Can Sex become an Addiction?

What is Sex Addiction?

A nymphomaniac, according to Dr Alfred Kinsey, renowned sex researcher, is simply “someone who has more sex than you.” But everyone enjoys sex, don’t they? What is it that distinguishes the sex addicts from other people? When is repeated sexual behavior a problem?

Sexual behavior becomes a problem when:

•        it is harmful and hurtful to the individual or others

•        when it is repeated or engaged in inappropriately

•        when you feel out of control of what you are doing (not at the height of orgasm but when it comes to choosing what, when, where and with whom)

•        when you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about what you have done and what you plan to do, to the extent that it interferes with your usual work and social life.

As with any other normal aspect of a fully rounded life, if your sexual activity has become so overwhelming that it is a preoccupation that takes precedence over your usual work and family or social duties, things have proportion. Typical of many other self-defeating patterns of behavior, the more you do it, the less you get whatever it was you were originally seeking by doing it. The Don Juan is like the unhappy millionaires I’ve known, who were sure that just another 10% further wealth would be completely satisfying, but could never meet that elusive and retreating target. At first it may seem to relieve stress, depression, anxiety or loneliness; soon it clearly only underlines and emphasizes these uncomfortable states of mind.
3 Levels Of Sex Addiction

Dr. Carnes also described the three levels of sex addiction in Out of the Shadows, which correspond to varying degrees of consent.

Level One – sexual behaviors include compulsive masturbation, pornography, and consensual sexual liaisons both heterosexual and homosexual.

Level Two – behaviors are illegal activities but considered as “nuisance offences,” even though they are non-consensual therefore they all involve a degree of victimization. These include flashing, voyeurism and indecent phone calls.

Level Three – behaviors are serious criminal behaviors that are dangerous and abusive, and result in serious consequences for the victims. These include child molestation, sexual abuse of vulnerable adults, and rape.

10 Types Of Sex Addiction

1. Fantasy Sex – Sexually charged fantasies, relationships, and situations. Arousal depends on sexual possibility. How to stop fantasizing?

2. Seductive Role Sex – Seduction of partners.  Arousal is based on conquest and diminishes rapidly after initial contact.

3. Voyeuristic Sex – Visual arousal. The use of visual stimulation to escape into obsessive trance.

4. Exhibitionistic Sex – Attracting attention to body or sexual parts of the body. Sexual arousal stems from reaction of viewer whether shock or interest.

5. Paying for Sex – Purchasing of sexual services. Arousal is connected to payment for sex, and with time the arousal actually becomes connected to the money itself.

6. Trading Sex – Selling or bartering sex for power. Arousal is based on gaining control of others by using sex as leverage.

7. Intrusive Sex – Boundary violation without discovery. Sexual arousal occurs by violating boundaries with no repercussions.

8. Anonymous Sex – High-risk sex with unknown persons. Arousal involves no seduction or cost and is immediate.

9. Pain Exchange Sex – Being humiliated or hurt as part of sexual arousal; or sadistic hurting or degrading another sexually, or both.

10. Exploitative Sex – Exploitation of the vulnerable. Arousal patterns are based on target ‘types’ of vulnerability.

Problems caused by sexual compulsivity.

Sexually compulsive behavior (depending on the type of indulgence chosen) could have a wide range of negative effects, which could include the following:

•        you could run into serious problems with the law

•        run a major risk of pregnancy

•        you could be at risk for STIs and HIV (both for yourself and your partners)

•        you could run up significant financial expenses.

•        you are likely to neglect your marriage or primary relationship

•        failure to concentrate on your work may risk the loss of a job.

Giving it a name.

For ages doctors and psychologists have recognized that some people engage in sex unusually often, often to the detriment of themselves or of others. This behavior has been given various names, and has attracted various responses, as will be discussed below.

In the 1970s it was renamed “sexual addiction” by researcher and psychologist Patrick Carnes and the phrase was greatly publicized. But this was no useful discovery, nor was it accompanied by any significant advances in treatment – merely renaming a problem rarely leads to a solution.

The theories on “sexual addiction”.

This psychologist claimed that such promiscuous people had become addicted to certain brain-chemical changes that occur during sex, much the same as a drug addict gets hooked on cocaine or heroin. There was no explanation of why some people would get hooked on the chemistry of sex, while the rest of us would just enjoy it without losing control. Based on his experience, he estimated that around 8% of all American men, and 3% of American women, were sexual addicts. Those writing on “sex addiction” mention that addictive sex may lead to remorse, excuses, shame, exploitation, secretiveness, or hypocrisy – just like any other type of sex. They speak of compulsive masturbation, compulsive sex with prostitutes or with multiple partners, and indeed, any form of usual or deviant sexual behavior which is unduly repeated. They claim that the condition is progressive and gets worse without treatment, even if it may go into remission for years at a time. Having examined some of the screening tests they recommend, I find that they include far too much normal and usual behavior.

Men behaving badly?

The problem is that though sexual behavior may, under various circumstances, be compulsive, it is not an addiction, and nobody has thought it useful to call every other form of compulsive behaviour “addictive”. This name does not point us towards any specifically useful treatment. The concept is too often used by people who are simply behaving badly, as an excuse for not even trying to change their preferred style of behavior. It also has the huge disadvantage that it is a name that assumes a single type of problem with a single type of cause, rather than recognizing how many different disorders and illnesses may contribute towards this situation.

Other causes of hypersexuality.

Far from adding to our understanding, the “sex addict” over-simplification has helped people to forget that there can be many other possible causes of troublesome increases in libido and sexual activity. One of the oldest and most eternally valid principles in medicine is that before you can plan an effective treatment, there has to be a comprehensive assessment and a sound diagnosis, not a rush to judgment. It’s worth understanding that someone may be labeled as a sex addict simply because they are more sexually active than the person applying the label, or because they enjoy themselves in ways the labeler doesn’t appreciate. For a number of reasons one’s libido, the level of sexual desire one experiences may be increased, by something as commonplace as being under extra stress, as sex is excellent recreation and usually induces enjoyment followed by relaxation.

On the other hand, the primary problem may be a loss of impulse control, such as can follow some forms of brain injury or brain disease, in which the person is just much less able to control such desires as they may feel. It may be related to a form of epilepsy, or to something such as Alzheimer’s Disease. It can occur during manic phases of bipolar disorder or even during a depressive episode (just as depression may include an increase or decrease in appetite for food, weight gain or loss). It can be part of a formal obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a common part of the manic phase of bipolar disorder. Someone may even be of low libido and uninterested in sex while their mood is normal, only to become, as they grow manic, increasingly interested in sex, hopefully with their settled partner, but potentially with just about anyone.

When should you seek professional help?

As soon as you recognize the problem for what it is – by definition, the matter is beyond mere self-help, although your own full collaboration will be essential for successful expert treatment.

What sort of treatment is likely to be used?
Individual psychotherapy/serious counseling is surely needed, to help you understand and manage your sexual obsessions. Marriage/relationship counseling would be needed after you have begun to sort yourself out. Modern antidepressants of the SSRI family may help, both to attend to co-existing anxiety and depression, and they may reduce the power of the obsessiveness underlying the problem.

(adapted from Prof M.A. Simpson, aka Cybershrink, updated February 2008; http://sex.addictionblog.org/types-of-sex-addiction/ )