Now more than ever, our society seems preoccupied with sex. Sexting and twerking are a part of our lexicon. Whether we’re talking about television, popular music or movies, sexual images and innuendo are everywhere. And access to pornography is as easy as a click of a mouse for the over 40 million people who log into porn websites. Given the highly sexualized society we live in, can a person really become addicted to sex? And at what point does sex become an unhealthy addiction—a bad habit that interferes with work, relationships and mental health?
Sex addiction is a topic that is new to a lot of people. Some might confuse the difference between having a large libido and having an addiction to sex. Using sex to escape life, to numb pain, or to relieve stress without caring with whom or how one is engaging in sexual activity are clear signs of an addiction, and not just an active sex drive. Oftentimes sex addicts are not finding intimacy or acceptance and therefore seek this "intimacy" in the form of multiple sexual partners or experiences. The sex addicts try to overcome their intimacy deficiency with fake intimacy, for example, sleeping with multiple partners or logging on to pornographic sites, which only causes more pain and stress.
Accessibility of pornography has created a highly sexualized society. Anyone with an inclination for sex can download images and videos right to their cell phone, tablet, or computer. Whereas in the past someone who was addicted to sex had to drive to a video store and check out a film or a magazine, now a sex addict can access sexual images privately and instantly. A sex addict will try anything to give themselves that "high" that they feel from engaging in sex or seeing sensual images. Practices such as sexting or even flirtatious chat rooms can be viable options for a sex addict.
Sex addiction, like any other addiction, can be extremely costly for the addict and those he/she is involved with. An addiction affects the addict financially, psychologically,physically, emotionally, socially, and professionally. Likewise, sex addiction can permeate every aspect of the addicts life. Financially, an addict can spend large amounts of money on prostitutes and pornography sites. Emotionally, an addict can continue to feel depressed and even struggle to truly connect on an emotional level with others. Physically, a sex addict is putting themselves at a higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases. If an addiction gets very serious, an addict can be caught using company time and resources to fulfill their sexual desires and be fired from their job.
Dr. Barbara Steffens, a certified clinical sexual addiction specialist and author of "Your Sexually Addicted Spouse" , counsels on how a sex addict can be affected relationally, particularly on how the partners of the sexually addicted are affected. Finding out that your partner or spouse has been unfaithful can be a huge blow, and additionally wrapping your head around the concept of a sex addiction can take huge adjustments. Steffens says her patients show many of the signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after being devastated by discovering their partner's sex addiction. They feel as though their life and livelihood are threatened. In order for the relationship to survive, Steffens says honesty, openness, and trust must be reestablished-- a process that can take some time.
Oftentimes we refer to the sex addict as "he," but are all sex addicts men? Dan Gabbert says his first encounter with sex addiction in his own practice was with a young female patient. While there are far fewer female sex addicts, women also choose to act out in different ways. Women are much more likely to express their sexual addiction through using chat rooms or excessive flirting instead of seeking multiple sexual partners or pornography.
Sex addiction, like any other addiction, is something that the addicts, and their loved ones, will have to deal with for their lifetime. While an addict can be sober for a long period of time, they can still be tempted to give in to their addiction by certain triggers. The addict must want to change himself/herself.Group sex addiction therapy and professional therapy can help these addicts to address the causes and effects of their addiction and make a plan to stop engaging in this risky and damaging behavior.
- Dan Gabbert, Men's Counseling and certified sex addiction therapist
- Dr. Barbara Steffens, Certified Clinical Sexual Addiction Specialist, author of "Your Sexually Addicted Spouse"