Symptoms & Signs of Sex AddictionWhat Is Sexual Addiction?

Sex addiction, also known as compulsive sexual behavior disorder or hypersexuality, is classified as a mental disorder by the World Health Organization (WHO). Sexual addiction is characterized by a “persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior.” It’s estimated that 3 to 6 percent of people experience compulsive sexual behavior in the United States.

Like substance abuse disorders, sex addiction symptoms manifest differently. On the psychological level, addicts use sex as their primary way of escaping physical and emotional pain, dealing with life stressors, and coping with problems in their daily lives. As this cycle continues, they become more and more dependent on sexual behaviors.

Sexual activities become the center of the addict’s life to the extent that their health and responsibilities are no longer pertinent. Continued sexual behaviors start to interfere with the addict’s ability to form relationships, go to work, complete school assignments, and take care of themselves.

Like food, water, and sleep, sex is a normal and healthy part of life. However, when sexual thoughts and actions start interfering with the ability to live a normal life, sex quickly becomes a problem. In these cases, sex addiction treatment can help individuals overcome their addiction and live healthier, more meaningful lives.

Why Is Sexual Addiction So Difficult to Overcome?

Inside all of us is the limbic portion of the brain. The limbic brain controls hunger and reward, and it even produces feelings of euphoria. It controls drives, desires, and emotions. The limbic brain is central to understanding addiction and the need to repeat behaviors despite negative consequences. This reward system in the brain is at the root of compulsive sexual behavior and addiction.

Physical intimacy isn’t just sexual—it’s mental and emotional as well. When the body is satisfied, endorphins kick in to stimulate the brain’s pleasure center. Because sexual behavior elicits this kind of response, people will turn to it to find relief and cope with stressors in life. Given the brain’s chemical makeup, any rewarding behavior can become addictive and compulsive—as is the case with sex and love addiction.

When sexual behaviors do start damaging a person’s life, the addict can’t simply give up their sex life indefinitely. Sex addiction is a pattern of behavior and not a substance. So addicts can’t just go cold turkey and remove sex from their lives entirely. Overcoming this type of addiction is not simple, and it will typically require the addict to seek treatment and counseling.

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Strategies for Overcoming Sexual Addiction

The object of sex addiction treatment is to recognize the behaviors leading to the addiction and replace them with core values. Treating the limbic portion of the brain with cognitive behavioral therapy is another option, as is medication, and 12-step programs.

Establish Core Values

The addict must weigh the destructive addiction behaviors against the values that have sustained their life thus far. Overtime, regaining these values will become more important than the lure of sexual addiction. Holding onto these values serves as a motivation to overcome the addiction.

Some of these core values and motivators include:

  • Self-control and competence
  • Self-esteem and confidence
  • Improved relationships
  • Reduced shame and guilt
  • Sources of healthy pleasure
  • An improved sexual relationship with a partner
  • Physical and emotional energy from not compulsively seeking out sexual interactions

Most people have life goals as part of their core values. As a step toward recovery, addicts reset and rediscover those goals. Understanding where they are and where they would like to be will help drive change and keep them motivated through sex addiction treatment and recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common treatment for sexual addiction and other compulsive disorders. CBT helps illustrate the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that lead to addiction. Once the addict understands how the brain rationalizes these triggers, they can understand how to use the brain to approach the opposite behavior. With the guidance of a qualified therapist, sex addiction therapy helps addicts address the root cause of their addiction.

Chemical Medications

Another option for overcoming sexual addiction is through the use of prescription medications that control impulses. Addicts may be prescribed medications that are typically used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorders and depression, like Prozac. Anti-androgens can also be used in the treatment of sexual addiction since they reduce the effects of sex hormones for men—reducing their sexual urges.

12-Step Programs

One of the most important steps in any treatment program is the mind-body-spirit connection, which can be addressed through 12-step programs. These programs connect the addict with a Higher Power through prayer, meditation, and mindfulness. They help addicts rebuild relationships by encouraging reconciliation with people they have hurt. 12-step programs encourage addicts to dig deep in order to recognize the destructive behaviors that led them down the addiction path.

12-step meetings, like sex and love addicts anonymous meetings, can help addicts connect with others in similar circumstances. Group meetings also help keep addicts accountable as they go through the program.

Transformations Treatment Center provides a variety of treatment options for men and women addicted to sex. From a Christ-centered 12-step program to psychiatric services, we will work directly with you to develop a treatment program that will help you live a full and healthy life—free from sex addiction.

  1. World Health Organization: International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11)
  2. National Institute of Health: Sexual Addiction or Hypersexual Disorder
  3. University of Washington: Fear of Intimacy Scale
  4. Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Social Anxiety Disorder
  5. Mayo Clinic: Compulsive Sexual Behavior
  6. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: Substance Abuse and Intimate Relationships