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Sex Addiction: Ways to Identify It & Treatment Options

Much of my earlier experience as a social worker and therapist was centered on working with young people and their parents. Frequently the issue was related to a need to correct an undesirable behavior. Sometimes it was the parents’ behavior that needed correcting. Nonetheless, the treatment usually included some sort of reward system when the problematic behaviors were replaced with the healthier ones. Reward systems in this context can be powerful tools in learning new life skills that can help positively shape our futures. There are times, however, when similar reward systems can wreak havoc on our lives through the destruction of careers, marriages and other relationships. Addiction is most certainly an example of this. We seem to read every day about another heroin overdose, or another episode of crystal meth-induced criminal activity. In fact, for most of us, this is the kind of thing we most often associate with addiction. There are other forms of addiction that can be just as damaging to someone’s life. Let’s talk about sex.

Sexual addiction? Really? Is that possible? The short answer is yes, though it is not currently listed as its own diagnosis.   As with alcohol and other drugs, sexual activity triggers the pleasure sensors in our brain. We have sex, it feels good, we want to do it again.   This is the reward system. We keep doing things because we want the reward.   In this case it’s sexual pleasure. Of course this is not necessarily a problem for most of us. We engage in a sexual activity, it feels good, and we go about the business of the day. For some, though, the reward system becomes so strong that it starts to become a priority. It drives our behavior and we become “addicted.”   So, how do we know if we’re becoming addicted to sex? Some common symptoms are:

  • Social isolation. More time feeding the sexual desires means less time with family and friends.
  • Financial strain. Excessively spending on pornography or escorts damages the bottom line.
  • Decline in work performance. Focusing too much on sexual behaviors can shift the focus from work responsibilities.
  • Viewing pornography at work. A true sign that sex is taking over your life.
  • Poor hygiene (More common when the sexual outlet is pornography). Sex addiction, like any other addiction, chips away at the ability to manage basic activities of daily living.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases. As the disorder progresses, it’s common for the behavior to become more risky.
  • You can’t control your sexual impulses. Sex becomes your number one priority.
  • Chronic viewing of pornography. Some look at this as an addiction of its own, when it’s really more a symptom of general sexual addiction.

In a nutshell, what we can see from these symptoms is sexual addiction can be just as damaging to our lives as alcohol or other drugs. It can also require someone to hit rock bottom before acknowledging the problem. Addicts, and those close to them, should know treatment options are available to them.

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Dialectical Behavior therapy. These are the more common treatment approaches for sex addiction.
  • Intensive outpatient programs. Usually involve a mix of group and individual therapy and meet several days per week.
  • Inpatient treatment. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.
  • Medications. There are medications that can help with impulsive behaviors. These should be discussed with a psychiatrist.

As with any other addiction, part of the recovery process involves utilizing your support system.   By now you’ve already acknowledged your powerlessness over sexual addiction. Your partner, friends and other family members are invaluable tools for meeting your goals of recovery, including abstinence, preventing relapse and rebuilding your life.