Sexual addiction is like many other types of addiction. It can ruin relationships, limit academic or employment achievement and create financial difficulties. Much like a substance abuse problem or a gambling addiction, sex addiction can erode relationships with friends and family and lead to loneliness and isolation.
Detecting a sex addiction can be difficult. Much like eating disorders, it can be hard for friends and family to recognize disordered behaviors. Just like eating and its relationship to eating disorders, sex is a natural and healthy behavior. Friends and family may wonder if what they are seeing is normal or a sign that sex addiction is developing.
An article appearing in Everyday Health offers guidelines for loved ones wondering whether the behaviors they are witnessing could be signs of sex addiction. The author says that while sex is normal and healthy, there is a point at which sex can become out of control.
The article highlights the comments of Tina Tessina, PhD, a psychotherapist and expert on sex addiction. Dr. Tessina says that in most cases, the difference is apparent. To a normal person, sex being unavailable is a disappointment. To a sex addict, sex being unavailable is devastation. In a sexual addiction, sex is sought with no regard to the cost.
In a person with sexual addiction, the problem can manifest in a variety of ways. A loved one trying to determine whether an addiction is present may need to identify several of the behaviors to understand the nature of the problem.
The article provides warning signs from Kathryn Cunningham, PhD, director of the Center for Addiction Research at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. As with other types of pathological behavior, in a sex addict, the behavior dominates the person’s life overtaking any other type of activity.
In addition, the person may engage in a variety of dysfunctional sexual activities, such as phone sex, use of prostitutes, exhibitionism and pornography. The person may also engage in masturbation habitually. The addict may also have more than one sexual partner and may cheat on a committed partner.
Some behaviors may be particularly extreme and deviant. The addicted person may become criminal in their activities, with behaviors including rape, stalking, child molestation or incest.
There is one fundamental way to know if a person is suffering from a sexual addiction, says Kathleen Nickerson, PhD, the founder of FeelBetterNetwork.com. A person has become addicted to sex when they care more about the sex than the person they are having sex with, she says.
A person becomes addicted to sex when they mistake sex for love and when they begin to value the pursuit of different or extreme versions of sexual activities that focus on an act rather than a close connection that happens to two people.
If a loved one is exhibiting signs of sexual addiction, it is important to seek assistance from a counselor specializing in sexual addiction. The counselor may enroll the patient in a support group, where others can provide support and accountability.
Nickerson notes that it is impossible to make a loved one want to change if they have a sex addiction, but it is possible to provide self-help books or other types of encouraging actions that might help the person pursue positive change.