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Sex Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Sex is considered a vital part of life, just like eating, sleeping and breathing. Sex can make you feel good about yourself, and sex can help you feel closer to your partner. But, sex can also be a destructive force. In fact, some people develop unhealthy preoccupations with sex, and over time, they may find that they’re unable to control their sex-related behaviors. These people may struggle with their illnesses, as they’re too embarrassed to talk about their thoughts or their urges. They might even believe that no one will truly understand what it’s like to be addicted to sex.

If you’re struggling with a sex addiction, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. While the statistics on the number of people impacted are remarkably rare, likely due to the taboo that surrounds all things concerning sex in our culture, some other statistics seem to indicate that sex addictions are common. For example, according to an article in The Daily Beast, there are 1,500 sex therapists treating sex-related compulsions. A decade ago, there were fewer than 100 such therapists. Perhaps there are more cases of sex addiction now than there were in the past. Or perhaps people are feeling more comfortable disclosing their addictions and asking for help. In any case, if you do struggle with sex addiction, you’re in good company and there are good treatments that can help.

*A Survivor’s Story

“When my addiction was at its height, I was having sex six or eight times each day. As soon as I met someone, I was trying to think about how to have sex with her. When I was having sex, however, I wasn’t really having fun. I felt possessed, like someone else was inside my body and I wasn’t even there. When it was all over, I felt incredibly guilty, but then I was already planning my next conquest. When my wife found out, she threatened to leave and take my kids. I knew I needed help.” – David

Associated Behaviors

Your sexual addiction can look much different than the sexual addiction another person has. Each person’s preferences regarding sex are a little different, and the behaviors you engage in might vary depending on what you have access to and what you liked to do in the sexual arena before you developed a disorder. In general, behaviors associated with sexual addiction include:

  • Multiple affairs
  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Sex with strangers or prostitutes
  • Prolonged use of pornography
  • Exhibitionism or prostitution
  • Voyeurism

You may find that you cannot perform your obligations at work, because you’re spending so much time either having sex or thinking about sex. You might have been caught looking at pornography at work, or you might have even been caught having sex at work. Your romantic relationships might also be destroyed, as you continually lie in order to find new people to have sex with.

As the addiction moves forward, you might find that you need to take greater risks or have more intense experiences in order to feel the same rush of pleasure from sex. Sometimes, this can lead you to engage in illegal acts, such as looking at banned forms of pornography. You might even be compelled to hurt other people as part of your sexual compulsion. If your addiction has progressed to this degree, it’s important to get help now. These behaviors can land you in jail.

*Three Quick Questions

Since sex addictions can look different in different people, you might not recognize your symptoms in typical self-tests for addiction. As an alternate, the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health recommends asking only three questions:

  1. Have you lost control over your sexual behavior?
  2. Is the lack of control causing you significant trouble in your life?
  3. Are you thinking about sex when you don’t want to?

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you’ll benefit from therapy.

Mental Impact

If you’re addicted to sex, the act itself rarely brings you joy. Instead, you might feel empty, used or guilty. Even so, you might feel compelled to do the acts again. Performing acts you don’t enjoy but feel powerless to stop can make you feel simply awful, and associated mental distress is one of the hallmarks of sexual addiction. As an article in the journal Minnesota Medicine puts it, clinical signs of sex addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Alcohol abuse

While it’s easy for outsiders to make fun of sex addictions and imply that it’s one of the rare forms of mental illness that almost anyone would be happy to have, people who are impacted by the disorder know that living a life of secrecy, feeling alone and needing to hide the behavior, can be its own form of torture. It’s painful and deeply distressing.

*A Self Test

For those who prefer a more straightforward approach to the diagnosis of sexual addiction, this test might be appropriate. The more positive answers provided, the more likely it is that addiction is playing a role in your life:

  1. Do you think about sex most, if not all, of the time?
  2. Do you think your behavior is troublesome?
  3. Is your spouse or partner concerned?
  4. Do you feel guilty or upset about your sexual behavior?
  5. Do you lie about your sexual behavior?
  6. Have you tried to stop behaving in this way, and found you were unable to do so?

Defining Terms

There is a debate raging in the medical community about whether unhealthy sexual behaviors can be classified as an addiction, or whether they should be considered issues of poor impulse control. It might seem like an esoteric discussion that doesn’t apply to you, but there is good reason to learn more about this debate. The term used to describe your behavior will often help to define how it is treated.

An addiction is defined as the compulsive urge to do something despite the fact that you know the act will cause you harm in some way. Most medical experts feel that, in order to be considered an addiction, the behavior must begin with a chemical change in the brain. There is some evidence to suggest that some people have these sorts of chemical-based addictions to sex. When you’re engaged in sex, your brain releases a variety of pleasurable chemicals. Those chemicals serve to reinforce the behavior, ensuring that people will keep having sex and propagating the species year after year. People who have a significant amount of sex may flood their brains with these chemicals, and over time, their brains may call out for these chemicals and prompt them to have sex again. This would be a hallmark of addiction. If you find you cannot control your behavior, no matter what you do, your doctor might give you medications to help. In one study published in the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry, of those people with sexual addictions who were given the medication naltrexone, 89 percent reported a decrease in symptoms. This might be a good therapy for you.

But your behavior might not be due to a chemical change in the brain. Instead, the behavior might be labeled impulsive. There are multiple tests experts can use to distinguish behavior that is compulsive, based on chemical changes, and impulsive, based on poor control of behavior. In a study published in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry, researchers found that people who had unusual sexual behaviors scored higher on tests of impulsivity, compared to tests of compulsivity. They may be unable to control their sexual-related behaviors, but it’s not due to a chemical change in the brain. If you find you can control your behavior for a time, but perhaps not for long, perhaps you need therapy only to help you learn how to control your impulses.

And finally, some experts believe that sexual behaviors are sometimes part of other mental health conditions. These other mental illnesses may cause people to behave in impulsive ways, or they may cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do if they did not have a mental illness. There is some evidence that suggests that people with unusual sexual behaviors have mental illnesses. For example, a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that 39 percent of those sex addicts studied had a history of major depression, 42 percent had a history of phobia and 64 percent had a history of substance abuse. It could be that sexual behaviors are somehow linked to these other disorders. Getting therapy for these disorders might help your behavior to abate.

Starting the Discussion

If you know your behavior is inappropriate but you’re unable to keep it under control, it’s time to have an open and honest talk with your doctor. It can be hard to bring up such a delicate topic, especially if you’ve engaged in some behaviors you’d rather not even remember, much less talk about, but your doctor will need to know the extent of the problem and how you feel about it in order to help you find the right treatment program.

In addition, you’ll need to discuss your behaviors with your sexual partner, especially if you’ve had risky or unprotected sex with multiple partners. You might be exposing your sexual partner to diseases, and your partner might need screenings in order to get the proper treatment for those conditions. Again, this can be an awkward discussion, but it’s an important part of the healing process.

If you’re ready to get the treatment you need to heal, contact us today. We can connect you with an evidence-based treatment program that can address your issues with sex addiction. Call now.