Mark Hillman, Ph.D., (Psy) LMHC
Sexual desire can be healthy and safe, but like the desire to drink or eat, it can also grow beyond a person's control. And when it does, it can create problems in other aspects of life such as family, friendship, career and recreation. Sex addicts feel they need greater and greater sexual stimulation, more and more often, and will sacrifice almost anything to get it.
Sexual addiction can be understood by comparing it to other types of addiction. Chemical addicts find they need drugs to feel normal. In sexual addiction, a parallel situation exists. Sex provides the "high" and addicts become dependent on this sexual high to feel normal. They substitute healthy relationships for unhealthy ones and opt for temporary pleasure rather than the deeper quality of "normal" intimate relationships.
Sexual addiction follows the same progressive nature of other addictions. Sexual addicts struggle to control their behaviors and experience despair over constant failure to do so. Their loss of self-esteem grows, adding to the need to escape further into addictive behavior. Sexual addicts feel tremendous guilt and shame about their out-of-control behavior, and live in constant fear of discovery.
A pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior. Examples include: Compulsive masturbation, indulging in pornography, having multiple affairs, exhibitionism, dangerous sexual practices, prostitution, anonymous sex, compulsive sexual episodes and voyeurism.
Experiencing severe consequences due to sexual behavior, and an inability to stop despite these adverse consequences. Consequences include: Loss of partner or spouse, severe marital or relationship problems, loss of career opportunities, unwanted pregnancies, suicidal ideation, exposure to AIDS or other sexually transmitted disease.
Persistent pursuit of self-destructive behavior. Sexual addicts understand the consequences of their actions but cannot stop acting out. They often seem to have a willfulness about them and an attitude that prevents them from dealing with the consequences of their behavior until it is too late.
On-going desire or effort to limit sexual behavior. Sex addicts often create external barriers in an attempt to control their sexual behavior. Examples include moving to new cities, neighborhoods, or a new environment. Many immerse themselves in religion to soothe their shame, but their acting out continues. Sexual anorexia is also attempted in which they allow themselves no sexual expression at all.
Sexual obsession and fantasy as a primary coping strategy. By fantasizing, the sex addict can maintain a constant level of arousal. Along with obsession, the two behaviors can create a kind of analgesic "fix".
Regularly increasing the amount of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer sufficiently satisfying. Sexual addiction is often progressive and while many sex addicts may attempt to control their behavior for a period of time, the behavior returns and quickly escalates to levels beyond those previously experienced. Bingeing occurs to the point of emotional exhaustion, and withdrawal for sex addicts can parallel the physical pain experienced by those withdrawing from opiate addiction.
Severe mood changes related to sexual activity. Sex addicts experience intense shifts in mood, often due to the despair and shame of unwanted sex.
Inordinate amounts of time spent obtaining sex, being sexual, and recovering from sexual experiences. Two sets of activities organize a sexual addict's day. One involves obsession, devoting them to initiating sex, and actually being sexual, the other is dealing with consequences of the sexual behavior.
Neglect of important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of sexual behavior. As more of the addict's energy is focused on relationships with sexual potential, healthy relationships and activities suffer from neglect.
The following are questions you may ask yourself: