What Sex Addiction is
Hypersexuality, or sex addiction, is described as a dysfunctional obsession with sexual activity or content. This includes perpetual pursuit of casual, non-intimate sex, compulsive masturbation, and pornography. Sex addiction is considered a process addiction, meaning the addict will tend to spend more time engaged in the pursuit of sexual activity than in the act itself, similar to gambling or binge eating. This can be different from substance addictions such as alcoholism or drug abuse.
The third edition of the Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology offers an estimate of 5 percent to 6 percent of adults having impulsive-compulsive sexual behavior, though this percentage likely has increased. According to the text, “hypersexuality may also be confused with high-risk sexual behaviour, which overlaps with but is not the same as out-of-control sexual behaviour.”
Despite the information provided in the text, there is debate around whether sex addiction actually exists. A UCLA study in 2013 said that the brain activity of a sex addict is no different from that of a person with a high-libido; however, more recent studies by Cambridge show that people with compulsive sexual behaviour exhibit abnormal brain activity similar to that of drug addicts. That being the case, hypersexuality should be further invested in and studied for the sake of those struggling with it.
What Sex Addiction is Not
An addiction to sex is not to be confused with a high libido. You can have sex multiple times a day and still be perfectly healthy; but how do you know when a lot is too much? Addictions are diagnosed when certain behaviors start to cause problems in the person’s life. Sex addiction is identified not by how much sex a person has, but by how it affects a person.
I interviewed a Long Beach teenager, who has requested to remain anonymous, and confessed that he is a sex addict. The teen explained that he knew his sex life was unhealthy because it caused problems within his relationships. This person was in a habit of jumping from one partner to the next. After ending one relationship he would soon find himself in a new one. That was not the problem, though.
“I’m not monogamous, but when I’m in a relationship, that person is my everything. And that’s unhealthy,” he said.
This person’s problem was that he was investing too much energy into other people. Moving quickly from one partner to the next and devoting all of his affection to that person, while also having separate sexual partners. This caused him to be stressed and resulted in difficulty with showing intimacy.
Consequences of Sex Addiction
Like any other addiction, sex addiction can be detrimental to the addict’s life if not addressed and treated. The number one concern expressed by addicts is often about their physical health; unprotected sex, lack of judgment, and all around a general lack of concern often resulting in STD’s and STI’s. As for the emotional effect, many addicts may experience depression, anxiety, stress, and dissociation, and sometimes find themselves abandoning their own values and morals, as explained by an interviewee.
How the Addiction is Treated
Though sex addiction is not formally diagnosable, it is still recognized as a serious problem and there are ways to address it. Therapy is the primary go-to for many addictions. Mental health professionals can help you identify some of the factors that lead to your addiction and teach you healthy ways to cope. Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) helps make the addict more aware of their actions, learn to cope with difficult situations, and gain control over emotions. This way the addict will be able to avoid the self-destructive behaviour that lead to the development of the addiction. Unfortunately, though, because hypersexuality isn’t recognized as a real thing by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), health insurance companies won’t pay for treatment. So if someone struggling with the disorder doesn’t have the money to pay for help out of pocket, they won’t receive any.
Medication may also be an option. Because it is ignored by the DSM, there are currently no FDA-approved medications, but certain medications in the SSRI and anti-anxiety family have been found to lower sex-drive. Whatever option you choose, make sure to get the OK from a doctor first.