Liking sex is every bit as natural as getting hungry. One of the many things we’re “wired” for as humans is to crave sexual attention and seek sexual action – but most of the time, we have sex not to procreate, but to build a bond, release tension and connect with others. Sex is as much a relationship tool as it is a way for us to pass on our genes, and sexual appeal and attraction is so universally important and powerful that it’s one of the most important lessons in marketing. Of course, not everyone likes sex – but most do.
But just because it’s natural to like something does not mean it’s healthy when that interest turns into a full-blown debilitating obsession. Sex addiction, as a real diagnosable condition, is a set of symptoms and factors that does not make for a “fun” or “exciting” life, but for one filled with emotional hardships, financial ruin, and social humiliation.
Sex addiction is real – but it works differently than most cases of substance dependence. To understand how a person can be addicted to sex, you must understand how addiction works, what it is, and what it is not.
What Is an Addiction to Sex?
Sex addiction, also known as hypersexual disorder, is not included in the DSM-V, the definitive guide on diagnostic criteria for psychological disorders. However, that does not make it less real – it simply represents a challenge among academics to accurately describe and categorize this condition, especially in relation to substance dependence (addiction) and what we know of addiction and the brain.
Sex addiction exists, and research shows that it is in many ways quite similar to substance-based addiction in the way the brain reacts to sexual stimuli, cravings and thoughts of sex. Someone struggling with sex addiction (or a hypersexual disorder) does not just like sex or prefers one-night stands to relationships. They don’t just display a specific fetish or sexual preference. They are not diagnosed on the basis of their “kinks”. Rather, sex addiction, like substance misuse, is identified by the inability to control the compulsion to seek sexual thrill, no matter in what way the patient seeks it.
Sex addiction manifests in many different forms, but the common thread is how the addiction essentially robs the person of their ability to live their life. In general, people are influenced by their sex drive, both consciously and subconsciously – but we can inhibit these feelings to focus on other things in life, such as work, relationships, and our hobbies and passions.
However, a person struggling with a sex addiction will seek their sexual gratification at all times, in any way they can, often endangering their relationships and jobs in order to get off. Stories of serial one-night stands, office sex, public exhibitionism and more plague a sex addict’s life, not in the context of sexual adventurism, but an inability to stop themselves from going through with their disorder’s desires. Like any addiction, it can ruin lives – both for the patient and their friends and loved ones.
How Sex Addiction Can Manifest
Sex addiction is a broad term to describe a variety of different ways in which a person can be addicted to sexual gratification. Some people are addicted to porn, spending hours a day fantasizing and looking at pornography, going out of their way to acquire and collect more pornographic material, to the point that it drastically affects their relationships with others and their productivity as a person.
Other people get off specifically on exhibitionism/voyeurism or prostitution, not simply as a personal choice or career option, but because of a deeper and debilitating compulsion.
In sex addiction, the important diagnostic distinction is the psychological reason behind someone’s engagement in sexual activity, rather than the nature of their activity. While many forms of sex addiction include excessive sexual pursuits, these are not in-and-of themselves signs of an addiction. Signs of sex addiction include:
- Feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anger. Sexual addiction is often accompanied by mood swings, or full-blown mood disorders like depression.
- Inability to maintain a steady relationship, and constant cheating. While sex addicts can experience love, their addiction will often trump their ability to stay faithful, leading to further shame and guilt.
- Decline in social engagement and family communication.
- Physical symptoms as a result of unprotected sex or dangerously frequent intercourse include sexual dysfunction, as well as STDs.
Like many other addictions, sex addiction can correlate with other forms of mental illness, such as anxiety and substance abuse. Whether these are factors in the development of the addiction, or caused/incited by the addiction, differ from person to person. Like other forms of addiction, both treatment and diagnosis depend on the specifics of an individual case.
It Is Treatable
Due to greater awareness and a better understanding of what the condition is and isn’t, more data on sex addiction in the US is available today than ever. But like most addictions, few people get treatment. Almost all feel shame and regret for their actions but can’t stop themselves.
Like any addiction, sex addiction can be treated. And like any addiction, the treatment used to help someone free themselves from their sexual compulsions is based entirely on the nature of their addiction, their personal and family history, and the circumstances and possibilities open to them. Treatment is not fast, simple, or universally applicable, requiring a professional diagnosis. However, you can get help at any local treatment center, and there are many professionals you can contact for help in your case of sex addiction.
The path forward will be difficult, and there might be times when you want to “indulge” due to stress, or emotional pain. That’s why it’s important to seek help not just from professionals at a clinic, but from your trusted friends and family. Help them understand that your condition is real and treatable, and that they can help you be the best you. Just as you have to go through treatment, the people who decide to stand by you and support you will have to learn more about your condition and how to help you stay strong.