Sexual health matters because we are all sexual beings. In today’s world, it matters little if we are attracted to the opposite gender, the same gender, or even both. With experience, we learn how to understand sexual pleasure and in the process learn about our own bodies, our own sexual desires and responses.
Sex is a normal basic part of human nature and it is quite normal to have a vigorous libido. However, like in all other things, there is a tipping point. What if that libido and sexual desire go out of control? Problems arise when a person can no longer contain their sexual impulses regardless of how devastating or whatever consequences it might bring.
Having a healthy sex life does have its benefits:
- Improves immunity by boosting the immune system
- Physiological and emotional stress relief
- Improves sleep
- Lowers blood pressure
- Better cardiovascular health
- Immediate and natural pain relief
- Boosts self-esteem
- Reduces the risk of prostate cancer in men
- Increases lifespan
Listed above are just some of the benefits associated with having a normal and healthy sex life. Regular sex can provide many boosts to our general well-being. Sexually expressive people are usually more confident, happier and tend to have more fulfilling relationships.
From a usually fulfilling and enjoyable exercise, it now becomes emotionally distressing that causes negative consequences, and can impact relationships and general wellbeing. Sex addiction can bring real-life consequences, it is not always recognized as a legitimate diagnosis. However, it can still be diagnosed and it can bring real-life consequences.
What Is Sex Addiction?
By definition, ‘sex addiction’ is described as an irresistible need to engage in sexual acts in order to achieve a sort of “fix.” This behavior is somewhat similar to a person with alcohol use disorder or someone with opiate use disorder.
To demonstrate how damaging sex addiction can be, there are a number of big name celebrities who have come forward to admit they have a problem with the likes of: Colin Farrel, Russell Brand, Rob Lowe, David Duchovny, Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Tiger Woods just to name a few.
For these celebrities, the problem is heightened by temptation they find at every corner. From wild parties to ‘thirsty’ fans. Sadly, many of these celebrities lost marriages to such temptations and some even engaged in scandalous affairs.
But, they are not alone. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy approximates, 12 million other Americans are too. Though we have said earlier that sex addiction can be diagnosed, the scientific community still debates on whether sex addiction is a ‘real’ diagnosis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes sex addiction as its own mental health condition, while the American Psychological Association disagrees and deem it as not.
Common Signs of Sex Addiction
Who does not enjoy sex and goes out to seek it out from time to time? However, if this enjoyment becomes an obsession and causes the individual to be consumed by sexual fantasies it becomes a problem. This is exacerbated by the ‘need’ to consistently prioritize and engage in increasing amounts of sex, or more unusual forms of sexual gratification, over family, friends, and work.
Common signs of sex addiction to look out for include
- Extended periods of promiscuity with multiple partners.
- Sex dominates their life and excludes all other activities.
- Compulsive consumption of pornography.
- Excessive masturbation sometimes can lead to physical injury.
- Engagement in excessive cybersex and phone sex.
- Engaging into prostitution or seeking out the use of prostitutes.
- Constant marital infidelity
- Practices unsafe sex
- Engages in exhibitionism and voyeurism
- Loneliness and isolation
Some individuals with this problem may be totally aware that they have this issue but are unable to control their urges. They may even try to repeatedly reduce or limit their sexual dependencies but fail miserably to gain any form of progress. Some would even rationalize their actions and deny they have a problem even if their actions are already infringing on their relationships with family and friends.
Treatments for Sex Addiction
As we have mentioned earlier, there is still an ongoing debate in the psychiatric community how to define compulsive sexual behavior. Accordingly, it is not always easy to determine when sexual behaviors become problematic.
Mental health professionals commonly use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. But since compulsive sexual behavior does not have its own category in DSM-5, it is diagnosed as a subcategory of another mental health condition, specifically, behavioral addiction or an impulse control disorder.
Typically, sex addiction involves psychotherapy, help groups, and medications. The primary goal is to help the individual to manage their urges and to reduce excessive behaviors while still maintaining their healthy sexual activities.
Psychotherapy can help the patient learn how to manage their compulsive sexual behavior. Types of psychotherapy include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – It helps the patient identify unhealthy negative beliefs and behaviors and replace these behaviors with more adaptive ways of coping.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy – is another form of CBT but emphasizes more the acceptance of thoughts and urges and inculcating a commitment to methods in choosing behaviors consistent with important values.
- Psychodynamic psychotherapy – This therapy focuses on increasing one’s awareness of unconscious thoughts and behaviors, developing insights into motivations, and resolving conflicts.
Many of these groups are modeled after the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). These are beneficial for people with compulsive sexual behaviors. These groups can help with:
- Learning and understanding your disorder.
- Finding support and understanding of your condition.
- Identifying other treatment options.
- Help in preventing relapse.
Some of these groups may offer internet-based meetings apart from local in-person meetings, or in some cases, both. If there is a need for you to attend these self-help groups, look for one that has a good reputation and one that you are comfortable with. Your mental health professional may assist you in suggesting groups you may join in or suggest alternatives to support groups.
In addition to psychotherapy and self-help groups, there are certain medications that may help because of how they interact with brain chemicals linked to obsessive thoughts and behaviors. They may help lessen the chemical “rewards” these behaviors provide when acted upon. They may also help in curbing sexual urges. As with any medication, what’s best for you will depend on your situation and other mental health conditions you may have.
The types of medications used to treat sex addiction are often prescribed primarily for other conditions. Such as:
- Mood Stabilizers – Generally used to treat bipolar disorder, however, they may also be used to reduce compulsive sexual urges.
- Anti-androgens – This helps reduce the effects of sex hormones (androgens) in men. These are typically used when sexual urges are already a danger to others.
- Antidepressants – Certain types of antidepressants for depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder may be beneficial with compulsive sexual behavior.
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol) – these medications used to treat alcohol and opiate dependence blocks part of the brain that feels pleasure with certain addictive behaviors. This may not only help in curbing compulsive sexual behavior but may also help in gambling disorders.
If you feel and acknowledge that you have a problem such as sex addiction, you should start seeking help by speaking with your family doctor. Your doctor can also point you toward self-help groups or organizations that can help you in finding support.