It’s the addiction no one talks about. When it does finally get brought to the table for discussion, there is as much disinformation out there as there are reliable facts. Talking about sexual addiction makes a lot of people acutely uncomfortable, but it’s a growing problem in the United States. The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity estimates that between 6-8% of Americans are addicted to sex. That’s 18-24 million people. And FamilySafeMedia.com estimates that each day 68 million people worldwide search for porn on the Internet, which comprises of over 25% of search engine requests.
Some people are confused about what sex addiction actually is. Many lump sex addicts in with pedophiles and rapists, thinking they’re all the same. While some addicts do cross the line into illegal behavior, it’s important to realize that most do not. Sexual addiction is a real, treatable disease, and those afflicted deserve the same compassion and opportunities at recovery as alcoholics or drug users.
So let’s start by defining what sex addiction really is. The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity defines sexual addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.”
In other words, addicts become so consumed by sexual thoughts and acts that they can’t focus on anything else. Family, career, personal obligations, all become minor background noise as the addict spends increasing amounts of time obtaining what they want. It often takes a major event, such as a divorce, job loss, or arrest to get the addict to admit they have a problem.
So do sex addicts just want constant sex? You might assume so, but the answer is not all the time. Sex addicts often engage in multiple behaviors to fill their need for stimulation. Some of these behaviors are:
- Sex with multiple partners
- Compulsive masturbation
- Multiple affairs outside a steady relationship
- Frequent visits to topless bars, adult bookstores, or other sexually centered establishments
- Inappropriate touching (such as accidently brushing a woman’s breast in a crowd)
- Exhibitionism (exposing yourself in a public place)
- Habitual voyeurism (Peeping Tom)
- Excessive pornography watching, either on TV or the Internet
- Illegal activities such as pedophilia or rape
It’s important to note that most people engage in one or more of the previous behaviors at least sometime in their life. Barring the illegal acts of rape and pedophilia, this is completely normal. What separates an addict from the rest of the population is their repeated, compulsive use of many of these acts or behaviors over time.
The causes of sexual addiction often stem from childhood. In many cases the addict was a victim of some sort of sexual trauma growing up, or were raised in a household where he or she didn’t get enough attention, or witness frequent arguments. This can result in the child turning more frequently to masturbation to ease the pain of an unloving parent or difficult home life. As the year’s pass and nothing changes, masturbation can become more like a drug to ease pain rather than normal childhood or teenage behavior. When the child reaches adulthood the behavior can escalate into a sexual addiction.
There are many signs you can look for to determine if you or someone you know is addicted to sex. Some warning signs include:
- Spending more and more time thinking or daydreaming about sex
- Spending more time engaging in cybersex or phone sex
- No longer considering an affair to be a violation of a committed relationship
- Lying about time spent engaging in sexual activity
- Spending increased amounts of time at work surfing for porn
- Irritability when friends or family ask to cut down on online use in order to spend more time with them
- Increasing inability to control sexual behavior
- Feelings of guilt or shame after sexual acts
- Hurting others with your sexual behavior
- Using sexual fantasy or behavior to escape real life problems
While many may think that sexual addiction is primarily a men’s disease, it isn’t so. SafeFamilies.org reports that 1 in 6 women suffer from sexual addiction. It’s also interesting to note that many more women than men are led to sexual addiction from a childhood sexual trauma.
Sexual addiction is a progressive disease much like alcoholism or gambling. If left untreated, symptoms can escalate to devastating costs. Just a few of these consequences can be unwanted pregnancy, sexual diseases, financial difficulty, physical harm, or arrest.
So how do I get help?
Admitting that you, your partner, or someone you know has a problem will be the hardest step. If you can come to the understanding that these sexual urges are taking over your life to the detriment of others, positive steps towards recovery can be made. Joining a support group such as Sex Addicts Anonymous (saa-recovery.org) and talking about your experience can only help. It’s also comforting to realize that you’re not alone, that this is a common problem that others are going through as well.
It’s also important to seek counseling from a therapist familiar with working with sexual compulsion. Therapy is often vital for a complete recovery, and it’s very important to find someone you feel comfortable with. You should not in any way feel that they will judge you during the therapy process. The therapist may prescribe some medications like Prozac or Anafranil that treat obsessive-compulsive disorder.
While sexual addiction is a growing problem not only in America but worldwide, it stands within reason that by showing the same amount of support we show for other addictions, positive steps can be made to help cure addicts of this compulsion.