If you struggle with sex addiction, there is hope, help, and healing available! You might not feel that now, but that’s okay. You can come to know that. Let me help you in your journey to overcoming your sexual addiction and its many damaging consequences. Let’s talk! If you are not sure if you (or a loved one) struggle with sex addiction but are wondering if you (or he/she) might be, here is some information about sex addiction. Also, please feel free to reach out to me.
Sex addiction is a process addiction or behavioral addiction, meaning that an individual is addicted to the act of sex. Sex becomes the “drug” of choice for an addict. Sex addiction means an individual is addicted to sexual stimulation. An individual with a sex addiction (The American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2010):
- Has an inability to abstain from sexual stimulation
- Has an impairment in behavioral control: can’t control how often and how long he/she engages in sex
- Experiences cravings for sexual experiences: an addict has different triggers into acting out
- Diminished ability to recognize problems with his/her behaviors and in interpersonal relationships
- Has a dysfunctional emotional response: uses sex for reward/and or relief
This can take the form of an individual being addicted pornography and/or masturbation, internet chat rooms, having sexual encounters in person, and/or having an affair partner/affair partners.
Increased internet availability has resulted in an increase in out-of-control sexual behavior (Hentsch-Cowles & Brock, 2013). With sexual content constantly available, this “drug” can be free, always accessible, and an easy escape for an addict.
Although the “drug” in sex addiction is sex, sex addiction is not about sex. It is about emotional mismanagement. It occurs when an individual uses sex to minimize pain and painful emotions or augment pleasure.
Generally, a mix of genetics and traumatic experiences underlie sex addiction. When an individual with a sex addiction feels a difficult emotion, and he/she does not have healthy ways of coping with that emotion, he/she will often turn to sex. He/she will feel a “high” with sexual release, which is very short-lived, and only helps the individual “escape” temporarily. Then the individual often feels guilt and shame or other difficult emotions and that can start the whole process over. The individual becomes caught in the the squirrel-cage of addiction.
Sex addiction, like any other type of addiction, hijacks the reward pathways in the brain and damages brain circuits. Sex addiction, like all addictions, makes addicts lives become out of control and unmanageable. Sex addiction harms the addict’s ability to make choices and the addict’s ability to maintain loving relationships. The prefrontal cortex can shrink over time with sex addiction.
Risk factors for sex addiction include genetics, brain biology and chemistry, environment, and life events such as trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, an early childhood experience, or any stressful situation. Trauma is a major cause of addiction. Sex addiction can happen at any age, but often begins in early adolescence. Sex addiction is more common among males, but females can struggle with sex addiction too.
People with sex addiction do not all experience the same symptoms or every symptom. Some people experience only a few symptoms, while others experience many. What may affect one person, may not affect another person the same way. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her specific sex addiction. Symptoms may also vary depending on the stage of sex addiction and age of onset.
Do I Have a Sex Addiction?: The PATHOS Test
If you are not sure if you have a sex addiction, take this quick questionnaire to find out. Developed by Patrick Carnes, et al. (2012), this test, called PATHOS, helps quickly identify whether or not a person has problematic sexual behaviors.
Answering “Yes” to 2 or more of the questions below may indicate a need to talk to a therapist trained in sex addiction to help you further understand your responses. If you answered “Yes” to 2 or more questions, let’s talk! I am a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist. There is hope and healing available! You do not need to suffer alone and you cannot do this on your own. Let’s talk today.
1. Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts? (Preoccupied)
2. Do you hide some of your sexual behavior from others? (Ashamed)
3. Have you ever sought help for sexual behavior you did not like? (Treatment)
4. Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior? (Hurt)
5. Do you feel controlled by your sexual desire? (Out of control)
6. When you have sex, do you feel depressed afterwards? (Sad)
Sex Addiction Is Treatable
Sex addiction impacts how individuals views themselves, interact with others, and shape how they cope in life. Fortunately, sex addiction can be treated with therapy. Treatment for sex addiction requires specialized treatment of addictive behaviors, treatment of emotional management, and treatment of underlying issues.
Talk therapy or “psychotherapy” including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, psychoeducation, group therapy, and treatment of trauma can be very effective for treating sex addiction. Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSATs) have the highest specialized training for treating sex addiction, using Patrick Carne’s model. I am a CSAT. Additionally I have specialized training in treating trauma: I am trained by Pia Melody in Post Induction Therapy, and certified in EMDR.
Treatment of sex addiction requires commitment and hard work on the affected individual’s part. Treatment of sex addiction will help you gradually; do not expect to suddenly “snap out of” your sex addiction. Commitment to therapy, therapy work, and applying what you learn in therapy are crucial. However, your therapist will support and encourage you throughout this process. The severity of sex addiction and its consequences progress if left unaddressed.
Does someone you love struggle with a sex addiction? Are you hurting too? Spouses or partners of persons addicted to sex often express that their heart feels shattered. Spouses or partners of sex addicts can feel trauma. This is referred to as Partner Trauma or Betrayal Trauma. Click here to learn more about this and find healing. All family members of sex addicts can and are encouraged to attend counseling and/or support groups to find healing.
Children are often the unintended victims of sex addiction in a family. It is important to safeguard your home. If a family member has a sex addiction, there is greater risk for the children in the home to become addicted to sex later on or become a partner of a sex addict later on. For this reason, it is important that you safeguard your home and teach healthy intimacy to your children. Read my handout on safeguarding the internet. If you have questions, feel free to contact me to schedule a session to discuss this important issue. Let’s talk!
- Hentsch-Cowles, G. & Brock, L. (2013). A systemic review of the literature on the role of the partner of the sex addict, treatment models, and a call for research for systems theory model in treating the partner. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention 20(4), 323-335.
- Carnes, P. J., Green, B. A., Merlo, L. J., Polles, A., Carnes, S., & Gold, M. S. (2012). PATHOS: A brief screening application for assessing sexual addiction. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 6(1), 29–34.
- The American Society of Addiction Medicine (2010). Public Policy Statement: Definition of Addiction. Retrieved from www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction