Understanding what is sexual addiction

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Understanding what is sexual addiction

By now most if not all of us have heard of the scandalous behavior of Hollywood mogul Harvey WeinsteinThe New York Times broke the news of unreported and covered up escapades of years of sexual harassment allegations against the American film producer and former film studio executive which was followed up by The New Yorker with an article in which three women accused Weinstein of raping them.

The latest news is that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, voted overwhelmingly to “immediately expel” Harvey Weinstein who will be seeking behavioral treatment at an Arizona rehab for supposedly sex addiction.  Whether the “sex addict” applies in Weinstein’s case or not is still unclear.

What is sexual addiction?

Sex is a normal part of life and it is perfectly normal and healthy to have a vigorous libido.  But problems begin when it becomes all-consuming and the sexual desire goes from being healthy to out of control.

Individuals who have the behavior known as sexual addiction or hypersexual disorder will be plagued with and motivated by persistent and escalating sexual thoughts and acts.  They struggle to control or postpone sexual feelings and actions and most do not know how to experience true intimacy in that they have little or no attachment to their sexual partners.

Like any type of addiction such as those addicted to alcohol or drugs, people who are sex addicts achieve their “high” through compulsive sexual behavior leading to a dependence on feeling the “high” and if they don’t get it, they can have withdrawal symptoms without sex.

What keeps a sex addict “hooked” on this behavior is just like what happens to people addicted to drugs or alcohol – the activity produces chemical changes in the brain.  As the sexual behavior grows over time, the brain adapts to the flood of neurotransmitters causing a craving for more intense experiences or the need of frequent stimuli to feel the initial rush.

Signs and symptoms of sexual addiction

We may think of someone addicted to sex as the creep who lives down the street but there are a wide range of behaviors that can be symptoms of sexual addiction including:

·      Compulsive masturbation

·      Multiple affairs

·      Anonymous sex

·      Obsessive dating

·      Compulsive use of pornography

·      Risky or unsafe sex

·      Cybersex

·      Exhibitionism

·      Voyeurism

·      Prostitution or use of prostitutes

·      Lying to cover their addiction

·      Chronic, obsessive sexual thoughts and fantasies

·      Need for dominance and control in sexual encounters

·      In extreme cases, they may engage in criminal activities including stalking, rape, incest, or child molestation

What causes sexual addiction?

Why some people and not others develop an addiction to sex is not completely understood.  It could be due to some biochemical abnormality or other brain changes that increase the risk as antidepressants and other psychotropic medications have proven effective in treating some people with this condition.

Research has also found that sex addicts often come from dysfunctional families and are more likely to have been abused.  Many of them have a high incidence of being sexually abused as children and many describe their parents as rigid, distant, and uncaring.  Up to 80 percent of recovering sex addicts report coming from families, including themselves, who were substance abusers.

Treatment for sexual addiction

The goal of treatment for someone who is a sex addict is to teach them the difference between healthy and unhealthy sexual behavior.  This process can take months if not years.  There are many various means of treating this condition which can include the following:

·      Inpatient treatment programs

To help regain control of their impulses and to start healing, sex addicts usually need to be removed from their normal daily lives for at least 30 days.  Inpatient treatment centers offer sex addiction recovery programs that typically include in-depth individual and group therapy sessions.

·      12-step programs

Similar to alcoholic anonymous (AA), programs such as sex addicts anonymous (SAA) follow the same recovery mode.  In group meetings, members encourage one another to refrain from compulsive and destructive sexual behavior by providing a good support system.

·      Cognitive behavior therapy

This type of therapy helps sex addicts to identify triggers for sexual impulses and ultimately teaches them how to cope through behavioral changes.  This therapy is provided through one-on-one sessions with a licensed mental health therapist.

·      Medication

Many sex addicts can benefit from drug therapy such as through the use of antidepressants which might help control sexual urges.  Also, because addiction often accompanies mental health issues like depression, a prescription medication may assist in combating the cause of the addiction.