Is Sex Addiction Real?

The National Council on Sex Addiction and Compulsivity defines sexual addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behaviour acted out despite increasingly negative consequences to self and others.”

However, there is considerable debate among health professionals whether sexual addiction is truly an addiction or rather a compulsive behaviour.  In fact, to date sexual addiction is not an official clinical diagnosis.

Part of the challenge in defining sexual addiction are the religious and cultural influences on the societal norms surrounding sexual behaviour.  How do we objectively distinguish sexual addiction from a high sex drive?

Sex is normal and healthy activity, and sexual pleasure is one of life’s most gratifying experiences.  Sex is a powerful form of intimacy, and a healthy sex life can increase your overall well-being, and provide for a longer, more enjoyable life.  But when sexual gratification becomes an obsession, sexual behaviour can become destructive.

For sex addicts, sex becomes the primary focus of their lives, to the point that their persistent sexual urges affect their ability to work, maintain relationships, and participate in regular daily activities.

Typical warning signs of sexual addiction can include: compulsive masturbation; persistent use of pornography; frequent visits to strips clubs and online cybersex rooms; multiple affairs; and repeated, anonymous one-night stands.  As an addict’s sexual addiction progresses, they may seek more intense sexual experiences to achieve the same sexual gratification. In severe cases of sexual addiction, an addict may perform illegal activities like sexual harassment, exhibitionism, voyeurism, prostitution, sexual assault, child molestation, or rape.

Sexual addiction is not the desire for sexual enjoyment.  Sexual fantasies and sexual pleasure trigger a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and other biochemicals such as oxytocin, adrenaline, serotonin and endorphins, that produce a feeling of euphoria.  Sexual addiction is the addict’s pursuit of this euphoria to help anesthetize themselves against an underlying emotional stress, or mental health issues like depression, anxiety, social inhibition, and unresolved childhood trauma.

Treatment for sexual addiction can be as difficult as the diagnosis. Patients with acute sexual compulsions can often be reluctant to seek treatment, often rationalizing and justifying their behaviour, denying there is a problem.  And, unlike other forms of addiction treatment, the goal of sexual addiction recovery is not total abstinence from sexual behaviour.  Effective addiction therapy works to identify the mental health issues triggering the addictive behaviour while providing tools to help manage the patient’s compulsive sexual activities.

For patients that actively seek treatment, and who are diagnosed by the licensed mental health professional, current treatment options include cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), residential treatment programs, self-help groups, and prescription antidepressant medications.

If you’re concerned that you may be a sex addict, our sex addiction self-test can help you determine whether you may be struggling with compulsive sexual behaviour.

Please note that this self assessment is not designed to make a diagnosis of sexual addiction or to take the place of a professional mental health diagnosis.

  1. Are you often preoccupied with sexual thoughts?
  2. Do you feel controlled by your sexual desire?
  3. Has sex become the most important thing in your life?
  4. Does your preoccupation with sex interfere with your relationships or personal responsibilities?
  5. Do you hide the extent or nature of your sexual activities from others?
  6. Do you spend a considerable amount of time watching pornography?
  7. Have you broken the trust of a committed relationship by engaging in sexual affairs?
  8. Do you engage in unsafe or risky sexual behaviour that puts your health or safety at risk?
  9. Have you paid for prostitutes or escorts to satisfy your sexual needs?
  10. Have you been arrested of your sexual behaviour?
  11. Have you been sexual with a minor?
  12. Do you feel bad about your sexual behaviour?

Result: The amount of questions that you answered yes to is not as important as how answering these questions made you feel.  If you believe that you may be sex addict, seek professional help.

At The Farm in Stouffville, we have an interdisciplinary team of addiction counselors and psychotherapists that can design a personalized treatment program that can address your issues with sexual addiction.  Call us for a free consultation, 1-877-353-2777.

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