Sex addiction, also known as hypersexual disorder, is characterized by persistent and escalating sexual thoughts and acts that have a negative impact on the individual’s life. Sex addicts struggle to control or postpone sexual feelings and actions. Most sex addicts do not know how to achieve genuine intimacy, forming little or no attachment to their sexual partners.

Eventually, the pursuit of sex becomes more important than family, career, and even personal health and safety. As sexual preoccupation increases in terms of energy and time, the sex addict follows a routine or ritual leading to acting out on desires, which is then followed by feelings of denial then shame, despair and confusion.

Effective treatment for sexual addiction requires a multifaceted approach that addresses both the compulsive behavior and the underlying issues and co-occurring disorders that may contribute to it. Learn more about The Ranch sex addiction program or call 844-876-7680.

Types of Sex Addiction

A wide range of behaviors can be symptoms of sex addiction, including:

  • Compulsive masturbation
  • Multiple affairs
  • Anonymous sex
  • Obsessive dating
  • Compulsive use of pornography
  • Risky or unsafe sex
  • Cybersex
  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • Prostitution or use of prostitutes

Warning Signs of Sexual Addiction

Sex addicts have varying patterns which can result in very different ways of acting out. Below are some general warning signs of sex addiction:

Secretive or Dangerous Sexual Behaviors

  • Lying about or hiding sexual activities
  • Having sex regardless of the consequences (e.g., the threat of being caught or facing financial problems, or the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease)
  • Engaging in the practice of voyeurism or exhibitionism in ways that bring discomfort, pain or legal problems
  • Legal or career problems due to sexual behaviors

Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors

  • Having sex at inappropriate times, in inappropriate places, and/or with inappropriate people
  • Unknowingly flirting with or sexualizing someone
  • Compromising one’s reputation due to sexual behavior
  • Having a serious relationship threatened or destroyed because of outside sexual activity
  • Feeling uncomfortable about masturbation because of the frequency, the fantasies one engages in, props used or places one masturbates
  • Feeling entitled to sex

Using Sex to “Cope” With Problems or Needing More Sex to Feel “Normal”

  • Having sex with someone you didn’t find sexually desirable or that you didn’t want to have sex with for other reasons
  • Believing that sex will make life bearable
  • Having sex to try to deal with or escape from life’s problems
  • Needing greater variety and energy in sexual activities just to achieve an “acceptable” level of physical and emotional relief (sex addiction withdrawal)

Uncontrollable, Compulsive Sexual Behaviors or Thoughts

  • Unsuccessfully trying to stop troublesome sexual behavior on your own
  • Feeling that life is unmanageable because of compulsive sexual thoughts or behaviors
  • Feeling you could do more with your life if you were not so driven by sexual pursuits
  • Inability to concentrate on other areas of life because of thoughts or feelings about sex
  • Obsessing about a specific sexual act even though these thoughts bring pain, cravings or discomfort
  • Wishing you could stop or control sexual activities for a given period of time
  • Losing count of your number of sexual partners

Feelings of Shame or Self-Hatred About Sexual Behaviors

  • Finding the emotional pain in your life increasing no matter what you do
  • Feeling that you lack dignity and wholeness
  • Needing to have sex in order to feel like a “real man” or a “real woman”
  • Feeling desperate about your need for a lover, sexual fix or future mate

Self-Worth or Happiness Tied to Sex

  • Uneasiness when away from your lover or sexual partner
  • Feeling that life would have no meaning without sex
  • Feeling that the only (or major) value in a relationship is the ability to perform sexually
  • Being in a relationship you feel you can’t leave
  • Feeling that your sexual behavior isn’t rewarding or satisfying
  • Feeling that your sexual life affects your spiritual, personal or work life in a negative way

Do these warning signs sound familiar? Call us for a free, confidential assessment and benefits check: 844-876-7680.

Sex Addiction’s Similarities with Other Addictions

Like people who abuse drugs and alcohol, sex addicts can experience a “high” through compulsive sexual behaviors, develop a dependence on this feeling, and suffer withdrawal symptoms without sex. Sexual addiction is like most other compulsive behaviors: a potentially destructive twist on a normal life-enhancing activity. Similar to drugs and alcohol, sexual activities produce chemical changes in the brain. When a sexual behavior is engaged in compulsively over time, the brain adapts to the flood of neurotransmitters and craves more intense or more frequent stimuli to feel the initial rush.

Like other addictions, sex addiction is characterized by the repeated, compulsive seeking or use of an activity despite adverse social, psychological and/or physical consequences. Addiction is often accompanied by physical dependence, withdrawal and tolerance. Physical dependence is defined as a physiologic state of adaptation to a substance or chemical change in the brain, the absence of which produces symptoms of withdrawal.

Sex Addiction Dependence/ Withdrawal

Withdrawal syndrome consists of a predictable group of symptoms resulting from abrupt removal of, or a rapid decrease in the regular dosage of, a psychoactive substance or activity; the syndrome is often characterized by overactivity of the physiologic functions that were suppressed by the drug and/or depression of the functions that were stimulated by the object of addiction.

Tolerance is a state in which a drug or activity produces a diminishing biologic or behavioral response; in other words, higher doses or in the case of sex addicts, riskier or more intense behavior is needed to produce the same initial effect.

A common misconception is that someone with a strong libido or who has a number of sexual partners must have a sexual addiction. In reality, most sex addicts crave the pursuit of sex and may gain little pleasure from a sexual act itself. Whereas most people stop engaging in a behavior that harms their health, relationships, finances or careers, sex addicts are unable to stop seeking out sexual experiences despite these consequences. They achieve a “high” when engaging in compulsive sexual behaviors and as the brain chemistry changes, they must engage in more and more sexual acts to prevent a “crash” or withdrawal.  Sex addiction withdrawal can include symptoms such as depression, anxiety, emotional instability, anger, fatigue, agitation, hypersensitivity and physical discomfort.

The Stages of Sex Addiction

Sexual addiction often follows a predictable course:

  1. Preoccupation – continual fantasies about sexual prospects or situations, which can trigger an episode of sexual “acting out”
  2. Ritualization – a preferred sexual activity or situation is often stereotyped and repetitive
  3. Compulsion – continual engagement in sexual activity despite negative consequences and desire to stop
  4. Despair – guilt or shame over their inability to control behavior

Other behavioral problems, particularly chemical dependency and eating disorders often develop during this course as well.

Causes of Sex Addiction

Many sex addicts report some form of abuse or neglect as children and frequently see themselves as diminished or damaged in the process. Their parents may have been sex and/or love addicts themselves, which suggests that both genetic and environmental factors may play a role. Stress and emotional pain also fuel compulsive sexual behavior by feeding the addict’s need for withdrawal and fantasy.

Other factors that may contribute to sex addiction include:

  • Inconsistent parental nurturing and support
  • Lack of parental role modeling of healthy, adaptive behaviors
  • Early exposure to sexual material or experiences

Treatment for Sex Addiction

Sex addiction recovery starts with the person recognizing they are out of control sexually. In some cases, sex addicts remain in denial until a significant life event such as a spouse or partner leaving, job loss or a health crisis prompts them to seek treatment for sex addiction.

As experts have learned more about sex addiction in the past decade, they’ve developed a number of treatment options. While some individuals are able to commit to sexual sobriety by participating in counseling or an outpatient program, many find that their motivation and ability to change are strongest at a residential sex addiction treatment center. Removed from their familiar environment, routines and triggers for acting out, individuals are immersed in a therapeutic setting where they receive 24-hour support and a full range of therapies to treat sex addiction.

Goals of a sex addiction treatment center program typically include:

  • A short-term commitment to abstinence
  • Developing healthy sexuality
  • Rebuilding relationships
  • Stress management

Treatment for sex addiction may follow the 12-step model initially developed for those with substance use disorders. This model views addicts as chronically addicted to a behavior in spite of their attempts to change. The model focuses on three elements of the addiction cycle: use of sex, self-judgment and avoidance behaviors.

Sex Addiction Treatment at The Center for Relationship and Sexual Recovery

Our sexual addiction program provides a nurturing, accepting environment that supports the therapeutic process. Clients are provided the safe space needed to explore shame without fear of judgment of others. They are treated with empathy and respect and benefit from the expertise of a highly specialized multidisciplinary team trained in a number of therapeutic approaches that address trauma, attachment issues, enmeshment,  neglect and other underlying issues of sex addiction.

Sex addiction treatment begins with thorough biopsychosocial assessments so that we can craft treatment plans that address the full spectrum of issues that may be present – sex addiction as well as substance abuse, eating disorders and other co-occurring mental disorders. Each client receives the individualized care and targeted therapies needed to begin recovering from their specific issues. Learn more about our sex addiction treatment programs for men and women or call 844-876-7680.