Sex Addiction: Ways to Identify It & Treatment Options

By Lane Jesse

You’re reading Sex Addiction: Ways to Identify It & Treatment Options, originally posted on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement. If you’re enjoying this, please visit our site for more inspirational articles.

Sexual addictions consist of compulsive behaviors that interfere with important areas of one’s life, causing significant distress in daily living.

Identifying compulsive sexual behaviors as addictions is a topic that creates debate, even among mental health professionals.

The American Psychiatric Association‘s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) does not directly acknowledge the existence of sexual addictions. One of the updates proposed for next edition of the DSM is Hyperactive Sexual Desire Disorder, but the committee responsible for the update is not yet ready to call it an addiction. Some see it as a moral issue, a character issue, or a lack of self-control. However, some professionals are convinced that sexual addition is real, comparing it to substance abuse, particularly when it comes to its effect on the brain’s pleasure center and its impact on human behavior.

Sexual Addiction and the Brain

The pleasure center of the brain includes:

  • The amygdala, which regulates emotions
  • The nucleus accumbens, which controls the release of dopamine
  • The ventral tegmental area (VTA), which actually releases the dopamine
  • The cerebellum, which controls muscle function
  • The pituitary gland, which releases beta-endorphins

Laughter, food, sex, alcohol, and other drugs all have their effects on the brain’s pleasure center. People who suffer from depression, anxiety, shame, and other negative emotions sometimes self-medicate by engaging in these behaviors, which put them at risk for developing addictions or destructive habits. Obsessing, fantasizing, and pursuing opportunities to sexually act out also have strong effects on the pleasure center of the brain.

The Etiology of Sexual Addiction

There are several theories on the etiology (or causes) of sexual addictions. About 80 percent of sex addicts have either been sexually abused or have had other forms of trauma in their background.

Some experts theorize that feelings of being unwanted or neglected as a child put one at risk of developing a sexual addiction. Feeling that they cannot trust or become close to someone, sex addicts may search for sexual gratification through interactions with strangers or through watching pornography, as opposed to finding happiness through a monogamous relationship.

Identifying Sexual Addiction

Aviel Goodman proposes that the same diagnostic criteria used to diagnose Substance Dependence can apply to identifying sexual addiction.

Using Goodman’s proposal, a sexual addiction may be present if three or more of the following symptoms are observed within a 12-month period:

  • increased tolerance (i.e., more sexual activity or more sexual intensity is needed in order to satisfy one’s desires
  • withdrawal (experiencing uneasiness or negative emotions when one abstains from compulsive sexual behaviors or another behavior is engaged in to avoid withdrawal symptoms)
  • sexual behavior is often engaged in over a longer period, in greater quantity, or at a higher intensity than was intended
  • a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to decrease or control the behaviors
  • an excessive amount of time is spent in preparing, pursuing, or engaging in sexual behaviors
  • important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of the behavior
  • the behaviors continues even though one realizes the behaviors have caused problems

Patrick Carnes, the author of several books on the topic of sexual addiction and recovery, has an online Sexual Addiction Screening Test at his website. Other related screening tools can also be found at his website.

Recovery from Sexual Addiction

Helping the sex addict find ways to control his or her compulsive sexual behaviors and the pursuit of them is the focus of professional treatment. Helping the addict determine and develop a concept of “healthy sexuality” is another important component of recovery.

Medications used to treat Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder have sometimes been used in attempts to decrease the compulsive nature of sexual addictions. Some find that 12-step programs for sexual addiction are helpful. Individual psychotherapy can help the sex addict develop strategies to resist the urge to act out compulsively. Psychotherapy can also help the addict identify irrational thoughts that have supported and justified his or her sexual behaviors. Such thoughts may include:

  • “Sex is my most important need.”
  • “My current sexual obsession won’t pass unless I act on it.”
  • “It is impossible for me to be happy in a monogamous relationship.”

Life During Recovery from Sex Addiction

Many sex addicts who are working a recovery program say that recovery from their sexual addictions is a lifelong process. Even after the compulsive sexual behaviors stop, recovering sex addicts continue to in their attempts to rebuild their marriages, their family relationships, their careers, and other important areas of their lives while maintaining their recovery program to prevent a return to their old behaviors.

You’ve read Sex Addiction: Ways to Identify It & Treatment Options, originally posted on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement. If you’ve enjoyed this, please visit our site for more inspirational articles.

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