a problem and that it’s highly unlikely to get better of its own accord.
We’ve all heard that there’s no point in treating the symptoms without treating the cause and this certainly applies to the sex addict. The addict needs to understand the role that the sex addiction has served and address that. There are almost as many reasons for sexual addiction as there are addicts but some of the most common causes are abuse during childhood, lack of loving physical contact during childhood, lack of sexual interest within a relationship, and lack of self-esteem.
Once the root of the problem has been found the next step is to understand and accept that sexual addiction cannot be cured without abstinence. Just as it’s not possible to stop smoking whilst smoking or stop drinking whilst drinking, you cannot stop being addicted to sex whilst having sex. During the period of abstinence the sex addict should be able to re-access the situation and find a new sense of purpose.
There are a variety of self-help groups available to join, and many find these helpful as they not only offer practical guidance but also give the sex addict confirmation that they’re not alone. It can also often be easier to reach a goal if there are several people all heading in the same direction. After all, who wants to be the only one to have not managed to take control of their sex addiction?
A happy and fulfilling life without compulsive sex is possible for even those who have been sex addicts for many, many years. If you really want it, you can do it.