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SEX AND PORNOGRAPHY

sex addiction

The Mayo Clinic describes sex and pornography addictions as compulsive sexual behavior that is sometimes called hypersexuality, hypersexual disorder, nymphomania or sexual addiction. It’s an obsession with sexual thoughts, urges or behaviors that may cause you distress or that negatively affects your health, job, relationships or other parts of your life.

Compulsive sexual behavior may involve a commonly enjoyable sexual experience (for example, self-stimulation) that becomes an obsession and becomes disruptive or harmful to you or others. Other compulsive sexual behaviors are outside the bounds of commonly accepted conduct (for example, paying for sex or having extramarital affairs) and cause distress. And these behaviors could have negative consequences.

No matter what it’s called or the exact nature of the behavior, untreated compulsive sexual behavior can damage your self-esteem, relationships, career and other people. But with treatment and self-help, you can manage compulsive sexual behavior and learn to manage your urges.  A sexual addiction can manifest itself in many ways, so you will need to look for a variety of possible warning signs that you or your spouse or partner is a sex addict.

Individuals who experience significant traumas in childhood (such poor parental relationships or childhood sexual abuse) may also be more prone to develop sexual compulsions in adulthood. Adults with traumatic childhood histories are also more likely to have the diminished self-esteem and self-image that is common among individuals who display addictive behaviors toward sex and relationships.

K. A. Cunningham, PhD, director of the Center for Addiction Research at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, identifies the following possibilities:

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Sex dominates an individual’s life to the exclusion of other activities.
  • The individual engages in phone sex, computer sex, use of prostitutes, pornography, or exhibitionism.
  • Sexual behaviors and fantasies that interfere with work performance
  • Constantly thinking about or planning sexual activity
  • The person habitually masturbates.
  • The individual has multiple sexual partners or cheats on partners.
  • In extreme cases, the person engages in criminal activities, including stalking, rape, incest, or child molestation.
  • Powerful shame about the sexual behavior
  • Inability to stop acting out sexually
  • Inability to make a commitment to a loving relationship
  • Depending upon relationship status as a basis for feelings of self-worth
  • Little or no emotional satisfaction gained from having sex

Sex addicts use sex the way drug addicts use drugs or alcoholics use alcohol — as a compulsive means of self-medicating for anxiety, pain, loneliness, stress, or other emotions. As with other forms of addiction, sexual addiction manifests itself as a compulsive behavior that the afflicted individual is incapable of stopping, even after the behavior has resulted in negative consequences. Sex addictions can also manifest via compulsive masturbation, an obsession with pornography, cybersex, exhibitionism, and voyeurism

Indicators of Sexual Addiction

The sex addict uses sex as a quick fix, or as a form of medication for anxiety, pain, loneliness, stress, or sleep. Sex addicts often refer to sex as their “pain reliever” or “tension reliever.” In a popular novel, the heroine describes sex as “the thinking women’s Valium.”

Other indicators that sexual behavior may be out of control include: an obsession with sex that dominates one’s life, including sexual fantasies that interfere with work performance; so much time devoted to planning sexual activity that it interferes with other activities; strong feelings of shame about one’s sexual behavior; a feeling of powerlessness or inability to stop despite predictable adverse consequences; inability to make a commitment to a loving relationship; extreme dependence upon a relationship as a basis for feelings of self-worth; or little emotional satisfaction gained from the sex act.

The effects of a sex addiction can be severe.

  • According to Departmental Management of the USDA, about 38% of men and 45% of women with sex addictions have sexually transmitted disease as a result of their behavior, and physical consequences like sexual dysfunction.
  • Pregnancy is also a common side effect that can occur due to risky behavior. In one survey, nearly 70% of women with sex addictions reported they’d experienced at least one unwanted pregnancy as a result of their addiction.
  • A decline in personal relationships, social, and family engagement.
  • Decreased concentration and productivity at work.

It can have profound psychological effects, like generating feelings of shame, inadequacy, and emotional distress. It can lead to, or stem from, comorbid psychological disorders like:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Problems related to impulse control and emotion dysregulation.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive type symptoms.

In a survey conducted by Carnes, 97% responded that their sexual activity led to loss of self-esteem. Other reported emotional costs were strong feelings of guilt or shame, 96%; strong feelings of isolation and loneliness, 94%; feelings of extreme hopelessness or despair, 91%; acting against personal values and beliefs, 90%; feeling like two people, 88%; emotional exhaustion, 83%; strong fears about own future, 82%; and emotional instability, 78%.  Carnes found that 42% of sex addicts in his sample also had a problem with either alcohol or drug dependency and 38% had eating disorders.

It is important to know that addressing co-occurring problems in one’s life, like depression, social anxiety, or social isolation, can make it easier to recover from sexual addiction. For people who have developed a sex/love addiction, experiences that are normally sources of great pleasure morph into compulsions that lead to harmful, self-destructive, and otherwise risky behaviors. Sex/love addiction isn’t about having fun — instead, it is an obsessive behavior disorder that often leaves the sufferer emotionally unfulfilled, ashamed, and in danger of myriad negative consequences.

Compulsive or addictive sexual behavior may take various forms, including what many regard as “normal” heterosexual behavior. The type of sexual activity and even the frequency or number of partners are not of great significance in diagnosing this problem. Some individuals have a naturally stronger sex drive than others, and the range of human sexual activity is so broad that it is difficult to define “normal” sexual behavior. What is significant is a pattern of self-destructive or high risk sexual behavior that is unfulfilling and that a person is unable to stop.

The roots of out-of-control sexual behavior may be quite varied. It may be caused by an underlying personality disorder, an “addiction” to sex, or a physical disorder. The traditional disorders of exaggerated sexuality, nymphomania in the female and satyriasis in the male, are believed to be caused by a disorder of the pituitary gland or irritation of the brain cortex by a tumor, arteriosclerosis or epilepsy. These physical disorders are rare.

Consequences of Sexual Addiction

Out-of-control sexuality may have serious adverse consequences. In the Carnes survey of individuals in treatment, 38% of the men and 45% of the women contracted venereal diseases; 64% reported that they continued their sexual behavior despite the risk of disease or infection. Of the women, 70% routinely risked unwanted pregnancy by not using birth control, and 42% reported having unwanted pregnancies.

Many patients had pursued their sexual activities to the point of exhaustion (59%) or even physical injury requiring medical treatment (38%). Many (58%) pursued activities for which they felt they could be arrested and 19% actually were arrested. Sleep disorders were reported by 65%; they usually resulted from stress or shame connected with the sexual activity.

Of the survey respondents, 56% experienced severe financial difficulty because of their sexual activity. Loss of job productivity was reported by 80%, and 11% were actually demoted as a result. Many of these problems are, of course, encountered by persons whose sexuality is not out of control, but the percentages are much lower.

Again, it is important to understand that sex/love addiction is not a matter of having a strong sex drive or being “overly romantic.” Individuals who are struggling with sex addiction or love addiction have a compulsive (and ultimately self-destructive) behavior disorder that compels them to continue to engage in dangerous, destructive, and demeaning acts.

Treating sex/love addiction is a complex and highly individualized experience that must take a number of factors into account. Sex/love addicts are often trauma survivors (many of whom endured sexual abuse during childhood), and many are also struggling with co-occurring disorders such as alcoholism, addiction, and depression or other mood disorders.

Depending upon the unique circumstances of the individual patient, sex/love addiction treatment may involve a number of the following:

  • Medication (such as anti-depressants and related psychiatric drugs)
  • Individual, Group, and Family Therapy
  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) — for trauma survivors
  • Relationship Counseling
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • 12-Step Philosophies (both for co-occurring substance addictions and for the sex addiction itself)
  • Family Systems Therapy
  • Psychodrama Therapy

Recovery Programs

Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous are all nationwide organizations for individuals recovering from problems with compulsive sexual behavior. They are 12-step recovery programs patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous.

Reference:
Adapted by:  CRC Health – Addiction Treatment Centers, http://www.crchealth.com/
MayoClinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/

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