People with addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping and more recently overeating are openly encouraged to seek treatment through rehab or twelve step programs. There is another group of addicts, however, that are still not widely discussed in the media. I am referring to sex addicts.
Spotting a sex addict is not an easy task. They come from all backgrounds, both sexes, all ages and all income levels. There is no way to no if your neighbor, priest, boss, teacher, relative, etc., suffers from this terrible affliction. They are experts at hiding their destructive behavior to all those around them. There are no outward physical signs that point to them, although they may be doing physical damage to themselves that remains unseen to others. Statistics show that a great majority of sex addicts were abused as children either physically, sexually or emotionally. Thus, they are already very proficient at keeping things a secret as they were conditioned to as a child. They also often possess multiple addictions. Relatives or friends of a sex addict may be fully aware of the other addictions and completely ignorant of their primary problem.
So how do you know if you or someone you know is a sex addict? The technical definition of sexual addiction is any sexually related, compulsive behavior that interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on oneself, family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work environment. The compulsive behavior an addict displays controls every aspect of their life until it becomes unmanageable. Examples of compulsive behavior include: compulsive masturbation, compulsive heterosexual and/or homosexual relationships, pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, incest, child molestation, rape and violence. While the latter behaviors are the most extreme, the behaviors that may appear to be more ‘mild’ can unravel the very fabric of a sex addict’s life and cause them to become suicidal.
Sexual compulsion or addiction can be likened to other addictions in that the addict gets a ‘high’ from their behavior and cannot function unless that high is constantly achieved. They become dependent on their addiction to feel normal and, as in other addictions, they are always seeking a better high than their previous one. Nothing ever quenches their thirst but they continue to seek the satisfaction that they are sure they will eventually get. A sexual addict is wiling to risk everything to get their fix including their family, job and health. The risk of AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases are not a deterrant. The risk of getting caught or even of getting sick actually fuels the compulsive behavior.
It is estimated that 3-6% of the population suffers from sex addiction. The figures are not clear on whether or not men suffer from this more than women at this point in time. There was a study done in 1983 by a Dr. Patrick Carnes that showed an estimated 20% of sex addicts were women. As was the case many years ago in alcohol addiction, the general public had a hard time believing that women could become sex addicts. It is only recently that this school of thought has started to change. There is a tremendous amount of guilt and shame that goes along with sex addiction, and women are still stereotyped as ‘sluts’ or ‘whores’ if they display any degree of sexual openness. This leads many researchers to believe that female sexual compulsion is greatly underreported.
Diagnosing sexual addiction can be a difficult task. An addict may seek help and find him/herself reporting other addictions to a therapist and stopping short of mentioning their sexual compulsions. Their guilt and self-loathing make it extremely difficult to open the subject up to discussion. As a result, they often go undiagnosed and never seek help. Dr. Patrick Carnes developed a Sexual Addiction Screening Test as a self-assessment questionnaire. It is as follows:
Do you or a loved one exhibit any of the following behaviors-
1. Acting out; a pattern of out-of-control sexual behavior. Examples may include:
a. Compulsive masturbation.
b. Indulging in pornography.
c. Having chronic affairs.
e. Dangerous sexual practices.
g. Anonymous sex.
h. Compulsive sexual episodes.
2. Experiencing severe consequences as a result of sexual behavior, and an inability to stop despite these adverse consequences.
Some of the losses reported by sex addicts include:
a. Loss of partner or spouse- 40%.
b. Severe marital or relationship problems- 70%.
c. Loss of career opportunities- 27%.
d. Unwanted pregnancies- 40%.
e. Abortions- 36%.
f. Suicidal obession- 72%.
g. Suicide attempts- 17%.
h. Exposure to AIDS and venereal disease- 68%.
i. Legal risks from nuisance offenses to rape- 58%.
3. Persistent pursuit of self-destructive behavior.
4. Ongoing desire or effort to limit sexual behavior.
5. Sexual obsession and/or fantasy as a coping mechanism.
6. Regularly increasing the amount of sexual experience because the current level of activity is no longer sufficiently satisfying.
7. Severe mood changes related to sexual activity.
8. Inordinate amount of time spent obtaining sex, being sexual and recovering from sexual experiences.
9. Neglect of important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of sexual behavior.
How does an addict get help for his addiction? It begins as it does in recovery from all addictions; admitting the problem is the first, albeit HUGE, step. There may be obvious repercussions from a spouse, partner or boss but it is the first and foremost way to get on the road to recovery. It is felt that a sex addict may not be cured from their affliction but that they can hope to recover and will deal with it on a daily basis, as any other type of addict would. There are various sources of help in treating sexual addiction. These include inpatient and outpatient treatment, professional associations, self-help groups and aftercare support groups. The internet also opens up the possibility of finding online support groups for those who are not ready or willing to appear at a public support group meeting. Sex Addicts Anonymous is based on a 12-step program much like Alcholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous. There are also meetings designed to help partners of sex addicts. This information is easily found on the internet.
Ultimately, sexual addiction is a lifelong process that requires aftercare and support to prevent relapse. That can be very hard in world where images of sex are plastered all over magazines and other forms of mainstream media such as film and television. An alcoholic or gambling addict is instructed to completely obstain from alcohol or gambling to remain in recovery. With a sex addict, the goal is to reset their way of viewing sexual behavior and lead them back into normal, health sexual relationships. With the object of the addiction not being completely avoided, this could be why sexual addiction is the hardest addiction to overcome.