Sex correlates with less stress, more happiness, a lower risk of heart disease, a stronger immune system, lower blood sugar, and a good way to generally decrease and lessen pain, including the chronic kind. It even burns calories.
By all accounts, sex is something people are generally excited about – and more accurately, it’s something that excites them. But too much sex is definitely a bad thing, especially when your tendency to seek out physical intimacy is no longer driven by a natural desire, but by an unhealthy compulsion that is beginning to eat away at life as you know it. Sex is good, but sex addiction is not, and sex addiction is a real problem.
It’s Not Technically Addiction
Sex addiction is known as such because it draws parallels to drug addiction, wherein a person compulsively craves the high of a certain drug, going to great lengths to get that high, even if the consequences are dire. But the differences between sex addiction and drug addiction begin to reveal themselves after you get past the superficial similarities.
Drug addiction begins in the brain, when a drug enters the bloodstream and makes its way to the brain cells. There, it intercepts the natural neurotransmission on which your brain relies for communication and general functioning. Nearly every process in the body involves regulation through the brain, which relies on these neurotransmitters to do their job. Drugs flood the brain’s receptors with chemicals similar to these neurotransmitters, causing a wide variety of possible effects, the most significant being the high.
But a lot more happens. Alcohol, nicotine, and a wide variety of illegal drugs all affect the brain in ways that aren’t normal, forcing the brain to adapt. In the process of adapting, the brain gets “used to” drug use. Over time, this affects a person’s behavior and thought processes, leads to withdrawal symptoms, and cravings. This is where addiction begins.
Sex addiction involves compulsive sex, but not for the same reasons. It’s not that sex makes some people get high off an orgasm in ways others can’t. Rather, sex addiction or hypersexuality is a sign of severe intimacy and coping issues, and points towards a person who uses sex as a way to cope with stress and needs to regularly express sexual desire as a way to escape meaningful relationships and avoid questions of potential commitment.
Sex Itself Isn’t Bad
It’s important to bring awareness to the fact that too much sex can be a hint that something else is wrong in your life – however, it is just as important to distinguish between sex addiction and having an extremely high sex drive.
Wanting to have sex often or engaging in potentially dangerous behavior to get off (such as public intercourse, or simulated violence) is not grounds for a mental disorder. You can have as much sex as you want, so long as it’s all legal. It begins to be a problem when you’re making severe sacrifices and undue compromises to satisfy your sexual urges, including lying to your partner, prioritizing sex over work or other responsibilities, and seeking out sex purely as away to deal with stress. Other forms of sex addiction include relentless sexual thoughts and fantasies, inappropriate behavior towards strangers and coworkers, constant masturbation, and a preoccupation with sex and pornography.
Why Compulsive Sex Is Bad
Compulsions are behavior we can’t stop, and must indulge in. Anything compulsive is bad, because it implies that you’ve lost self-control, and that you’re unable to stop yourself even though you know you should. Like anything else, compulsive sex can become dangerous. Excessive sexual intercourse with a large number of partners drastically increases your risk of developing or catching a sexually-transmitted disease. If drugs are part of the picture, then the risk is increased, as drug use inhibits planning and risk-assessment, leading to a greater risk of infection, pregnancy, and unwanted advances.
It’s not just about frequency and multiple partners. Both carry risks that can be mitigated by careful planning – but it’s the compulsion itself that drives people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t, including dangerous things, to get off.
Sex addiction hints at other problems bubbling beneath the surface. There’s a reason people turn to compulsive sex as a coping mechanism, and over time, this maladaptive short-term coping mechanism will give way to an underlying condition that, without treatment, continues to grow, potentially leading to mood disorders like major depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and more.
You Have an Intimacy Problem
The root of sex addiction is a problem with interpersonal contact and human relationships. People turn to sex as a way to avoid facing real relationships, usually due to childhood trauma or an association of pain with relationships, due to abusive parents or past experiences. Sex is a great way to relieve stress, but when it becomes your only outlet while being faced with a potential mental disorder left untreated, it can quickly turn into a source of danger.
Solving intimacy issues is done largely through therapy. Because compulsive sex obviously leads to severe setbacks, residential therapy is a good option. Sober living homes give people the opportunity to focus on their treatment without seeking sex or drugs.
Even for couples, separation and isolated therapy is important. Sex addiction usually includes infidelity, putting significant strain on any relationship. Even in a polygamous setting, a sex addict will put their own desires and needs over their relationships with others, leading to strife and further stress. Sex addiction isn’t always about physical intimacy, and may involve overuse of pornography, obsessions with internet porn and porn actors/actresses, excessive purchasing of porn, as well as risky self-indulgences, such as unwarranted sexting, online soliciting, and other similar behavior. Even without the sex, sex addiction will put strain on any serious commitment, and couples counseling is not the right first step.
Treatment works, but it does so over time. Intimacy issues are not resolved overnight, and progress may be frustratingly slow for the partners of patients. But without treatment, sex addiction can lead to a number of other related issues, including drug use, depression, anxiety, and more.