Compulsive sexual behavior is also known as sexual addiction, hypersexuality, or hypersexuality disorder. Individuals who struggle with this disorder have an excessive preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors that cause distress or are difficult to control. These behaviors can also have a negative impact on the individual’s health, job, relationships, or other aspects of life.
Some of these thoughts and behaviors are common in our society, such as masturbation, paying for sex, multiple sexual partners, or viewing pornography. However, the sex addict cannot control these urges or behaviors completely. As a result, for the addict, sexual behavior can become disruptive to everyday life, a nuisance, or even result in serious health problems.
The human body’s endocrine system is designed to encourage us to enjoy certain behaviors. For example, when we are spending time with a close friend, the body releases Oxytocin, a hormone that promotes social bonding. During sexual activity or stimulation, our bodies produce Oxytocin, Vasopressin and Dopamine, which reward us for forming positive connections with our mate and for procreating. However, as these hormones cause us to feel pleasure, we can thus become addicted to their release in our bodies.
A sex addict uses dopamine as a drug the same way a heroin addict does. Like most addicts, he or she feels lonely, afraid, or depressed, and has no easy answers. As addicts learn that sexual stimulation (e.g. pornography) or behavior causes the release of these hormones, they tend to seek out behavior that triggers their release. If this happens at a time in one’s life when they are otherwise battling depression and/or anxiety, these behaviors can become a pattern, and the addict can become addicted to them.
Furthermore, when sex addicts combine these patterns with street drugs such as methamphetamine, ecstasy or GHB, what develops is a pattern of drug-driven sex that makes their behavior much more addictive, intense and dangerous. This can increase the likelihood of contracting STDs or HIV or put them in other dangerous situations. Alcohol and marijuana serve to lower inhibition, shame and the internal moral dialogue. Such users often act out in ways that are incongruent with their belief systems.
The sex addict may have one or more of these symptoms:
People that are hypersexual tend to spend excessive time on sexual thoughts or behaviors. Excessive use of pornography or masturbation, illicit relationships, prostitution, massage parlors, strip clubs, or even illegal sexual activity are some indicators that an individual can be out of control.
However, these are only signs; unless you know the individual personally, you might not be in a position to determine whether or not these behaviors are compulsive.
Sex addicts hide their behaviors from other people, and those behaviors often lead to feelings of intense shame and powerlessness. This leads to further isolation and withdrawal from family and friends. They can thus become trapped in a cycle of addictive behaviors.
The most effective way to diagnose compulsive sexual behavior is with an evaluation by a trained mental healthcare professional. The right professional will have firsthand experience working with hypersexual individuals and know exactly what questions to ask to determine the severity of their case, and the danger they pose to themselves and others. Once the professional arrives at a diagnosis, he or she can formulate a comprehensive treatment plan and assist the patient in implementing it.
Risk Factors There are factors that can contribute to the development of hypersexuality in an individual.
Here are a few:
Complications If left untreated, hypersexuality can result in intense feelings of guilt, low self-esteem and shame. It can also result in conditions that require medication, such as anxiety or depression. Many will face serious consequences in their personal life, including failed relationships, divorce, estrangement from family and children. Some may end up getting an STD, or in rare cases, they can even be trafficked or killed.
Prevention Sexual addiction is difficult to prevent, because although there are risk factors, virtually anyone can fall into an addictive pattern. The best prevention is education. When people understand the biological significance of certain behaviors, they will also understand the stakes associated with participating in those behaviors.
For example, if a person understands how addictive cigarettes are, that person may not want to even pick one up. The same can be said for pornography, but it has become so prevalent in our culture and online, it is ubiquitous. Given that it is readily available to adolescents and can often lead to more significant addictive behaviors in adults, it is reasonable to educate children on the consequences of engaging with porn.
There are a number of treatment options for people suffering from hypersexuality. The goal of treatment is to enable the individual to manage their behavior and environment while reducing or eliminating excessive actions (e.g. behavior that is criminal, or poses significant risk to the patient or others). People who need treatment for hypersexuality often require treatment for other conditions as well, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. The treatment plan must take into account the patient’s complete mental health profile.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, should help enable the individual to manage his or her own behavior. A common tool for helping addicts, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps the patient to identify unhealthy or negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with more effective ways of coping. Part of this process involves identifying one’s triggers so that rather than blindside the individual, they instead lead to a moment of choice for him or her. By introducing rationality into the addictive cycle, the individual can decide for themselves whether or not the behavior is healthy and if they want to engage in it.
Inpatient Treatment is generally reserved for those individuals who are a danger to themselves or others. Initially, such treatment can be challenging for the patient. However, once they get past the first stage of recovery and rejoin society, they often stand a better chance of long-term success.
Depending on what other mental health issues the patient might have, a physician can use medication in a variety of ways to address hypersexual behavior. Antidepressants can help addicts overcome negative thoughts and feelings that might trigger them to want to act out sexually. Mood stabilizers (often prescribed for Bipolar disorder) can sometimes help to reduce compulsive sexual urges. Anti-Androgens reduce the effects of sex hormones in men and are sometimes used for men who have extreme urges and are a danger to others. Other medications are available as well.
Many individuals suffering from hypersexuality find it beneficial to share experiences with others with the same condition. Often meeting anonymously, these groups provide a consistent support system for patients and remind them that they are not alone. With the help of a sponsor, the patient can often progress through a series of milestones to arrive at a place of transformation, and gain a new sense of peace.
If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from compulsive sexual behavior, give our office a call. Jim Brillon has spent his professional life diagnosing and treating those suffering from a variety of addictions, and he has the necessary training and experience to provide a sound diagnosis and excellent therapy.
With his guidance and analysis, you will have access to every resource necessary to get a handle on this very challenging condition. When you’re ready to begin your journey, we’re here for you.