Sex is a natural part of adult life. Some versions of Maslow’s Hierarchy even include it among the most basic needs, right alongside food and shelter. Sex, in our culture, is utilized for both procreation and recreation. It is used for marketing purposes, and is used as a measure of dating success. How can something so natural, and so common, become a problem?
While sex addiction is no longer a specific classification in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM,) it is still a very real issue. In a fairly recent survey, it was discovered that up to 10 percent of people admit to experiencing negative consequences of their obsession with sexual thoughts and behaviors. A condition which causes distress for the individual, or for those around, is a consistent indicator for having a disorder.
What A Sex Addiction Consists Of
It is estimated that over 30 million people, in the United States, suffer from a sexual addiction. As with any other addiction, a sex addiction is one of obsession and compulsion. A person who is obsessed over something will think on that topic excessively. The persistent thoughts can be welcomed, or can become intrusive, similar to how a drug addict can enjoy – or beat himself up over – consistently planning how to score the next high. Obsessive thoughts of sex can interfere with work life, and can impede the development of healthy relationships.
Compulsion is the aspect of addiction which involves action. This is the stage where the thoughts of sex have become so strong, that the sexual addict feels no relief from anything other than acting on them. A person under compulsion feels powerless to resist an impulse, in spite of potentially making a predetermined decision to abstain from the behavior. Acting on the thoughts which precede the behavior produces a sense of relief. When it comes to sex, this sense of relief is what biologically drives the desire, in the first place, which makes it particularly problematic to resist.
The types of behaviors associated with sex addiction are as varied as the number of people who experience it. Human sexuality is a complex subject, and sexual attractions are prone to evolve over time. For some, the addiction is confined to an existing relationship. Others will exercise it over the internet, or through visiting strip clubs. Yet others will find themselves compelled to engage in the actual sex act with strangers. The common theme is that – whatever the addiction is – it takes up your thinking space and interferes with your progress toward peace or wellbeing.
Negative Consequences of Sex Addiction
Addictions wouldn’t be called such if they didn’t carry negative consequences along with them. Just as with many other forms of addiction – such as overeating; spending too many non-productive hours on a hobby; or obsessing on physical appearance – the sexual addiction arises from something that we are naturally prone toward doing. We need to eat; we need to spend time in leisure; and we need to care for our physical bodies. Most of us also feel a need to have sex. The problem arises from the amount of indulgence we allow the activity in our lives. The following are some of the major areas of distress which can arise from permitting a sexual addiction to control us.
The foremost consequence of experiencing a sex addiction is the impact on the self. Regardless of whether you are male, female, or other, the emotional aspects of intimacy are important to the psyche. Those who engage in sexual thoughts and behaviors which do not include such an important aspect as emotional vulnerability are primed for developing a sense of isolation and loneliness. The experience of emotional isolation can result in depression; anxiety; and increased thoughts of escaping the discomfort through engaging in the addiction.
Along with the potential for increasing the void of loneliness as a result of sex addiction, there is also the potential to be quietly heaping guilt upon yourself. Our culture is one which – in spite of the presence of sex in television ads and movies – is still reluctant to discuss the issue of sex, openly. The topic of sex is so taboo, in the context of our private lives, that many will choose to keep the addiction a secret. Operating under guilt and secrecy is fertile ground for any addiction to grow worse.
For those who are prone toward indulging the sex addiction through engaging in actual sex acts, there can be an entirely different set of risks. Particularly when engaging in sex with strangers or multiple partners, sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) are a very real danger. Across the board, the rate of contraction of STD’s is increasing in the United States. As recently as 2017, it has been found that over two million cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia are in circulation, at any given time. While the overall amount of people who are engaging in sex outside of a committed relationship is decreasing, the study found that – for those who are engaging in non-exclusive sexual behavior – the acts, themselves, are becoming more risky. And, as most of us learn in middle school health class, when we are risking infection with an STD, we are also putting our partners at risk.
Partners of those who are addicted to sexual behaviors suffer, too. They can be plagued by feelings of inadequacy; insecurity; mistrust; trauma; emotional numbness; and depression. For those who entered a relationship with the intention of monogamy, finding out that he or she is living with a sex addict can be devastating. Just as there tends to be a lack of acknowledgment and support for the sex addict, there is a lack of open discussion and support resource available for partners of the sex addict. Even if you don’t find enough motivation, for your own sake, to seek help for your sexual addiction, consideration of what it is doing to the one you love may help spur you toward making a needed change.