Sex addiction has been in the spotlight quite a lot recently, with new studies and cases popping up all over the globe. But many people are still unsure about what sex addiction actually is, and what behaviours constitute the disease.
What exactly is sex addiction?
Best described as a behavioural disorder, the addict has compulsive sexual thoughts and actions. As time goes on, the disorder gets progressively worse (as with all addictions) while the addict’s life and relationships start to deteriorate due to his/her acting out. Two clear indicators of the addictive behaviour is the need to increase the intensity and/or time spent on the behaviour in order to achieve the desired results.
What are the typical behaviours of sex addicts?
Many addicts use the internet to engage in their behaviour. Chat Rooms, Adult Personals and Escort Websites are frequented by those who have specific sex addictions that involve personal contact. Porn websites make it safer for addicts to access material and avoid the embarrassment of being seen buying it in public. In some cases, addicts may become involved in illegal activities including exhibitionism (being nude or semi-nude in public or semi-public places) voyeurism (watching or spying on others performing an intimate activity), obscene phone calls (calling random numbers and saying sexual things), child molestation or rape.
Note: Not all sex addicts become sex offenders. And in the same regard, not all sex offenders are diagnosed as sex addicts. Only 55% of sentenced sex offenders are diagnosed as addicts, but over 70% of child molesters in particular are considered addicts. Some sex addicts have problems so severe, that they are a threat to society. Therefore, to ensure society’s safety, the only option is to lock these people up in jails to get them off the streets. Offenders require a specific type of therapy that is extremely structured and involves rigid accountability.
At The Cabin, our specialised counsellors have experience in treating sex addicts who are not offenders, but rather those who have been unable to control their internet behaviours, use of prostitutes, sensual massage or have had multiple affairs. Sexual addiction affects all races, religious orientations, sexual orientations and socio-economic classes. It is rooted in an intimacy disorder and is fuelled by shame and secrecy.
The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity has defined sexual addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behaviour acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.” In other words, someone who is a sex addict will continue acting out on certain sexual behaviours despite facing potential health risks, financial problems, shattered relationships or even arrest. They are powerless over their own behaviour until a significant period of abstinence is attained and the resulting consequences pile up to unmanageable levels.
In summary, sex addiction is characterised by the following 10 criteria:
1. Loss of Control
At first, you may be consciously indulging in a few innocent sexual fantasies. But over time, your desires and behaviours increase in intensity. Thoughts that you may know are ‘wrong’, keep flooding your mind, and you act on them despite knowing you shouldn’t. Your mind is so subconsciously enthralled with these ideas, that you literally can’t control yourself from acting out on them.
This is seen in a pattern of out of control activity over a period of time. Perhaps you cannot even remember when you made the conscious choice to act out in a certain way – it just happened. You are repeatedly acting out in this manner, with little or no conscious thought process behind it.
3. Efforts to Stop
As you start to lose control over your own behaviour, you will inevitably see negative consequences. You may also recognise that your thoughts or behaviours are not ‘normal’. Perhaps these actions are hurting people you love. You might tell yourself “I am not doing that ever again”. And the next thing you know, you are doing exactly what you told yourself you wouldn’t do.
4. Loss of Time
As the addiction worsens, large chunks of your life become occupied with pursuing, engaging or recovering from sexual behaviours. You start missing social functions, or even work. You find yourself making excuses every day about where you were and what you were doing.
Even when you’re not engaging in your addiction, you’re thinking about it. Often obsessively. It may seem that it is actually the only thing you are capable of thinking about until you are actively engaged in it – very similar to people addicted to drugs or alcohol, who cannot focus on anything until they get their next fix.
6. Failure to Fulfil Obligations
Whether family, friends or work – you can no longer be counted on. You skip out on family functions, miss work deadlines (or even work itself), and your friends haven’t seen you in weeks or even months.
7. Negative Consequences
Eventually, you might lose your job because you never show up, you’re always late, or you miss deadlines. Your friends stop calling because you’re always standing them up. If you are in a romantic relationship or married – it might be on the rocks as a result of your addiction. Similarly, your family can’t understand why you’ve changed, and either gives up or starts pestering you so much that you stop answering their phone calls and emails because you don’t want to own up to what you’re doing.
Perhaps your behaviour has gotten you arrested once or more. Your life is heading down a steep hill towards trouble fast – and yet you can’t stop your behaviour. Your behaviours and thought processes are completely consumed with your addiction, regardless of all the negative consequences it is producing in your life.
Your sexual behaviour gets more and more intense. It sometimes becomes a danger to your own personal health, or the well-being of your partner. Your fantasies may turn violent, or focus on acts that are against the law.
This means losing, limiting or sacrificing functional parts of life such as family, friends and other relationships. You may have cheated on your wife and she has left you. Your friends may have confronted you and you denied having a problem. Perhaps they gave you an ultimatum, and your addiction chose to let them go. Your kids may be taken away from you. All of these losses may be happening, and yet you still can’t say no to the addiction.
Withdrawal occurs when you stop the behaviour, causing considerable stress, irritability or discomfort. Because of these symptoms, most sex addicts have a very hard time stopping their actions on their own. Just like an addiction to drugs or alcohol, a sex addict needs professional help to learn how to take control over their addiction.
If you or a loved one may be suffering from sex addiction, contact one of our qualified and experienced counsellors to learn more about the options available for recovery.