How Do You Define a Sex Addict?
Look for these common signs of a sexual addiction, and learn how to find help.
Sex is meant to be fun, healthy, and meaningful. It can help partners connect emotionally, and even releases chemicals that help with stress and bonding.
However, for some people, sex becomes less about connection, and begins to feel out of control. The feel-good chemicals of sex can begin to make you feel anything but good.
What is meant to create connection can instead interfere with relationships, and begin to feel like a drug. Similar to food and eating disorders, sex can be healthy and normal, or it can gradually ruin lives.
Patrick Carnes, a world expert in sexual addiction, sees behaviors as problematic when they begin to make people miserable. He expands in his best-selling book, Out of the Shadows, describing it like this:
"Like an alcoholic unable to stop drinking, sexual addicts are unable to stop their self-destructive sexual behavior. Family breakups, financial disaster, loss of jobs, and risk to life are the painful themes of their stories.”
Sadly, many of my clients had to deal with these losses for years before they finally found help to turn things around.
When is Someone Considered a Sex Addict?
Addiction is defined as experiencing compulsive sexual behaviors that begin to interfere with one’s life. It can wreak havoc on intimate relationships, social lives, and even parenting and work.
Someone who struggles with such compulsive behaviors is sometimes called a sexual addict, or is described as someone struggling with sexual addictions.
This difficult issue can affect anyone, regardless of income, profession, or even personal values. More than one million people in Texas alone suffer from sexual addictions.
Consider these Signs
If you’re wondering if you or someone you love is struggling, you can look for these signs of problematic behaviors:
1. Sexual acting out becomes the most important thing. Signs of struggling might involve frequent use of pornography, having sexual affairs, or compulsive masturbation. The focus on sex and related activities overtakes other things that are normally important in the person’s life.
2. Those who are addicted have problems stopping the behavior. Like with any dependency, the sexual compulsions begin to take control. Even if the person who is struggling desperately wants to stop, they have difficulty doing so, especially without outside support.
3. Like with a drug, sex becomes the way to manage all emotions. Sexual acting out might become the answer to deal with stress, anxiety, or even happiness and excitement. This furthers the addiction, making it even more difficult to stop.
4. Sex is no longer fun, and more is needed to get the same payoff. While addicts may seem weak or careless, most are trying to no avail to stop the behavior. But rather than cutting back, the addiction drives the brain to chase the same feeling that sexual acting out once provided.
5. Over time, the dependence creates a cycle of guilt. Rather than the shame driving the person to stop, it makes him or her feel worse, and triggers further use of sex to manage those feelings.
Sexual Behaviors and Trauma
Often, those who are struggling with addiction also have a history of trauma. They might struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex trauma, or triggers relating to past abuse, assaults, and neglect.
Unresolved trauma can lead to the feelings of shame that fuel addiction. Shame can make it difficult to have vulnerable connections with partners. The feeling of having emotional and intimate physical connections can feel frightening and overwhelming.
Affect on Partners
Unfortunately, the harm of sexual dependence often goes beyond the individual’s life. It can affect marriages and families as well. Episodes of infidelity, loss of connection, and confusion about the spouse’s behavior are common. Often partners feel betrayed, and blame themselves for the spouse’s addiction. I often help spouses work through these difficult feelings.
There is a Way Out
While sexually compulsive behavior might sound hopeless, it can get better. It’s difficult to overcome it alone, but having a network of support and a qualified therapist can make all the difference. Steps to get out include the following:
1. Begin to share with trusted others what’s really going on. Keeping secrets and hiding is a common impulse, but allows the addiction to thrive.
2. Find or build a network of support, such as trusted mentors, or a recovery group, that focuses on sexual behaviors.
3. Contact a qualified therapist that specialises in treating sex addiction, and begin to recover for good.
Partners of those struggling with sexual behaviors can also seek help for themselves. A qualified therapist who understands these feelings can help you begin to heal your own feelings of hurt and betrayal.