According to an estimate, up to 25 million Americans spend anywhere between 1 and 10 hours a week looking at online pornographic material while at least 4.7 million Americans spend more than 11 hours looking at the online pornographic material.
While these statistics are an indication of the degree to which Americans are fixated on sex and sexual material, they are an even bigger sign of a deeper problem; sexual addiction. According to the National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity, 6%-8% of the American population suffers from sex addiction.
Sex addiction, also known by names such as hypersexual disorder, nymphomania, compulsive sexual behavior or hyper-sexuality describes a condition where individuals are unable to control their sexual thoughts, urges or behaviors.
More often than not, people who are hypersexual pursue their sexual desires and urges even at the expense of family, career and sometimes even their health and safety.
Cause of Sexual Addiction
Different experts have different theories regarding the causes of sex addiction. However, the three most popular theories are the biological theory, psychological theory, and social theory.
One argument for the biological theory is that individuals whose parents were sexual addicts may develop hypersexuality. Another argument is that hormonal imbalances (particularly higher levels of testosterone and estrogen) may also cause sexual addiction.
On the other hand, proponents of the psychological theory argue that environmental influences such as sexual abuse or early exposure to sexual content may cause sexual addiction.
It is also interesting to note that sexual addiction may exist hand in hand with mental issues such as anxiety, personality disorders, performance anxiety and even poor impulse control.
Lastly, the social theory suggests that social influence rejection and social isolation among other social problems may cause sexual addiction.
Most recently, however, the internet has emerged as a major driver of sexual addiction. This is mainly because the sexual material is now easier to access on the web. What’s more, the internet has made it easier for sexual addicts to not only interact with each other but also influence other people to develop the different forms of sexual addiction.
Forms of Sexual Addiction
Although the term sex addiction implies an addiction to the act of having sex, it is not the only form of addiction. Other notable types of compulsive sexual behavior include;
- Compulsive pornography.
- Regular masturbation and sexual fantasies
- Exhibition or Voyeurism
- Sadistic/Masochistic behavior
- Anonymous sex
Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction
Individuals who are hyper-sexual may experience some signs and symptoms. These may include any of the following;
- An inability or difficulty in stopping, resisting or controlling sexual urges, thoughts or acts.
- A constant urge to engage in sex even when there are significant risks such as that of contracting a Sexually Transmitted Disease.
- A feeling that without sex, life is incomplete.
- The urge to have sex more frequently and with multiple partners.
- According greater importance to sex and sexual behaviors than other occupational, domestic or social obligations.
- The fear of abandonment may make sex addicts stay in unhealthy relationships for longer than they should.
- Some addicts may even sexualize feelings such as guilt, shame, fear or loneliness.
- In some cases, addicts may feel that their lives are unmanageable due to their overpowering sexual pursuits.
- An obsession towards certain sexual behaviors even when engaging in these behaviors causes pain or discomfort.
- Some addicts also find themselves engaging in sexual acts in inappropriate places and sometimes even with inappropriate people such as strangers.
- The feeling that one is entitled to sex.
Sex Addiction vs. Drug Addiction
Drug and sex addiction both have the effect of triggering the release of dopamine in the brain. When the brain releases dopamine, the result is a feeling of pleasure or euphoria in the individual.
It is this feeling of joy or happiness that acts as an incentive for the individual to engage in the behavior again. Repetitive engagement in a particular behavior such as causes the brain to get used to the flood of dopamine and subsequently, a craving for even more intense or more frequent stimuli to match or surpass the initial pleasure/euphoria.
According to experts, sex addiction occurs in 4 stages.
- Firstly, the individual experiences a preoccupation with fantasies about sexual acts/behaviors or situations which create a need for the individual to act them out.
- The individual develops a preference for a particular sexual activity or situation (e.g. masturbation or group sex). The individual repeatedly engages in the preferred sexual act/situation.
- The individual compulsively engages in the chosen sexual act even in the face of adverse impacts or even a desire to stop engaging in the act.
- The lack of control over the sexual urges/ thoughts triggers feelings of guilt and despair in the individual.
The Effects of Sex Addiction
It is possible to classify the effects of sexual addiction into three distinct groups.
Psychological effects include;
- Feelings of shame
- Feelings of low self-esteem and low self-confidence.
- Obsessive compulsive tendencies
- Impulse control disorders
- Emotional dysregulation problems.
Physical effects include;
- Risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s)
- Risk of contracting HIV
- Risk of unwanted pregnancy.
- Some sexual acts/behaviors may cause physical harm or pain.
Social effects include;
- Broken relationships (including personal, social and family relationships)
- Possible development of substance abuse problems.
- Possible loss or decline of career.
- Decreased productivity at work.
Treatment of Sex Addiction
It is important to note that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is yet to approve any medication specifically meant for the treatment of hypersexuality.
Sex addiction often co-exists together with psychological problems such as anxiety and depression; Some experts, therefore, suggest using antidepressants to treat these psychological conditions. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) in particular may work well towards decreasing sexual urges and cravings.
Some experts also suggest treating compulsive sexual behaviors using a drug called Naltrexone. This drug is also used to treat alcoholism and opioids addiction.
In addition to that, one can treat sex addiction by taking anti-androgenic medication. This type of medicine decreases male hormone levels in the body subsequently reducing sexual cravings.
Aside from medication, other treatment options that sex addicts could take include;
- Individual therapy with a certified mental health professional.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
- Psychodynamic Therapy
- Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy
- Group therapy such as Sex Addicts Anonymous
- Some experts also suggest using the 12 step recovery model which is originally for individuals with users towards substances and drugs. The 12-step model mainly focuses on three elements; the person’s use of sex, their elf-judgment and thirdly, avoidance behaviors.
- Partners of sex addicts may also seek couple counseling or even marriage counseling sessions.