Seeking Help for Compulsive Sexual Behavior

Interest in sex is a normal part of adult life. In fact, a healthy sex life may be very important to your sense of personal well-being. However, it is possible to become preoccupied with this part of your life. If that happens, you may lose control over your sex-related thoughts and behaviors. This loss of control is often known as sex addiction.

If your relationship to sex is harming your life, you may need to seek out a mental health professional. Professionals who specialize in this field have developed multiple effective treatment options. These options will help you regain control and restore sexual expression as a healthy part of your life. 

What is Sex Addiction

Unlike many conditions that can damage your mental health, sex addiction does not have an official definition. This is true, in part, because in the U.S. such definitions come from a single source: the American Psychiatric Association. To date, this organization has not created guidelines for diagnosing sex addiction. There is an international definition for a similar disorder, but this definition is not standard in America. 

Despite the lack of an official definition, mental health experts have developed a good working model of sex addiction. People with the disorder experience something called compulsive sexual behavior. This means that you have an impaired ability to control your sex-related:

  • Thoughts
  • Urges
  • Behaviors 
  • Fantasies

This impaired control damages other areas of your life in some way. That includes potential harm to yourself and feelings of personal distress. It also includes potential harm to other people. In addition, your addiction may damage your social or professional standing. 

Sex addiction is a behavioral addiction. This means that its causes are not drug- or alcohol-based. You may also have behavioral problems linked to such things as gambling, shopping or Internet use.

Types of Sex Addiction

Since sex addiction is not officially defined, it is hard to say if there are multiple types of this disorder. You may have symptoms that do not appear in others with the same condition. Still, this does not necessarily mean that you have a different type of sex addiction. 

Sex addiction does, however, go by a variety of names. In addition to compulsive sexual behavior, you may see it referred to as:

Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction

Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction

A number of different symptoms may indicate that you suffer from a sex addiction. For example, you may experience powerful thoughts, urges or fantasies that:

  • Preoccupy you throughout much or most of the day
  • Are compulsive and beyond your current conscious control

You may also have sex-related behaviors that are compulsive and preoccupy you. These behaviors can involve someone else. However, this is not necessary for you to be affected. After completing a compulsive sexual act, your urges may decrease temporarily. Many people also feel remorseful or guilty about what they have done.

People with sex addiction often try to halt or limit their thoughts, fantasies, urges or behaviors. However, as a rule, they find this be an impossible task on their own. That is true even after numerous attempts. 

Another common symptom is  using sex to compensate for other things. For example, you may use it to:

  • Avoid feeling strong emotions such as sadness or loneliness 
  • Escape the unpleasant effects of stress
  • Mask the symptoms of anxiety disorder, depression or other diagnosable illnesses

People affected by sex addiction often have unstable or unhealthy intimate relationships. They may also repeatedly do such things as:

  • Transmit or develop sex-related infections
  • Experience money problems as a result of their behavior
  • Have problems at work for the same reason
  • Get into legal trouble because of their behavior

Despite going through these kinds of things over and over, your addiction remains intact. 

Sex Addiction Causes and Risk Factors

Potential Causes 

What causes sex addiction? There is not enough information to answer this question for sure. However, several brain-related issues may have a significant impact. 

The first of these potential issues is a chemical imbalance in your brain. Several brain chemicals have a significant effect on your typical mood. When too little or too much of a chemical is present, your mood may change. People with sexual addiction sometimes have unusually high amounts of three chemicals:

  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine
  • Serotonin

Certain physical illnesses that affect your brain may also leave you susceptible to sex addiction. Two conditions with this potential are dementia and epilepsy. If you have Parkinson’s disease, certain medications may also lead to the development of sex addiction. 

Once present, sex addiction may make changes inside your brain the reinforce the disorder’s effects. Specifically, it might alter connections inside your pleasure center. If this happens, you may become more tolerant to the pleasure you currently get from sex. As with substance addiction, rising tolerance can increase your involvement in addictive behavior. 

Risk Factors

A number of things may increase your risks for developing sex addiction. Examples include:

  • Having little or no trouble accessing sexual material
  • Living in a household affected by any form of addiction
  • Being affected by substance abuse or addiction
  • Experiencing another behavioral addiction or a mental illness
  • Being a previous victim of sexual or physical abuse 

Sex Addiction Diagnosis

Sex Addiction Diagnosis

Will a “do I have sex addiction” quiz help you uncover the disorder? The answer to that question is a qualified maybe. A well-designed quiz may indeed point you in the right direction. However, even though sex addiction is not officially defined, the best option is to consult a professional. Otherwise, you may misdiagnose yourself or overlook key symptoms. If this happens, your mental health can suffer significantly. 

A psychological assessment is key to identifying this addiction. This kind of assessment covers a broad range of topics, including:

  • A general overview of your mental, emotional and physical health
  • An exploration of your general social environment
  • Sex-related behaviors, thoughts or feelings that you have difficulty controlling
  • Any specific problems resulting from these things
  • Details of your relationships with intimate partners and your family
  • Your level of involvement in substance use and abuse

Your doctor, psychologist or therapist may not use the term sex addiction. Instead, you may receive a diagnosis that includes another term for this condition. Be aware that not all professionals use the same thresholds for making a diagnosis. 

Addiction and Sex Addiction

There may be ties between sex addiction and substance addiction. This is reflected in the fact that assessments for sex addiction include checks for substance problems. In addition, sexually addicted people may experience brain changes similar to those produced by substance addiction.  If you have substance problems, you will need additional treatment for these issues. 

Sex Addiction Treatment and Therapy Options

Therapy Options 

A substance addiction treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is also used to treat sex addiction. This therapy helps you recognize things you do or think that support your addiction. In addition, it teaches you to develop replacement beliefs and actions that help you avoid problems. 

You may also benefit from a specific form of CBT called acceptance and commitment therapy. This therapy makes it easier for you to accept what has happened to you and commit to change. A third option is psychodynamic psychotherapy. This therapy makes you more aware of your:

  • Unconscious patterns of behavior and thought
  • Your reasons for doing certain things

It also helps you improve your ability to settle conflicts inside yourself or with others. 

Medication Options

Several types of medication may also play a role in your treatment. All of these options were developed to ease symptoms of other conditions. However, their effects may also benefit your sex addiction recovery. 

One example is naltrexone, normally used in opioid and alcohol treatment. This medication helps reduce the amount of pleasure you receive from addictive behavior. In this way, it makes that behavior less compelling or attractive. Men may receive anti-androgen medications that slow down the production of male sex hormones.  Other possible options include:

  • Medications called mood stabilizers
  • Select kinds of antidepressant medication

Support and Self-Help Groups

Support and self-help groups do not provide formal treatment. Instead they help you by:

  • Introducing you to others working on the same types of problems
  • Providing guidance from those further along in their recovery
  • Giving you access to additional ways of supporting your recovery

Get More Information on Sex Addiction and Recovery

While sex addiction has no official definition, it is clear that many people experience significant problems. Fortunately, there are ways to diagnose and address these problems. The place to start is a thorough assessment. If you are affected, you can follow this assessment with effective treatment. Customized care is always the best option for recovering from an addiction.

Need more information on help for sex addiction? Contact Emerald Isle today. We feature a range of treatments that address your symptoms. We also have the expertise needed for effective treatment of substance problems or other mental health issues. Emerald Isle is committed to helping you reintegrate a healthy sex life into your daily routine.