Understanding Sexual Addiction

The desire to engage in sexual acts is a natural and normal human drive. When sexual fantasy and behavior becomes an obsession, that natural and normal drive becomes a pattern of out of control sexual behaviors that is referred to as sexual addiction. Also known as phenomenon in which individuals report being unable to manage their sexual behaviors and fantasies. It is a serious condition that often consumes the addicts self esteem, destroys marriages and partnerships, and leaves a trail of tears and destruction in its wake.

The desire to engage in sexual acts is a natural and normal human drive. When sexual fantasy and behavior becomes an obsession, that natural and normal drive becomes a pattern of out of control sexual behaviors that is referred to as sexual addiction. Also known as sexual dependency or sexual compulsivity, sexual addiction refers to the phenomenon in which individuals report being unable to manage their sexual behaviors and fantasies. It is a serious condition that often consumes the addicts self esteem, destroys marriages and partnerships, and leaves a trail of tears and destruction in its wake.

But how does one know when his or her sexual behaviors are normal and when healthy sexuality has become an unhealthy addiction? Counselors and therapists usually employ sexual addiction questionnaires and various kinds of tests to determine objectively the probability of sexual addiction. Ultimately however, the answer and realization must come from the individual. Three basic indicators of sexual addiction are compulsivity, continuation despite consequences, and obsession. Compulsivity is the loss of the ability to choose freely whether to stop or continue a sexual behavior. Addicts risk money, marriage, family, and career in order to satisfy their sexual desires and despite these consequences, they continue indulging the sexual fantasy and seeking a sexual “fix.” The use of sex as a “fix” forms into a habit so obsessive that the addict continues despite the tremendous shame that comes from living a secret life outside of long held morals and values.

Unfortunately, individuals are often unwilling to accept that their behaviors and fantasies have crossed a line from what our culture supports as a normal and healthy libido to an all consuming preoccupation. They may persist in their denial and distorted thinking until the damage to their marriages, families, and relationships is too great to repair. Jeffrey Schultz, a counselor in the Sonoran Healing Center in Phoenix, Arizona who specializes in the treatment of compulsive sexual behaviors, recounts that a client who had nearly taken his life did not even see his abnormal sexual behaviors as issues until his relationship with family and friends were shattered. This is the sad situation for most sex addicts.

Different factors cause sexual addiction and it is more likely a build up of conditions over time. It may be early sexualization or early exposure of an individual to inappropriate sexual material or behavior or traumatic experiences during childhood such as physical and/or sexual abuse, abandonment, or emotional trauma.

The consequences of sexual addiction are serious and alarming. Since it is progressive in nature, the need for a sexual “fix” increases, and the person’s behavior becomes motivated solely by the persistent desire to experience the sexual act. The need for more intense stimulation leads into more explicit, intensity seeking and risk taking in the sexual behavior, which eventually interferes with the person’s social or marital life, deteriorating not only the life of the sexual addict but also the lives of the people around him/her. This is aside from the shame attached to the sexual addict, who could be a friend or a loved one carrying his condition in secret for the fear of rejection. So, what should be done? Understanding sexual addiction and getting help are the first steps that the sex addict and his family must take to begin the healing process. Various therapists and counselors offer professional treatment for sexual addiction with a great deal of anonymity. Professional help is highly recommended to assist the individual and loved ones to recognize and understand sexual addiction and to begin accepting responsibility for their healing. Support and encouragement from 12 step groups and a recovery community, group therapy, and even family and friends all contribute to the treatment of the sex addict and assist the healing process.

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