Exploring The Many Faces of Sexual Addiction

Did you know that nearly 12 million people in the United States suffer from sexual addiction? With that many people, this addiction is bound to manifest itself in different ways.

Yet, sexual addiction is one of the most commonly misunderstood mental illnesses, one that is frequently sensationalized and stereotyped in the media. It goes by many names, like hypersexuality, sexual dependency, (regarding men) satyriasis, (regarding women) nymphomania, or sexual compulsivity. If you read the roots and stems of these words carefully, you’ll see that while they all describe some type of sexual addiction, they suggest subtle differences in behaviors and thought patterns.

There is currently no official diagnosis for sexual addiction, but it has been variously defined by doctors and researchers based on similar criteria for chemical dependency. Experts agree that sexual addiction is a pattern of sexual behavior with two features. The first, ongoing failure to control the behavior and, the second, continuing to engage in the behavior regardless of the consequences.

Are you unsure if you or if someone close to you may be suffering from sexual addiction? Read on to explore the many faces of sexual addiction.

Not everyone experiences sexual addiction in the same way. Sometimes sexual addiction is accompanied by other mental health problems, like posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or anxiety. Here are some proposed diagnostic criteria specifically for sexual addiction, courtesy of the Pine Grove Behavioral Center in Mississippi:

  • Impulsive engagement in extreme sexual acts
  • Inordinate amount of time spent thinking about, engaging in, or recovering from, sexual experience
  • Increasing the frequency, intensity, or riskiness of sexual behaviors in order to achieve satisfaction
  • Responding to work, school, or family-related obligations with violent sexual behavior (sexual rage disorder)

While we often think of compulsive masturbation, unorthodox sexual triggers (paraphilia), extensive consumption of online pornography or sex chat lines, or high-frequency sexual encounters when we think of sexual addiction, there are many other behaviors that might signal sexual addiction, but engaging in these behaviors may not necessarily signal addiction. Some other possible signs or behaviors linked to sexual addiction you might recognize in yourself or in a loved one:

  • Unexplained financial transactions: these may be related to cash withdrawals for prostitutes and/or adult stores, which tend to be discreet about the paper trails or online records left with their transactions.
  • Not keeping commitments: many sexual addicts have a hard time with time management because they spend time with their addiction and are often preoccupied with thoughts related to sex.
  • Lack of interest in activities formerly enjoyed: this may be sex with a spouse, or other hobbies for which there is no longer any time or invested energy.
  • Unwillingness to engage in safe sex: using protection is important for both parties, and if one person is very reluctant to do so, this might be a sign of thrill- or risk-seeking behaviors associated with sexual addiction.

So what are some commonalities people suffering from sexual addiction may share?

Denial

Due to the complications for family life that frequently arise as a result of sexual addiction, many sufferers find themselves entrapped in a pattern of lying or living a ”double life.” Sexual addicts frequently make excuses to others or to themselves for their actions and for their failure to decrease or stop the behavior when they make attempts to do so.

Experience “highs” and “withdrawals”

Some sexual addicts experience restless, anxious, or even violent behavior when unable to engage in the desired behaviors. They need more and more, or increasingly intense experiences to reach that desired sexual “high.”

Loss of control

Pleasure sensors in the brain become activated in the same way that substance abusers’ do, so sexual addicts can compulsively repeat dangerous or damaging behaviors even when they understand the risks.

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