Sexual addiction is typically defined as an excessive preoccupation with sexual thoughts and sexual behavior that seems beyond your control. As with all addictions, it’s important to distinguish between normal thoughts and actions from those that are considered addictive. After all, most people think about sex on a regular basis – however, does this really make them a sex addict?
As with all addictions, your preoccupation with sex becomes a problem when you’re unable to control your behavior and thoughts and your fascination with sex has started to derail your life. Someone with sexual addiction repeatedly tries to stop or curtail the sexual behavior, but is ultimately unable to do so. Despite efforts to control behavior, the pull is too great and the behavior continues. Sexual addiction usually results in painful feelings of guilt and shame, feeling weak and defective, and over time can lead to depression. Sexual addiction can damage relationships, work productivity, and physical health, or cause legal or financial problems. When repeated attempts to manage sexual behavior on your own continually fail, sex addiction treatment is necessary in order to effectively overcome the problem.
Common behaviors associated with sexual addiction include:
- Compulsive masturbation
- Preoccupation with pornography
- Preoccupation with sexual hookup sites or chat rooms
- Repeating pattern of having anonymous or casual sex that results in feeling shame, guilt, or emptiness
- Risky sexual behavior, such as unprotected sex, voyeurism, or exhibitionism
- Filming others without their permission for sexual gratification
It’s important to keep in mind what distinguishes sexual addiction from normal sexual behavior. For example, you can masturbate frequently, perhaps several times a day, but that does not necessarily constitute sexual addition. If it feels good, doesn’t interfere with other aspects of your life, then it’s not a problem. However, if frequent masturbation takes you away from your relationships, leaves you not wanting to have sex with your partner, takes up so much time that you can’t keep up with bills, take care of your children, manage household tasks or even practice proper self-care, then you may have a sexual addiction.
The same thinking applies to use of pornography, using sexual hookup sites, or having casual sex. If the behavior isn’t causing any problems in your life, then it likely is not an addiction.
However, this is not meant to be a rule of thumb. In fact, there are many people who suffer from sexual addiction who don’t believe they have a problem. Perhaps you think your sexual activity is not causing dysfunction in your life, but your partner does feel the behavior is causing a problem. For example, you may feel masturbating on your own is fine and doesn’t get in the way of having an intimate relationship with your partner. However, if your partner feels it’s interfering in some way, then you may need to ask yourself, Am I blinding myself to some negative consequences? Does s/he have a point?
Online Porn Addiction
Porn addiction is the most common form of sexual addiction and is usually accompanied by compulsive masturbation. In our modern technological era this typically takes the form of internet porn, but can also involve traditional magazines, books, videotapes, CDs, and so forth.
Online porn addiction includes viewing explicit websites, chat rooms, photos, and videos. It also includes use of internet apps, such as Grindr, Tinder, Mixxxer, and Scruff, which allow you to connect with others looking for sex.
Using social media to have casual encounters with anonymous partners can provide you with a kind of thrill or high that feels irresistible, as if you are being enveloped by the euphoric effects a drug. And like a drug, there can be overwhelming cravings or preoccupation when not actively engaged online.
Often times with online porn addiction, the goal is not sexual release, but the high that comes with the behavior. It’s less about seeking pleasure and more about escaping painful feelings. It becomes a kind of emotional retreat that shuts out difficult thoughts and feelings. Sex becomes an escape in the same way that smoking, drinking, gambling and other addictive behaviors are attempts to numb the pain of poor self-esteem, depression, or anxiety.
Sex Addiction Treatment
Sex addiction treatment typically focuses on two main areas: What are the sexual thoughts or behaviors that are causing you problems, and what function are they serving?
People are usually very aware that sexual thoughts and behaviors are causing them problems. While it may be embarrassing to talk about, people tend to know what this part of the problem is. However, sex addiction treatment takes this a step further by focusing on strategies to manage addictive behavior.
What can be more difficult, however, is to identify how the addictive behavior may be serving you. Most people suffering from addictions, including sexual addictions, believe their behaviors are just bad and have to be stopped. They are often in a guilt/shame spiral that just gets more entrenched as they berate themselves for their “bad” behavior. There is usually no attempt to understand that addictions are actually a way of trying to cope with difficult feelings. While curbing the addiction may seem like the logical first step, healing can only begin by first understanding the underlying issues fueling the addiction and by recognizing that you may be attempting to deal with painful feelings through sex. We have to start with a compassionate understanding that difficult, painful emotions are the main issue. At that point, the goal will be for you to learn better ways of coping, other than through sex.
A large part of sex addiction treatment ultimately involves identifying and talking about the difficult feelings that are being avoided through sex acts. This occurs in a safe and supportive space, free of judgment and criticism. In this phase of treatment, you can develop new and healthy ways of managing negative emotions so that you can stop turning to sexual behaviors whenever you feel alone, angry, hopeless or depressed. Keeping in mind that addictive sexual behaviors are less about pleasure and more about escaping – the less need there is to escape, the less of a hold the sexual behavior has.
It’s Possible to Break Free From Your Sex Addiction
With the help of sex addiction treatment, it’s possible to be more in control of yourself and feel a greater sense of freedom and choice in your actions and reactions. Therapy can help you respond better to emotionally difficult situations and free you up to better enjoy the pleasurable aspects of life.
If you think you may have a problem, the first step in sex addiction treatment is setting up an initial consultation session. By discussing what is going on in a safe, supportive environment, you will get a sense of how I think and how I work, while I’ll get a sense of what you’re struggling with and how I can help. At that point we can come up with a game plan about how to move forward. Please call me at (415) 255-6213. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about my practice or to set up an appointment.