Just as an individual may become dependent on substances, behaviors can also be a source of dependence. Sex or sexual addiction is a disorder that involves persistent thoughts about sexual behaviors. The sufferer may spend the majority of his or her time thinking about, engaging in, or recovering from sexual behaviors. Addictive acts may include watching pornographic videos, obscene phone calls, frequenting chat rooms, excessive masturbation, engaging in sex with prostitutes, having one-night stands or repeated affairs
Causes & Risk Factors
The development of a sexual addiction may be caused by several different physical, psychological, and social factors. Biologically speaking, certain sexual acts may be linked to the brain’s reward center, causing the release of chemicals that create a temporary sensation of euphoria or pleasure. As with substance dependence, a dependence on sex changes the chemical composition of the brain over time, resulting in tolerance. With sexual addiction, biological factors may be affected by gender and the behaviors related to the addiction. Psychological risk factors include obsessive-compulsive tendencies, depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, and a previous history of addiction. And socially, individuals who suffer from sexual addictions are more likely to describe themselves as likely to engage in both impulsive and compulsive behaviors. They may feel isolated, insecure, fearful of intimacy and/or stability, intolerant of frustration, and unable to cope with their emotions.
Signs & Symptoms
Sex addicts are usually described as engaging in sexual behaviors even when they have been proven to lead to negative consequences, such as psychological distress or troubled relationships. Other signs and symptoms of a sexual addiction may include:
- Tolerance to behaviors and activities; a need for heightened intensity or frequency of behavior in order to achieve the same effect
- A feeling of psychological or physical withdrawal when unable to engage in the behavior
- The sufferer’s life begins to revolve around the addictive behavior; he or she spends excessive amounts of time making plans, engaging in, and recovering from sexual activities
- Attempts to stop the behavior are unsuccessful or short-lived
- The individual may neglect his or her responsibilities at school, home, or work in order to engage in the addictive behavior
- The individual continues to engage in the behavior in spite of psychological difficulties, physical harm or injury, or social relationships that suffer as a result
There is no singular test or evaluation that indicates a sexual addiction. A health care professionals, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, doctor, nurse, or counselor must assess not only the symptoms present, but also the individual’s medical and family history and physical health status.
Support in the form of group therapy is one of the measures often prescribed for treatment of sexual addiction. Individual cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be prescribed to help the individual regain control of his or her behavior and cope with triggers for destructive behavior. In cases where depression or anxiety is a factor, medication may also be prescribed to help the individual cope with psychological affect. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of drugs that are commonly prescribed to help individuals suffering from mood disorders. In the case of sexual addictions, they may also be useful.