Yes, Sex Addiction is a Legitimate Mental Disorder.
To understand addiction, we must acknowledge it as a mental health condition that requires specialized assessment and treatment. Addiction rarely, if ever, looks the same for each person experiencing it, though the symptoms are the same.
Any substance or behavior can become addictive, though people typically only think of alcohol or drugs. For instance, sexual addiction, which is considered a process addiction, is the constant or intense urge to focus on or partake in sexual thoughts or activities. Without help, it can be difficult to control and can be harmful to many, if not all, aspects of a person’s life.
Healthcare professionals may use terms like compulsive sexual behavior or hypersexuality to describe sex addiction. Addiction to sex is not limited to taking part in sexual acts or having sexual thoughts, but is better defined as sexual thoughts or acts taking over one’s life or significantly infringed upon by those thoughts. If a person’s day-to-day routine and behaviors revolve around sex and constant sexual fantasizing, that individual may be considered to have a sexual addiction.
Substance Addiction vs. Behavioral Addiction
Sexual addiction is similar to other types of addiction, but that does not mean it is identical. Addiction may look like physical dependence on a substance to avoid withdrawal symptoms, or it can look like dependence on compulsive behaviors (without substance use). Behavioral addictions can be just as detrimental to a person’s life as a substance addiction, without the physical symptoms of alcohol and drug use.
The typical signs of behavioral addiction are as follows:
- Mood swings
- Heightened irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased attention to hygiene and self-care
- Decreased productivity
- Changes in appetite or sleep
- Defensive behavior
- Repetitive behaviors
- Social Isolation and withdrawal
Behavioral addictions often originate in perfectly healthy and necessary activities in life, like eating, exercising, sex and working. However, a person can develop an unhealthy relationship with these activities and turn them into unhealthy coping skills. Sexual addiction involves taking part in compulsive sexual behaviors to remedy a psychological or emotional stressor. Eating disorders, gambling, gaming, exercise, shopping and sex addictions typically fall under the category of behavioral addiction.
Identifying Sex Addiction
Hypersexuality, sexual addiction and compulsive sexual behavior may coexist with comorbid mental health conditions, including:
- Mood disorders and bipolar disorder (BPD)
- Personality disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Substance abuse
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Typically any behavior that negatively impacts one’s ability to appropriately perform activities of daily living can be problematic and may suggest that an addiction exists.
Other common symptoms of sex addiction include:
- Apparent sexual obsession or preoccupation. Spending a significant portion of one’s time fantasizing about sex, planning for, or engaging in sexual acts.
- Frequent or excessive consumption of pornography. Excessive consumption of videos, magazines or other internet sources.
- Frequent or excessive masturbation or edging. Once or numerous times on a daily basis.
- Excessive planning of sexual acts. Constant thoughts about where, when or how the next sexual encounter will occur.
- Reckless sexual activity. Sexual activity that escalates to reckless or potentially harmful behavior, like substance use, aggression, or dangerous or unsafe activities.
- Inability to discontinue harmful sexual behaviors, even if they are negatively affecting health, relationships, emotions or finances.
- Need for stimulation to achieve desired “high” or “rush”.
- Dependence on behavior as a means to cope.
- Lying about/hiding behavior.
- Increased feelings of shame or guilt.
Hypersexuality, like any other addiction, has the potential to severely impair many areas of a person’s daily life.
Relationships. A person’s relationship with their partner, family and friends can quickly become unhealthy, distant or difficult to maintain.
Work. Performance in the workplace may decline due to a constant focus on engaging in sexual activity, which could ultimately lead to career loss.
Finances. The potential loss of a career and excessive spending on sexual activities or decreased productivity at work can quickly deteriorate a person’s financial stability.
Health. Partaking in potentially reckless sexual activity may lead to contracting sexually transmitted infections, like HIV. A person may be more likely to engage in the excessive use of drugs or alcohol. There may also be an increased likelihood of developing further mental health conditions.
Legal trouble. Sexual offenses or other illegal behaviors may cost a person potential jail time, loss of job or professional licensure.
Overall wellbeing. A person’s overall state of well-being is compromised while they’re going through addiction. Upon many external factors, they may begin to experience emotional distress like shame, guilt or the loss of hope.
Seek Treatment for Sexual Addiction
As previously mentioned, the lack of impulse control that is typically associated with addiction can put a person at great risk of harming themselves or those around them. Treatments for sex addiction are dependent on each person. Specialized treatment tailored to each person’s individual needs and history is recommended.
There are options when it comes to deciding how to treat sexual addiction. A healthcare provider with a background in treating addiction will be able to work with individuals to see what will best suit them.
While there isn’t a specific medication used to treat sexual addiction, your healthcare provider may be able to provide options that could help. Medication is not always necessary, but it can be a helpful tool for a person’s early recovery from addiction. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety and mood-stabilizing medications may also be considered.
Psychotherapeutic techniques may be effective in treating a person exhibiting signs of sex addiction. Those techniques include but are not limited to, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) and Motivational Interviewing. Psychotherapeutic approaches are used for an array of mental illnesses and have proven to be a worthwhile route in treatment.
Much like Alcoholics Anonymous, there are groups specific for sex addicts modeled after 12-step programs whose focus is to aid in recovery from addiction. Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) and Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) serve as support groups for those in the process of recovering from and treating sex addiction.
Support groups can provide a safe space to share with those going through similar experiences or who may feel alone in their journey through addiction and recovery. Many people find that S-Anon can be a helpful resource for relatives and friends of those with a sex addiction and it too is based on the 12-step model.
Recovery Is Possible
If you or someone you know are exhibiting signs of a sexual addiction, seek out the help of mental health professionals. They will be able to support you in your recovery journey by providing a proper diagnosis and devising a treatment plan to fit your needs best.