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 damaging relationships and causing financial or even legal concerns.
What is Compulsive Sexual Behavior?
When your sexual cravings, behaviors, ideas, and fantasies are impossible to control, you may have compulsive sexual behavior, also known as “hypersexuality disorder” or “sex addiction.” Sex addiction 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 and engaging in sexual activity even when it’s against your better judgment, 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. And sex addiction results in you thinking about or planning for sex seemingly nonstop.
- Financial Issues. Paying for risky sexual encounters or subscribing to sexual content when unable to stop sexual urges 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. It also requires understanding underlying issues, such as unresolved trauma, which is the most common cause of addiction.
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 try to stop the behavior, but you can’t. 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.
Effects of Uncontrollable Compulsions
The effects of compulsive sexual behavior vary from person to person, yet there are generalities that individuals may share.
Outcomes of sex addiction include:
- 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 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 about your symptoms.
Types of Treatment
Various treatments or combinations of 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.
These treatment modalities are most effective when people actively develop healthy coping mechanisms.
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 understand these triggers to avoid them in the future.
You should be able to rely on your support system during this time: friends, family members, and members of your religious community who know what you’re going through and can help you stay on track with your treatment plan. You should also be able to stick to healthy routines that keep you busy and distracted from your cravings. Avoiding risky situations like bars or clubs where you might feel tempted to engage in addiction behaviors also is important.
Keeping a journal of your progress during treatment can help you be accountable for every step.
Recovering From and Living With Compulsive Sexual Behavior
Matt Wenger, Clinical Director at Boulder Recovery, 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,” Matt said.
That means, even after you complete treatment, you should maintain a recovery program consisting of therapy, meetings, and perhaps even a sponsor so you don’t relapse.
“Cravings and relapse changes can go down significantly, but upkeep is recommended if not required,” he said.
Help from Boulder Recovery
In the end, compulsive sexual behaviors can cause serious harm to your relationships and your life. And in the worst-case scenario, they can develop into something more severe — like an addiction to sex. If you suspect that you have a sexual addiction, don’t be afraid to seek help.
Seeking treatment begins your journey to healing and recovery. Boulder Recovery offers a 14-Day Christian Men’s Intensive to help jump-start your recovery and renew your faith. Contact us for more information.