Sexual addiction, also sometimes called sexual compulsion, is rapidly becoming recognized as a major social problem with similarities more well-known to alcohol and drug addiction or compulsive gambling. Experts define sexual addiction as any sexual activity that feels out of control.
A sex addict feels compelled to seek out and engage in sexual behaviour, in spite of the problems it may cause in their personal, social and work lives. Sexual addiction has many different forms: compulsive masturbation, sex with prostitutes, anonymous sex with multiple partners, multiple affairs outside a committed relationship, habitual exhibitionism, habitual voyeurism, inappropriate sexual touching, repeated sexual abuse of children, and episodes of rape. In spite of the fact that it has been around going back as far as we have recorded history, sexual addiction is hard for many people to take seriously, but for sufferers and their partners it can be devastating.
Sex can become addictive in a similar way to alcohol and illegal drugs. During sex, our bodies release a powerful cocktail of chemicals that make us feel good. Typically, people raise their level of dopamine when they are engaged in romantically and sexually enjoyable activities. It is this heightened level that provides them with a feeling of euphoria. An orgasm boosts this level even more highly. Some people get addicted to these chemicals and become obsessed with getting their next fix - their next sexual high. As with other addictions, the body also gets used to these chemicals, so the sufferer needs increasing amounts of sex to achieve the same buzz.
Sex addicts don't necessarily enjoy sex more than other people. In all reality, the sex addict is compelled to act out sexually and contrary to enjoying sex as a self affirming source of physical pleasure, the addict has learned to rely on sex for comfort from internal pain.
Between the highs of sexual and chemical fulfilment are the lows. These are often characterised by feelings of shame, regret, remorse and anxiety. Sex addicts can feel alone, isolated and powerless to change their behaviour. And so the cycle begins again, as they seek out sex as a way to escape these difficult feelings.
In the late 1970's, Patrick Carnes, a psychologist and researcher, was instrumental in the initial identification and treatment of sexual addiction as a condition. Carnes estimated about 8% of the total population of men and 3%of women are sexually addicted. That adds up to 15 million people who suffer from this problem. As the addiction can be accompanied by feelings of shame and embarrassment, sex addicts often find it difficult to seek help.
Carnes suggests there are ten possible warning signs:
1. Feeling that your behaviour is out of control
2. Being aware that there may be severe consequences if you continue
3. Feeling unable to stop your behaviour, despite knowing the consequences
4. Persistently pursuing destructive and/or high-risk activities
5. Wanting to stop or control what you're doing and taking active steps to limit your activities
6. Using sexual fantasies as a way of coping with difficult feelings or situations
7. Needing more and more sexual activity in order to experience the same high
8. Experiencing intense mood swings around sexual activity
9. Spending an increasing amount of time planning, engaging in or regretting and recovering from sexual activities
10. Neglecting important social, occupational or recreational activities in favour of sexual behaviour
By James Kirby Phd
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