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Compulsive Sexual Behavior: An Understanding and Treatment Guide

What is Compulsive Sexual Behavior

If you think about sex seemingly nonstop and feel like you can’t control your sexual impulses, you may be experiencing compulsive sexual behavior.

Compulsive sexual behavior, also known as hypersexuality, results in an inability to manage risks or control impulses. It can damage your physical and mental health while destroying relationships and causing financial or even legal concerns.

But there is help for compulsive sexual behavior. Through sex addiction treatment programs like those at Begin Again Institute, you can heal from the root cause of the behavior and lead a fulfilled life in recovery.

What Is Compulsive Sexual Behavior?

When your sexual cravings, behaviors, ideas, and fantasies are impossible to control, you may be dealing with compulsive sexual behavior. Also called “sex addiction,” this behavior causes distress and negatively affects your relationships, work, and health. But despite the negative consequences, you can’t quit.

Signs of compulsive sexual behavior include:

  • Inability to Control or Stop Compulsions. If you find yourself unable to stop thinking about sex or engaging in sexual activity, even when you want to, because it harms you and those you love, you may have a problem. 
  • Emotional Distress. Sex addiction is associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Engaging in these behaviors may cause feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can also result in depression or anxiety.
  • Physical Ailments. Difficulty experiencing arousal or maintaining an aroused state can occur when sex addiction forces the need for heightened stimulus.
  • Relationship Issues. Social and romantic relationships suffer when you isolate, express ongoing emotional distress, lie, and avoid intercourse with your partner.
  • Poor Work Performance. The inability to control sexual compulsions and a need for heightened stimulus encourage risky behaviors, such as viewing pornography in the workplace. 
  • Financial Issues. Paying for risky sexual encounters or subscribing to sexual content online may lead to significant financial distress.
  • Feeling Disconnected From Your Faith. Distance from your religious community and spiritual support may indicate an underlying issue with compulsive behavior. Also, feelings of being unworthy of God’s love are common among those with sex addiction.

Why Do People Develop Compulsive Sexual Behaviors?

Understanding compulsive sexual behavior requires more than recognizing its signs. You must understand the root cause of the addiction before you can heal and recover.

Unresolved trauma is the most common cause of addiction. That’s why it’s essential to understand the link between sex addiction and trauma to recover.

Emotional trauma can affect your brain’s ability to function as before the traumatic event. When you experience trauma, you can deal with negative emotions by finding a source of dopamine, the pleasure chemical your brain releases. Sexual encounters — sex, pornography, or masturbation, for example — release dopamine, which makes you feel better temporarily. 

Your brain makes the connection between sexual behavior and a dopamine release or feeling better temporarily, so you begin doing it more. Before you recognize what’s happening, a neural pathway forms between stress, trauma, and sex. Sexual release becomes a way to self-medicate.

You may try to stop the behavior, but you can’t. An addiction has formed — one you’ll likely need professional help recovering from. And because your brain adjusts to the dopamine hit, you become less fulfilled with each experience, which means you have to seek more intense and frequent sexual experiences to get the same feelings. 

The Effects of Uncontrollable Compulsions 

Compulsive sexual behaviors can ruin your life and the lives of your loved ones. The effects of these behaviors vary from person to person, but there are generalities that people may share.

Sex addiction may affect these areas:

  • Physical. Increasing difficulty in sexual arousal is common with excessive sexual behavior.
  • Mental. Ongoing stress, anxiety, and other adverse emotions often emerge.
  • Spiritual. Distance from faith communities and resentment of that faith’s expectations may develop.
  • Social. Isolation from romantic, familial, and social relationships occurs.
  • Behavioral. Erratic, dishonest, and irritable moods when deprived of sexual release.
  • Financial. Indulging in risky sexual behaviors can be costly with online subscriptions and soliciting sex workers.

When Should People Seek Treatment?

If you’re experiencing an overwhelming urge to engage in sexual activity, and you can’t stop, you may want to consider treatment options. 

If you can’t control your sexual urges or desires, you may feel like they’re taking over your entire life. You may experience effects from your behavior that cause problems with your relationships with others — especially family members and romantic partners — or damage your reputation. All of these are signs that you may need help.

If you aren’t experiencing any of the above symptoms but are concerned about your sexual behavior, it still may be a good idea to talk to a mental health professional.

Types of Treatment 

Various treatments are available for people with compulsive sexual behaviors. The treatments used depend on the individual and their needs. 

Common treatments include:

  • Psychotherapy. Individual counseling helps unpack unresolved trauma and begin the goal-setting and habit-building necessary for recovery.
  • Support Groups. Community is essential to healing addiction, so group meetings with others with the same types of issues are helpful.
  • Intensives. Intensives help you jump-start recovery in a limited time by focusing only on treatment during a short residential stay.
  • Family Therapy. Vital to repairing romantic relationships and familial bonds when betrayal trauma and trust issues develop.
  • Residential Treatment. For those who need more long-term recovery help, residential treatment centers are available to steep you in treatment for a more extended period.

Begin Again Institute offers a variety of treatment options to fit your needs. We have a 14-Day Men’s Intensive and a 14-Day Christian Men’s Intensive to help you identify the root cause of compulsive behavior and jumpstart recovery. 

For those who have more than one mental health concern and may need treatment lasting longer than a couple of weeks, we partner with Integrative Life Center to offer a 28-Day Residential Program.

All of our intensives are led by Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSATs), who are trained to work with people living with sex addiction. These therapists all approach treatment through a trauma-informed lens, meaning they understand how trauma impacts the brain, keeping people trapped in a fight-or-flight mode, and how attempts to cope with these feelings can lead to addiction. 

Effective Ways to Cope During Treatment 

Sex addiction is an impulse control disorder and a behavioral addiction that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

Sex addiction isn’t really about sex. It’s about the underlying issues and triggers that lead to these behaviors. So, when you’re in treatment, it’s important to learn about hypersexuality triggers and how to avoid them when possible and cope with them when necessary.

Hypersexuality triggers may include: 

  • Specific feelings, like anger, loneliness, sadness, stress, or boredom
  • Places that remind you of past positive or negative experiences
  • Memories, positive or negative
  • Certain people who remind you of positive or negative experiences in your past
  • Situations where you feel uncomfortable or stressed
  • Specific sounds or smells

During treatment, you’ll learn to identify your specific triggers and how to cope with them.

Coping with hypersexuality triggers may mean:

  • Avoiding triggers
  • Having a go-to healthy behavior to engage in when triggered
  • Focusing on your recovery goals
  • Exercise or meditation
  • Leaning on loved ones or therapy group members for support

In addition to learning how to cope with triggers, you’ll also want to take care of your mind and body during treatment. These coping methods look like:

  • Eating healthfully and getting plenty of sleep
  • Moving your body through exercise or activity
  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation
  • Using self-care strategies, like journaling, to process emotions
  • Understanding and embracing your recovery journey by showing yourself grace and compassion

It’s also essential to understand relapse warning signs, so you can enact a plan when you’re feeling tempted to revert to old behaviors.

Matt Wenger, Clinical Director at Begin Again Institute, said, “It’s important to remember that recovery is a lifetime process because you can never fully recover from addiction. It must be attended to in some form for the rest of your life.”

That means you should maintain a recovery program even after you complete treatment. 

“Cravings and relapse changes can go down significantly, but upkeep is recommended if not required,” he noted.

Getting Help at Begin Again Institute

Compulsive sexual behaviors can cause serious harm to your relationships and your life. If you suspect that you have a sexual addiction, don’t be afraid to seek help. 

Begin Again Institute can help you move into recovery from sex addiction in just two weeks. Through one of our intensives, you can learn more about the cause of your behavior, begin to emotionally process it, and understand how to cope more effectively. 

Are you ready to stop the behaviors causing you shame, guilt, and distress? If so, contact BAI today to learn more about treatment.

  • Category: Recovery
  • By Begin Again Institute
  • May 30, 2024

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