When actor David Duchovny was treated for sex addiction in 2008, it brought attention to a topic that few people had ever discussed at a water cooler before.
Similar to food addiction, sex addiction (sometimes referred to as “sex and love addiction”) involves a natural part of life that the afflicted individual takes to extremes, harming self and sometimes others.
Drawing another parallel to food, sex addicts may overindulge in sex or sexual activities (similar to binge eating) or they may isolate themselves to the point where they curtail almost all activities where they might face temptation or opportunity (similar to anorexia).
Some people are suspicious about sex addiction and don’t want it used as an explanation or excuse for criminal sexual behavior. The New York Times, however, reported in 2008 that sex addiction is being considered for inclusion in the 2012 version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a widely accepted reference in the medical industry.
What Does Sex Addiction Look Like?
Sex addicts find themselves unable to control or manage behaviors, such as compulsive sex, masturbation or viewing pornography. Some sex addicts also engage in illegal acts such as child pornography, voyeurism, molestation, rape or incest.
Sex addiction does not necessarily lead to sex offending. Moreover, not all sex offenders are sex addicts. Roughly 55 percent of convicted sex offenders can be considered sex addicts.
Sex addicts may feel so compulsive about carrying out certain behaviors that they become extremely anxious or irrational if they don’t do them. Sex takes over their entire lives, and they spend practically every waking moment either acting on their urges or trying to control them.
Decades after the sexual revolution of the 1960s, many sexual behaviors are still stigmatized in various communities; that stigma leads people with sex addiction to feel even more ashamed, isolated and depressed about their feelings and actions.
What Causes Sex Addiction?
There are different theories as to what causes sex addiction. In an article for the PsychCentral website, Michael Herkov, Ph.D, cites research that shows that as many as 82% of sex addicts suffered sexual abuse as children.
Much research has been done to support a biochemical explanation. The rush of good feelings that people experience from sexual acts may be exaggerated in the brains of sex addicts. It’s similar to how alcoholics can be triggered to want more by even a small taste of alcohol.
Once the compulsion is triggered by exposure, the obsession takes over. And that exposure doesn’t have to be physical; it could be thinking about or seeing something that reminds the addict of that rush.
Addicts also have other issues or problems in their life that they feel incapable of dealing with. The preoccupation with sex provides an escape from those problems.
How Does Someone Recover from Sex Addiction?
- If you are struggling with sex addiction, the first step is to admit there is a problem and ask for help.
- Be kind to yourself. You didn’t choose to have this problem, but you can choose to do something about it.
- There are many resources available that promote sexual health and offer assistance to sex addicts who want to recover, including your therapist and 12-Step programs such as Sex Addicts Anonymous, and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.
- You can also speak to your doctor, a clinic or an anonymous help line for resources in your area.
If Someone You Love Is a Sex Addict
It is very troubling to suspect that someone you love is a sex addict. If it is your partner, then the issue encroaches on your own intimate relationship with the person. If it is another family member or friend, you may be embarrassed or ashamed to be connected with the problem.
In all cases, sex addiction is affecting your relationship and your life. And you need as much help and support as the person with the addiction. There are meetings and support programs available for you as well, including S-Anon.
Seeking help for sex addiction takes courage, but it can mean the end of suffering in silence, and the beginning of a new life, including healthy, loving relationships and hope for the future.
Dr. Bill Duke is the founder and principal treatment provider at Awakening Recovery Center. Awakening provides alcohol treatment and state licensed DUI treatment programs in Jacksonville, Florida.