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What Is Sex Addiction?

man holding is head upset about his sex addiction

Most people go through their day having various thoughts and focusing on a myriad of tasks. But for a person with sex addiction, there’s only one thing on their mind — sex.

So, what is sex addiction? The simplest description is that it’s compulsive sexual thoughts, urges, and behaviors that take over a person’s life. It causes them to be unable to function because they’re so preoccupied with sex. And they can’t change this behavior, even if they try. But there are ways to get help and recovery fully from this addiction.

Understanding Sex Addiction

Sex addiction is also known as compulsive sexual behavior, hypersexuality, or hypersexuality disorder. It’s an excessive preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges or behaviors that a person can’t control. It causes them severe emotional distress and can negatively affect their mental and physical health, job, and relationships. It essentially seeps into every part of their lives.

Not everyone can observe these sexual behaviors. Often, people with hypersexuality go to great lengths to keep from getting caught. The secrecy doesn’t come from a malicious place. Instead, it results from shame and guilt about being out of control of their choices. But there are signs of sex addiction to look for. 

Signs of sex addiction include:

  • Non-intimate sex with strangers or sex worker
  • Compulsive masturbation or porn use that escalates over time
  • Failure to keep promises to change sexual behavior, despite a genuine desire to stop
  • Obsessive sexual behavior negatively impacts other aspects of life
  • Feeling depressed or shameful about behaviors and inability to control urges
  • Avoiding activities that don’t include sexual outlets, including daily responsibilities and social events
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors such as voyeurism, exhibitionism, or having unprotected anonymous sex
  • Low self-esteem
  • Defensiveness
  • An inability to maintain meaningful relationships or an aversion to intimacy
  • Ignoring consequences of behaviors
  • Lack of empathy

At its core, hypersexuality is an intimacy disorder. A person with an intimacy disorder fears connection with other people. It doesn’t matter if the connection is emotional, spiritual, or intellectual; it frightens them. As a result, they avoid opportunities to experience and develop intimacy with another person. They may not even realize they are avoiding intimacy. Instead, they may think they’re protecting themselves from being vulnerable. 

The overwhelming sign of this type of addiction is that compulsive sexual behavior negatively impacts a person’s life, but they can’t stop it.

A man looking at his computer and looking worried

 How Trauma Causes Sex Addiction

Addiction stems from deep within traumatic experiences. Those traumatic experiences can happen at any time, but they often occur early in life. The hallmark of these traumatic experiences is the survivor was unable to process them, so they looked for a way to cope. Sex, and the positive feelings surrounding sexual behaviors, became that coping mechanism.

A person wants to do anything to make themselves feel better during or after a traumatic experience. What makes them feel better is a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is the pleasure-chemical that helps you learn what feels good.

Many activities cause a burst of dopamine to fill the brain, including sexual activities. People learn that sexual pleasure is something in their lives that they can control. They then seek out new forms of sexual pleasure to cope with daily stress and traumatizing events. 

Traumatic experiences include:

  • Abuse or neglect
  • Lack of attunement as a child
  • Sexual abuse or rape
  • Witnessing or experiencing domestic abuse
  • Loss of a pet or loved one
  • Social rejection or bullying
  • Surviving natural or national disasters
  • Parental divorce, separation, or abandonment
  • Alcohol or drug use problems, either personal or within the family

If a person cannot close the loop of survival mode, the traumatic event can lead to lasting emotional damage. Identifying trauma as the cause of the addiction and seeking help for both concerns can lead to healing.

Healing from Addiction

You can heal from addiction, but you probably can’t do it alone. Once you recognize that you or a loved one has a sex addiction, it’s important to get help from a mental health professional. It’s possible that you’re unaware of the trauma that feeds your addiction. Some people don’t remember trauma that occurred early in life. You also may think you’ve dealt with the trauma when that’s not the case. Either way, a professional can help you identify the cause of your addiction and treat it through various therapeutic approaches. 

Two common therapies for sex addiction are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is when you and your counselor identify unhelpful thinking patterns and learned behaviors. You then work together to recognize how distorted perceptions can create problems in your life. It gives you the tools to resolve difficult situations and develop a greater sense of confidence.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing. EMDR is especially helpful for people recovering from traumatic experiences. Your counselor helps you make sense of the trauma so it becomes less upsetting and its impact on your life diminishes. 

A mental health professional will create a therapeutic plan that includes various therapies to address your addiction and help you heal.

How Begin Again Institute Can Help

At the Begin Again Institute, we know that sex addiction is more than just behavior. During sex addiction treatment, we seek to uncover what events lead to your addiction. Doing this means that your recovery starts at the cause rather than the symptoms. 

We offer a 14-Day Men’s Intensive set in the rural mountains outside of Boulder, Colorado. The retreat allows you the time, space, and 24-hour support to recover from your addiction.

We also offer a Partner Support Program to help you heal your relationship. 

If you or a loved one may have a sex addiction, contact Begin Again Institute to see what treatment options are available.

  • Category: Sex Addiction
  • By Ryan Pryor
  • September 9, 2021

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