Sex Addiction Treatment: Is Sex an Addiction?
Sex-Love Addiction Overview
For many people, the first step in understanding sex addiction or love/relationship addiction is to forget everything you’ve seen about this disorder on TV or in the movies. In television shows and films, sex addiction is often either portrayed as a moral failure or played for laughs.
The truth about sex/love addiction is far from funny.
For people who have developed a sex/love addiction, experiences that are normally sources of great pleasure morph into compulsions that lead to harmful, self-destructive, and otherwise risky behaviors. Sex/love addiction isn’t about having fun — instead, it is an obsessive behavior disorder that often leaves the sufferer emotionally unfulfilled, ashamed, and in danger of myriad negative consequences.
The good news is that as awareness and understanding about sex/love addiction increases, there is a greater likelihood that individuals who struggle with this disorder will have access to the professional treatment that can help them regain control over their lives.
Causes of Sex-Love Addiction
As is also the case with most addictions and behavior disorders, no one factor or influence has been identified as the direct cause of sex addiction or love/relationship addiction.
Many experts believe that problems in the pleasure/reward areas of the brain may lead to sexual addiction. (This is consistent with the belief that these same areas of the brain are involved in the development of drug addictions and food-related compulsions.)
Individuals who experience significant traumas in childhood (such poor parental relationships or childhood sexual abuse) may also be more prone to develop sexual compulsions in adulthood. Adults with traumatic childhood histories are also more likely to have the diminished self-esteem and self-image that is common among individuals who display addictive behaviors toward sex and relationships.
Symptoms of Sex-Love Addiction
Sex addicts use sex the way drug addicts use drugs or alcoholics use alcohol — as a compulsive means of self-medicating for anxiety, pain, loneliness, stress, or other emotions.
As with other forms of addiction, sexual addiction manifests itself as a compulsive behavior that the afflicted individual is incapable of stopping, even after the behavior has resulted in negative consequences. Symptoms of sex addiction include the following:
- An obsession with sex that dominates one’s life
- Sexual behaviors and fantasies that interfere with work performance
- Constantly thinking about or planning sexual activity
- Powerful shame about the sexual behavior
- Inability to stop acting out sexually
- Inability to make a commitment to a loving relationship
- Depending upon relationship status as a basis for feelings of self-worth
- Little or no emotional satisfaction gained from having sex
Sex addictions can also manifest via compulsive masturbation, an obsession with pornography, cybersex, exhibitionism, and voyeurism
Again, it is important to understand that sex/love addiction is not a matter of having a strong sex drive or being “overly romantic.” Individuals who are struggling with sex addiction or love addiction have a compulsive (and ultimately self-destructive) behavior disorder that compels them to continue to engage in dangerous, destructive, and demeaning acts.
Treating sex/love addiction is a complex and highly individualized experience that must take a number of factors into account. Sex/love addicts are often trauma survivors (many of whom endured sexual abuse during childhood), and many are also struggling with co-occurring disorders such as alcoholism, addiction, and depression or other mood disorders.
Depending upon the unique circumstances of the individual patient, sex/love addiction treatment may involve a number of the following:
- Medication (such as anti-depressants and related psychiatric drugs)
- Individual, Group, and Family Therapy
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) — for trauma survivors
- Relationship Counseling
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- 12-Step Philosophies (both for co-occurring substance addictions and for the sex addiction itself)
- Family Systems Therapy
- Psychodrama Therapy