What is Sex Addiction?
Sex addiction is a common term, it is controversial and often misunderstood. There’s no evidence that suggests sex can be defined as an addiction or that repetitive and persistent sexual behaviours are explained by one. However, compulsive sexual behaviour disorder refers to a long-standing pattern of repetitive sexual behaviours, fantasies, and urges. These impulses may cause you great distress and friction in your relationships and make daily tasks, such as working or studying, more challenging. The pattern of repetitive sexual activities and urges could also be explained by out of control sexual behaviour (OCSB).
What causes compulsive sexual behaviour?
The causes of long-term uncontrollable sexual urges and behaviours are not well understood. People of all ages may experience the condition and for different reasons.
It’s probable that a combination of factors leads to compulsive sexual behaviours, including:
- chemical imbalances in the brain
- underlying or co-occurring mental health conditions
- childhood experiences
- childhood relationships with parents or guardians
- other lifestyle influences
Not all potential causes of sex addiction can be traced to trauma or underlying mental health conditions, though. An imbalance of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, may also impact sexual behaviours. If you have a frontal lobe lesion, tumour, or seizure disorder, you may also have a greater chance of experiencing hypersexuality.
What are the symptoms of sex addiction?
In general, compulsive sexual behaviour covers a broad array of symptoms. These behaviours range in intensity and severity, but to be considered signs of mental health condition, they have to be evident across many situations and over an extended period of time.
signs of compulsive sexual behaviour disorder include but are not limited to:
- a significant preoccupation with sexual fantasies, impulses, and behaviours
- repetitive sexual activities to satisfy such fantasies and impulses
- unsuccessful attempts at stopping or decreasing sexual fantasies, impulses, and behaviours
- experiencing distress and significant challenges in relationships, occupational activities, and other important areas as a result of the compulsive sexual behaviours and impulses
Feeling guilty, ashamed, or distressed about your sexual behaviours might be more common in some people than others. In this case, experiencing this type of distress wouldn’t by itself mean you have a sexual addiction.
Other potential signs of sex addiction:
- watching pornography
- excessive masturbating
- engaging in sexual activities that put your safety at risk
- neglecting other aspects of your life to prioritize sexual activities
For example, you may have intense urges to watch pornography all the time. You may skip work or school to stay home to watch porn. You might even lock yourself in the office bathroom to watch it on your phone. This, in turn, can lead to problems with your productivity and professional relationships. You may be aware of this problem and it may cause you an intense deal of distress. Despite this, you find yourself unable to stop watching porn. This might be a sign of a compulsive sexual behaviour or out of control sexual behaviour.
That said, you may enjoy watching porn frequently, but you know when to stop, and you do it at will whenever you need to attend to other businesses. In this case, watching porn is likely not a sign of sex addiction. You’re able to stop yourself from doing it when needed, and the activity is not a cause of distress in your life.
This same rationale applies to another common sign of sexual addiction: compulsive masturbation. Again, you may enjoy masturbating often, but if you’re able to stop it at will and it doesn’t compromise your tasks, safety, and responsibilities, it’s not considered a compulsive sexual behaviour. Another potential sign of compulsive sexual behaviour is a tendency to repeatedly engage in behaviour that might put your or someone else’s safety in jeopardy. This could include having sex with strangers without protection or hurting yourself or others physically during sexual intercourse. It’s important to distinguish sex addiction from having an active sexual life or having multiple sex partners. The difference is how uncontrollable the behaviour is and the extent to which these behaviours cause distress to you or someone else or interfere with your daily tasks.
When to seek immediate help
Compulsive sexual behaviours can be treated, and it’s highly advisable to reach out for professional help. It may be crucial to do so if you:
- progressively take higher risks during sexual activities
- hurt yourself or others during sex
- have difficulty getting important tasks accomplished (e.g., school or work)
If left unaddressed, compulsive sexual behaviours may interfere with many aspects of your life. In addition to feelings of embarrassment, guilt, and shame, you may also experience physical, mental, and social consequences.
If you or someone you know is struggling with sex addiction, reach out to Alegna Solutions Psychology Practice as early as you can. Make some changes, improve your lifestyle, take control and be proud of your behaviours instead of being ashamed. We are here to help, not judge.