Low Levels of Spirituality Can Predict Sex Addiction, Study Finds

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People affected by sex addiction (also known as hypersexuality or compulsive sexual behavior) have a significantly dysfunctional relationship to sexual activity. In a study published in 2014 in the journal Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, researchers from the University of North Texas assessed the role that spirituality and religiosity play in the likelihood that young adults will participate in sex addiction-related behavior and found that those with relatively low levels of spirituality and positive religious coping skills have increased chances of getting involved in such behavior.

Sex Addiction

Sex is a naturally pleasurable activity and the bedrock foundation of the human species. Most people with a past history of sexual experience rely on pleasure as a core motivation for continuing to have sex in the future. However, in a process highly similar to the process associated with the development of substance addiction, some people develop an unhealthy relationship to sex, sexual thinking and/or sexual fantasy and come to depend excessively on sex and sex-related thoughts and fantasies as a pleasure source. In a process also highly similar to the development of substance addiction, a person who depends excessively on sex can experience a shift from voluntary action to involuntary action as a result of lasting chemical changes inside the brain’s pleasure center.

Sex addiction fits the model of behavioral addiction, a form of non-substance-related addiction recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as an addictive disorder. As of 2014, the APA has not added sex addiction, compulsive sexuality or hypersexuality to the list of diagnosable addictive disorders. (The organization only officially defines one type of behavioral addiction: gambling disorder.) However, physicians and researchers have begun to acknowledge the existence of this form of addiction in the general public and have also begun outlining the ways in which any given person may be affected.

Spirituality and Religiosity

Spirituality and religiosity are related concepts. Broadly speaking, spirituality refers to the expression of a deep connection to life and values that link human beings with their physical and intangible surroundings. Religiosity refers to the channeling of spirituality into a specific set of beliefs that address such things as the origins of the world, how to live a moral life and (in many cases) the existence of a higher power or deity responsible for guiding humans through daily life. Both spirituality and religiosity can provide the individual with a sense of purpose and create a context that makes life meaningful.

Influence on Sex Addiction Risks

In the study published in Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, the University of North Texas researchers used information gathered from 235 young adults attending college to examine the role that spirituality and religiosity may play in making a person more or less prone to sex addiction-associated behavior. All of the study participants answered survey questions designed to gauge their level of exposure to sex addiction (hypersexuality). They also answered survey questions designed to gauge their levels of spirituality and religiosity.

The researchers preliminarily concluded that roughly 11 percent of the study participants had symptoms that indicated the presence of sex addiction. Men enrolled in the study had a substantially higher chance of being affected by these symptoms than women. The researchers also concluded that both spirituality and religiosity helped determine any given participant’s chances of getting involved in sex addiction-related behavior. Specifically, they found that participants who derived relatively little meaning or purpose from life had higher odds of getting involved in such behavior. The researchers made the same finding for participants who used religiosity as a “negative” coping skill; when used in this way, religiosity places blame on a higher power for the world’s problems or interprets the world’s problems as a manifestation of a higher power’s disapproval or wrath.

The study’s authors concluded that, overall, low spirituality and use of religiosity as a negative coping skill contributed to approximately 11 percent of the participants’ total risk for involvement in sex-addicted or hypersexual behaviors. The authors believe that taking spirituality and religiosity into account may improve the efforts of mental health professionals who counsel young adults on sex addiction-related issues. They also believe that future researchers will need to explore this topic further in order to increase general and practical understanding of the relationship between spirituality, religiosity and sex addiction.

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