You’re tired, your muscles ache, your head hurts, and you can’t sleep. Sure it could be a virus, but for men with a sex addiction, it could be sex withdrawal.
Can you have withdrawals from sex? Yes, because of the neurochemical changes caused by sexual addiction, men can experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop or decrease their sexual activities.
Many men don’t realize that sex and pornography can be as addictive as alcohol or drugs. Understanding how sex addiction develops helps you understand withdrawal symptoms as part of your recovery process. Sex withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable. But don’t let the prospect of going through withdrawal keep you from making a positive change in your life.
What is Sex Addiction?
Sex addiction is an intimacy disorder characterized by an inability to stop compulsive sexual behaviors. An acute symptom of sex addiction is when your thoughts and actions around sex interfere with your daily life, responsibilities, and relationships.
Other signs you could have a sex addiction include:
Constantly thinking about sex
Continuing your behaviors around sex, despite potential negative consequences
Spending an excessive amount of time or energy focused on sex
Feelings of guilt or shame about your sexual behaviors
Engaging in risky or potentially illegal actions, such as paying for sex
Cheating on your spouse or partner
What Causes Sex Addiction?
During sex, your body releases dopamine, which is known as the “feel good” neurochemical. When you do something pleasurable like having sex, the brain release dopamine as a reward. It improves your mood and gives you feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
In essence, dopamine is the driving force behind why you have cravings to repeat pleasurable experiences. It gives you a feel-good high, so your brain nudges you to do it again.
Dopamine is a natural part of the way God designed the human body. Lots of activities can cause dopamine releases. Not all of them cause addiction. Dopamine releases during sex are not addictive for most people. The difference in men with sex addiction is they experience dopamine dysregulation.
Dopamine dysregulation can occur in people who experienced emotional trauma as children. This trauma may include emotional neglect, the loss of a parent, or physical or sexual abuse. These men often carry their emotional scars into adulthood. The dopamine released during sex becomes a coping mechanism. Their brains urge them to have more sex to numb or mask the pain from their unresolved trauma. Then their brains start to adjust to the dopamine hits, so they have to engage in more frequent or more intense sexual experiences to get the same feelings.
Can You Have Withdrawals from Sex?
People with sex addiction can have withdrawal symptoms when they try to control their addiction. But the withdrawal is not from the sex itself.
The dopamine dysregulation seen in men with sex addictions is similar to dopamine disorders in people with substance addictions. If you’re experiencing withdrawal, it not from not having sex. The sex withdrawal side effects are from the sudden decrease in dopamine.
Sex Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms
Attempting to control a sex addiction can result in mental and physical symptoms. For example, if you’ve noticed that you feel rundown or sick or are increasingly irritable, you could be dealing with withdrawal.
Common sex addiction withdrawal symptoms include:
Depression and anxiety
Irritability or agitation
Inability to focus
Feelings of frustration and annoyance
Intense sexual urges or cravings
Flashbacks or dreams about pornography
Difficulty sleeping and extreme tiredness
Body aches or stiffness in muscles and joints
Decreased or non-existent sex drive
Help for Sex Addiction at Boulder Recovery
At Boulder Recover, we’ve designed a 14-Day program to help men understand and recover from sex addiction. The Boulder treatment program is unique because we combine a faith-based approach and the TINSA model, or Trauma-induced sexual addiction.
Boulder Recovery Founder Michael Barta, Ph.D., LPC, CSAT, is a leading expert on the connections between childhood trauma and sexual addiction. Barta’s research documents how men who experienced childhood trauma are more likely to develop pornography or sexual addictions later in life.
Experiencing neglect, abandonment, or other childhood trauma can cause men to use sex as a coping mechanism. This coping strategy leads to dopamine dysregulation.
A large part of our 14-Day intensive program is helping men work through their unresolved trauma. Each program participant receives personalized treatment with a clinically-trained therapist. In addition to the TINSA model, our therapists combine multiple modalities to deliver the best care in 14 days.
Therapeutic approaches used in the program include:
Internal Family Systems. This approach helps men understand the parts of themselves that make up the whole, how those parts react to their environments, and the process of unburdening.
Intergenerational Trauma. This modality helps men see how family passes on core values, narratives, and unspoken expectations. Families share these things without understanding or consent.
Brainspotting. This treatment method locates points in the visual field that bypass the “thinking brain” and access the “reactive brain.” Thus, it helps resolve unprocessed trauma.
Inner Child Work. Counselors use this modality in guided meditation and brainspotting to explain how men may have unrealistic expectations for their younger selves. These expectations cause them to feel shame.
Support for Sex Addiction Withdrawal
Sex withdrawal and sex addiction are real. Recovery requires the help of trained professionals. Don’t feel shame in asking for help. Jesus’s ministry focused on setting people free from sin and shame. The Boulder Recovery team continues that ministry by helping men overcome their sexual addictions. We know it’s not an easy journey. We designed our treatment program as a live-in experience. You’ll have access to support around the clock when the sex withdrawal side effects are at their worst.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your healing journey, request more information on our upcoming 14-Day intensives.