The eight things you really need to know about sex addiction

For some people, sex is a strong priority, others may experience it with difficulties and some tend to minimise sex in their life. For most of us, in the middle of this spectrum, we enjoy it as a life and couple activity, with reasonable ups and downs.

Sadly, that’s not the case for an estimated 10-12% of the adult western world population; they are painfully or shamefully on the diagnosable spectrum of “sex addiction” or sexual compulsive disorder. For them, sexual behaviours have entered the scary realm of “mental disorders”. Yes, sex addiction is a mental disorder, not just a genital impulse disorder.

Here are some important points we should all be aware of:

1. Sex addiction is not a one-size-fits-all box: it regroups very different sub-scales such as hypersexuality, fantasy obsession, romantic obsession, seductive control, pornography, compulsive masturbation, voyeurism, etc… However, the withdrawal symptoms are usually common, ranging from depression to emotional distress and anger issues. Sometimes it can also lead to physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking or sickness, creating a significant craving.

2. Sex addiction is not at all about sexual preferences and flavoured practices and surely not about gender preferred orientation and identity. Paula Hall highlighted it in “Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction”: “It is not the sexual behaviour itself that is the problem, but the relationship to the sexual behaviour… Sex addiction is not a moral issue, it is a mental health issue.”

“It is not the sexual behaviour itself that is the problem, but the relationship to the sexual behaviour… Sex addiction is not a moral issue, it is a mental health issue.”

3. For a sex addict, sex operates as a very strong stimuli to the brain – absolutely similar to a drug, creating incredible chemical “highs” in the brain. It is a true dysfunction of the brain, often resulting from very sad and adverse early life experience such as sex abuse and abandonment.

4. Sex addiction is not at all about cheating: it deploys very often inside the couple when one of the partners is abusively imposing sex as a condition to the relationship, putting a strain on the relationship’s stability and quality, leading to frustration, sadness, arguments and break-ups.

5. Sex addiction is not a “guy-thing”, the gender spread is stable, slightly in favour of men (these stats are somewhat biased since women talk less about it). However, males and females tend to engage in sex addiction with significantly different patterns of gender-specific preferred behaviours. In broad terms, men will often objectify partners, seeking for a quick fix, whereas women are more prone to play relational and sexual seductions and controlling games.

6. Nowadays, sex addiction is less and less about physical sexual intercourse: The surge of internet pornography has shape-shifted the traditional expressions of sex addiction. Dr David Greenfield, a specialist in internet-addiction from the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction speaks of “The pornification of the internet” and recently highlighted that 33% of web-traffic is pornographic. The combination of addictive characteristics of internet-browsing and sexual stimuli hits the brain at its core with incredible “highs”.

7. Sex addiction is very often associated or hiding behind substance misuse and other behavioural addictions. Dr Patrick Carnes, world prominent specialist in sex addiction stated in his paper “Bargain with Chaos” (2006) that 84% of sex addicts present other co-adjunct addictions (and not vice-versa), masking or facilitating sex addiction.

8. Sex addiction is a damaged psycho-sexual state, it requires the help of a specialist, including assessing it. In case of concern or doubt, asking for help is far better than trying to self-assess and self-medicate. It is not easy to talk about it in a consulting room but it is by far the best way to start dealing with it.

 

Christophe Sauerwein

Academic Director at ICAAD
Christophe has been on his journey of recovery since 1999. After 17 years in investment banking and private equity, Christophe turned his life over and became a leading therapist in addiction, relational childhood trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Christophe holds an MSc in Addiction Psychology and Counselling and fully qualified in Childhood Trauma Reduction therapy (PIT/Pia Mellody model), Sex Addiction (Paula Hall Model) and Attachment and Relationship disorders (Pia Mellody model). After having worked with the Priory North London Hospital, Christophe developed his private practice in Harley Street, joined the Hale Clinic in late 2015 and has now moved into his independent private practice in High Street Kensington, London. Fortunately for us, his ridiculously sized brain means he finds time to be iCAAD’s Academic Director as well as his many other commitments. He passion lies in all things academic and the acquisition of knowledge. Working on his own, personal research has proven to be mutually beneficial for his role as iCAAD’s Academic Director

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