What is sexual addiction?
Sexual addiction differs from normal sexual behaviour in the same way that controlled drinking differs from alcoholism. In sexual addiction, like any other addiction, sexual behaviour has reached a point where it is out of control, despite the damages being caused through this compulsive behaviour.
What behaviours indicate sexual addiction?
- A pattern of out-of-control sexual behaviour. Examples include compulsive masturbation, indulging in pornography, having multiple affairs, exhibitionism, dangerous sexual practices, prostitution, anonymous sex, compulsive sexual episodes and voyeurism.
- Experiencing severe consequences due to sexual behaviour, and an inability to stop despite these adverse consequences. Consequences include loss of partner or spouse, severe marital or relationship problems, loss of career opportunities, unwanted pregnancies, suicidal ideation, exposure to AIDS or other sexually transmitted disease.
- Persistent pursuit of self-destructive behaviour. Sexual addicts understand the consequences of their actions but cannot stop acting out. They often seem to have a willfulness about them and an attitude that prevents them from dealing with the consequences of their behaviour until it is too late.
- Ongoing desire or effort to limit sexual behaviour. Sex addicts often create external barriers in an attempt to control their sexual behaviour. Examples include moving to new cities or neighbourhoods, or a new environment. Many immerse themselves in religion to soothe their shame, but their acting out continues. Sexual anorexia is also attempted, in which they allow themselves no sexual expression at all.
- Sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy. By fantasising, a sex addict can maintain a constant level of arousal. Along with obsession, the two behaviours can create a kind of analgesic ‘fix’.
- Regularly increasing the amount of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer sufficiently satisfying. Sexual addiction is often progressive and while many sex addicts may attempt to control their behaviour for a period of time, the behaviour returns and quickly escalates to levels beyond those previously experienced. Bingeing occurs to the point of emotional exhaustion, and withdrawal for sex addicts can parallel the physical pain experienced by those withdrawing from opiate addiction.
- Severe mood changes related to sexual activity. Sex addicts experience intense shifts in mood, often due to the despair and shame of unwanted sex.
- Inordinate amounts of time spent obtaining sex, being sexual and recovering from sexual experiences. Two sets of activities organise a sexual addict’s day. One involves obsession, devoting them to initiating sex, and actually being sexual, while the other is dealing with consequences of the sexual behaviour.
- Neglect of important social, occupational or recreational activities because of sexual behaviour. As more of the addict’s energy is focused on relationships with sexual potential, healthy relationships and activities suffer from neglect.