There’s a point where one’s sex drive moves past healthy and crosses into the realm of addiction: urges spiral from intense to obsessive, and pursuits escalate from frequent to excessive
Cases of sexual addiction are actually more pervasive than many realize. But because there is no consensus yet in the medical community about what constitutes this compulsion, its symptoms remain a gray area.
With the different sets of diagnostic criteria floating around, here’s a run-through of what professionals and organizations make of sexual addiction for now.
A vicious cycle
Most people associate sexual addiction with prostitution and extra-marital affairs. But there are a bunch of other behaviors — obsession with pornography and phone or cybersex, excessive masturbation, and repeated visits to strip clubs — that fall under the same category. It’s not much the form the compulsion takes but how far the activity or practice is taken, along with its underlying causes.
- Extreme escapism
In the same way that people take drugs to feel good and drink alcohol to cope with sadness, sexual addiction is essentially a coping mechanism. Those who are caught up in it use sex to avoid confronting a problem, to shake off a stressful event or to find relief from discomfort, boredom, depression or anxiety.
- Loss of control
What people who resort to sex later find out is that the activity they engaged in, while providing temporary euphoria, never actually gives them what they were looking for in the first place. Their problems remain. They don’t get to relax. In fact, the feelings of discomfort just mount. So they indulge some more until they lose the ability to reasonably fight their urges.
- Recurrent behavior
The need to act out is incessant; the behavior repetitive. Clinicians usually track occurrence from six months to a year. If the problem persists within this period, their diagnosis leans toward sexual addiction.
- Escalating pattern
And it doesn’t stop at the behavior becoming a bad habit to break. People with sexual addiction are inclined to increase the frequency and intensity of the activities they engage in. Those who gravitate toward soliciting sex, for instance, are likely to do so more often. Those in the middle of multiple affairs would search for additional sexual partners. Most even “branch out” in the process, resorting to pornography for quick fixes or going online in their quest for companions.
According to experts in the field, this upward spiral happens during the first few years of the addiction and eventually plateaus. This means the behavior continues but its frequency, intensity and scope is maintained at a certain level.
Mentally, addicts are consumed by thoughts of sex. They waste excessive time playing out fantasies in their heads, musing on past experiences and planning new and more elaborate ways to indulge themselves.
- Skewed perspective
Sexual addiction is not just an evasive tactic gone wrong. Everything goes downhill once the cycle starts. New problems are created. Additional reasons for distress and anxiety come to surface. More unpleasant feelings — shame, isolation and guilt — crop up. And the thrill of it all turns out to be shallow and fleeting. There’s only misery and emptiness. But addicts do not see it this way. Rather, they take the situation as a sign that their current actions are not as “effective” as before and decide instead to up their ante to bring back a false sense of euphoria and fulfillment.
Those who are determined to kick it up a notch often engage in practices with more serious repercussions. Health-wise, this pertains to unprotected sex either with prostitutes or multiple partners.
A blatant disregard for the consequences of their actions is one of the major symptoms of sexual compulsion. Most addicts are fully aware of the risk factors but choose to ignore them. And it’s not just their personal well-being in jeopardy. Often, they are careless with their finances, career and relationships as well.
- Failure to stop
People with sexual addiction reach a point where they realize the predicament they’re stuck in. Yes, most of them are stuck. They try to stop or reduce their compulsions but ultimately fail. The desire and intention to quit is real. But the follow-through effort comes up short and they never quite get there on their own, no matter how many repeated attempts at withdrawal they prepare for.
The bigger picture
The symptoms of sexual addiction are not limited to those that define a compulsive behavior. Looking at how it affects the person and those surrounding him or her is also vital to getting a complete picture of the situation.
- Accompanying addiction
It’s pretty common for a sex addict to jump into drug or alcohol abuse to deal with heightened anxiety. Some tread into dangerous waters for the extra thrill. Others do so because they, in reality, gain little to no satisfaction from sex.
- Health threats
Addicts are more prone to sexually transmitted diseases depending on how far they take their urges. Many suffer exhaustion due to the unnecessary strain they put on their body in pursuit of certain activities. Others simply forget to monitor their health because of their preoccupation with sex.
- Social withdrawal
To keep appearances, addicts become increasingly secretive. A number isolate themselves, giving up their social life to protect their obsession. It also becomes harder to form genuine connections with people they meet, as most of their interactions are to an extent sexually motivated.
An addict’s office, school and domestic affairs suffer as well. With their attention focused on sexual pursuits, academic and work obligations take a backseat. Some get too caught up to care for his or her family. There are even cases where loved ones are forced to live hand-to-mouth because household funds have been depleted, with an inordinate amount of money allocated for addiction-related expenditures.
- Broken bonds
Entangled in their obsession, addicts are unable to sustain relationships. Relationships are often bound to falter, especially when betrayal is factored in.
- Potential harm
In a few unfortunate cases, abuse and violence become part of the equation. Note, however, that this rarely happens. While there are addicts that become stalkers, voyeurs, exhibitionists and sexual predators, an overwhelming majority are able to get the help they need and recover completely.
Diagnosing sexual addiction is not based on a single indicator but rather on a group of symptoms. And even then, the signs vary for each person and develop in stages over time.
But in most circumstances, the cycle begins with using sex repeatedly and at an increasing frequency to escape or cope. The urge becomes too much to control that addicts act on it regardless of the accompanying negative consequences. Their obsession and compulsions get out of hand, impairing their everyday life in more ways than one.
On the whole, characterizing sexual addiction is necessary to understanding how to overcome it. Plus, it’s an unfamiliar territory for most, so a degree of awareness is definitely key.
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