Saturday August 18th 2018

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Are You A Sex Addict? How to Spot the Signs of Sexual Addiction

Problem Behavior Causes…Problems!

Experts disagree on whether or not sex addiction should be considered a medical condition. Those who see sex addiction as a medical condition liken it to other recognized medical conditions such as gambling addiction or gaming disorder. Those who don’t see it as a medical condition argue that “sex addiction” is just a heightened version of the normal human libido.

But the argument misses the point.

Everybody agrees on the fact that some people struggle to control their sexual impulses, and that this lack of control can be extremely harmful to themselves and the people around them. It’s possible to learn to control these sexual impulses and behaviours through therapy, just as it’s possible to learn how to control the impulse to drink or to gamble.

The number of people seeking help for sex addiction is rising rapidly. Most people seeking help are men, but there is also a growing number of women seeking help too. Whether or not sex addiction is included in the latest edition of the World Health Organization’s International Classifications of Diseases (ICD) is of little concern to the people who consider themselves sex addicts.

What is a Sex Addict?

Sex addiction is commonly thought of as the pursuit of sexual stimulation for pleasure or escape to the point that it harms or endangers the individual and those close to them. The sexual stimulation sought might include sex with a partner, but it might also include masturbation with or without the use of pornography.

Sex addicts engage in range of behaviours. These include (but are not limited to) the following:

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  • Excessive use of pornography (sometimes extreme).
  • Sex with heterosexual or homosexual partners.
  • Sex with casual partners.
  • Sex with prostitutes.
  • Exhibition (flashing) and voyeurism (peeping).
  • Sadistic or masochistic sex acts.

What Are the Signs of Sex Addiction?

Sex addiction can be hard to spot. Someone with an alcohol use disorder may show physical signs of excess drinking, but someone who masturbates for six or seven hours a day might otherwise look exactly like anyone else.

But there are some clear warning signs. Sex addicts (who have sex with partners) are much more likely than the average person to have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.

Heterosexual women who are sex addicts are also likely to report unwanted pregnancies. Sex addicts can also cause damage to their genitals like cuts and sores due to excessive use. Porn addicts are often exhausted because they watch pornography in place of sleeping, and they also show other symptoms associated with excessive screen use.

Sex addiction is associated with a range of co-occurring mental problems such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive behaviours.

Are You a Sex Addict?

Potential sex addicts face another complication. While patients with an substance use disorder can recover and lead fulfilling lives without ever drinking alcohol again, that’s usually not the case with sex addicts. Sex is a meaningful part of life for most people — sex addicts included. For most sex addicts, the aim isn’t total abstinence, but reducing sexual behaviours to a “healthy” level. But that can make it more difficult to determine when a line has been crossed.

Therapists generally agree that “harm” is the tipping point. When your sexual behaviours cause harm to you or those around, you may be a sex addict. Examples of harm include the following:

  • Risky sexual behaviour (e.g. unprotected sex with a casual partner or sex worker).
  • Illegal sexual behaviour (e.g. non-consensual exhbitionism or voyeurism).
  • Contracting STDs.
  • Severe damage to your relationships and professional life due to sexual behaviour.
  • Severe self-loathing as a result of sexual behaviours.

How is Sex Addiction Treated?

As with other forms of addictive behavior, the gold-standard treatment for sex addiction is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Through CBT, the patient learns to identify automatic negative thoughts and modify thought processes so that problematic patterns can be modified or eliminated. Couples therapy and family therapy is recommended when sex addiction has damaged a marriage or a familial relationship.

In severe cases, a sex addict might seek intensive treatment at an inpatient rehab center. This will be a supportive environment free from potential triggers where small groups of people can stick to their recovery goals and attend group meetings.

What can you typically expect during a treatment session?

A counselor might also discuss the patient’s sexual history and upbringing, and analyse formative moments. People who have experienced sexual abuse or childhood neglect might want to discuss this with their counselor and examine how these traumas might be shaping current behaviors.

Is Sex Addiction Real?

Harvey Weinstein. Tiger Woods. Kevin Spacey. All three of these men sought treatment for sex addiction in luxurious rehabilitation clinics after either immoral or possibly even illegal behavior. Commentators have been tempted to ask:

“Is sex addiction a real thing, or is it just a way for badly behaved men to paint themselves as victims and diminish their responsibility for their actions?”

Of course, just because some people might pretend to be sex addicts for their own benefit doesn’t mean that there aren’t real sex addicts out there. It should also be said that being a sex addict doesn’t automatically absolve you of your bad behavior.

In the past, addiction was often defined more narrowly to only include substances that caused withdrawal symptoms when the addict quit. In this sense of the word, alcohol and nicotine are chemically addictive. In addition, definitions of addiction also included some concept of harm. Most people don’t truly consider themselves to be addicted to coffee despite the chemically addictive properties of caffeine, because there’s no substantial risk of harm, even when coffee is drunk “to excess”.

Nowadays, researchers unanimously agree that it’s possible to become addicted to behaviours like gambling or even gaming. The WHO has just added “gaming disorder” to the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases. These behaviours can be considered addictions under a wider understanding of addiction. In this wider definition, an addiction is a habit-forming activity pursued for pleasure that brings harm to the participant.

The difficulty is in the definitions: all of us pursue pleasure, most of us pursue full sexual lives and many of us do stupid — potentially even harmful — things in the pursuit of sex. Deciding when that harm indicates an addiction, and what to do about it, is a decision to be made by the people directly affected.

Author Bio: Obi Unaka has developed addiction treatment services and leading clinical teams within residential, community and criminal justice settings. He’s currently the Treatment Director at Charterhouse Clinic Premier, an outpatients rehab clinic in the UK.

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About Obi Unaka, Bsc (Hons) MCMI

Obi Unaka is the Treatment Director of Charterhouse Clinic Flore, a fully residential, luxurious drug and alcohol rehabilitation, health and wellbeing facility set in the idyllic countryside of Northamptonshire, UK. Obi is a therapist, clinical supervisor, consultant and registered manager with many years experience of working with individuals presenting with problematic substance use and process or behavioral addictions.

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