Does your sex drive go beyond the norm and lead to obsessive behavior? Does it interfere with your life and relationships? If so, there is help. Learn how to get help for sexual addiction.
People who have a sexual addiction are often too ashamed or embarrassed to seek help. They’re not alone, though. It is estimated that there are nearly 12 million Americans who are addicted to sex. And experts say it’s likely the real figure is much higher because many do not admit to this problem.
Sex addiction is defined as any sexual activity that is obsessive and out of control. People with this addiction feel driven to take part in sexual behavior despite its negative effects on their personal, social and work lives. In this way, sex addiction is similar to compulsive gambling or drug and alcohol dependence, too.
There is no typical profile of a person with a sex addiction, although most are men who tend to have trouble with intimacy. Many have a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Sexual addiction often coexists with other addictions and psychiatric disorders.
A double life
Most people with sex addiction say they feel like they are leading double lives and have strong fears about the future. They often experience:
- Loss of self-esteem
- Strong feelings of guilt or shame
- Isolation and loneliness
- Emotional instability
Those with sex addictions often want to control their behavior. They may try moving to a new city. Some immerse themselves in religion or work to ease their shame. Some try to avoid sex altogether. But without outside help, the problem continues.
Where do you draw the line?
There is a big difference between a healthy sexual appetite and an addiction. The following behaviors describe someone who has crossed the line into addiction. Such a person may benefit from professional help.
- Out-of-control behavior. This is the inability to control or delay sexual feelings, thoughts and/or actions, even when trying to. The person may have a compulsive obsession with:
- Internet and phone sex
- Multiple affairs
- Dangerous sexual practices
- Strip clubs
- Anonymous sex
- Awareness of severe consequences, but unable to stop. People addicted to sex are often aware that they risk losing a partner or spouse, custody of children and/or careers. They may expose themselves to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Yet, they can’t stop themselves.
- Obsession with sexual fantasies. Those with addictions often fantasize to maintain a constant level of arousal. This serves to distract them or help them escape from difficult feelings or situations.
- Increase in sexual activity to get the same “high.” Like those addicted to drugs, people addicted to sex need more and more. They need to increase the intensity, frequency or number of risky behaviors to keep getting the same effect. Their behavior may become more secretive, abusive or degrading.
- Neglect of important social, work or family activities because of sexual behavior. In time, someone with a sex addiction focuses most of his or her energy on the obsession with sex. Key relationships often suffer and other responsibilities get neglected.
If any of these behaviors seem familiar, you should talk to a professional to find out if you have a sex addiction. If you do, a therapist will tell you about possible treatment options. These may include:
- Inpatient programs for addiction treatment.
- Outpatient counseling.
- Medications, such as antidepressants, to treat underlying conditions.
- Self-help groups, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous or Sexaholics Anonymous. These are based on the popular 12-step program for addictions.
Addiction can have a profound effect on the person’s family. So, most programs will also offer support for spouses or other family members who are affected.
Sexual addiction is a real problem. It won’t go away on its own. Recovery is most successful when individual therapy is combined with a group program.