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Sex Addiction Symptoms, Help, and Recovery

Snicker if you will, but sex addiction is no laughing matter. Instead of having healthy sexual relationships, a sex addict uses the activity as a way to get a rush, deal with stress, or escape from negative feelings. They get caught up in fantasizing about sex and in sexual activities to the extent that it interferes with their everyday lives.

What is Sex Addiction?

Sex addicts may be having a lot of sex, but that doesn't mean they are enjoying themselves. They are using sex as a coping mechanism instead of a way to connect with their partner. Not all sex addicts are visiting prostitutes or having affairs; some of the behaviors may involve looking at porn, excessive masturbation, or going to strip clubs. The difference between an addiction to sex and a healthy sex drive is when the person continues to act out in spite of negative consequences.

Signs of Sex Addiction

Symptoms of sex addiction are varied, and may include the following:

  • Cybersex or phone sex
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Exhibitionism
  • Extramarital affairs
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Visiting prostitutes
  • Voyeurism

Causes of Addiction

Family history may influence whether a person becomes a sex addict. Having a parent who acted out sexually increases the likelihood that the child will grow up thinking the behavior is appropriate. Growing up in a home where parents were distant or abusive may set the stage for a sexual addiction as well.

Another part of the puzzle of sexual addiction may lie in the brain chemistry itself. Antidepressant medications help to control symptoms, which tend to indicate that the problem of addiction has to do with insufficient levels of certain neurotransmitters. The act of having sex and/or an orgasm releases a powerful feeling of euphoria, and the addict continues to do the behavior to get that experience. Unfortunately, they have to keep "upping the ante" by taking more risks to get the payoff they are looking for.

Consequences of Sex Addiction

A person who has a sex addiction continues to act out, in spite of the negative consequences for the behavior, which include:

  • Arrest/criminal charges
  • Debts from buying porn, paying for prostitutes or 900-number phone sex services
  • Injuries from frequent sexual activity or use of foreign objects
  • Job loss
  • Possibility of contracting a sexually-transmitted disease (STD), such as HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, genital warts
  • Relationship problems, including separation and/or divorce

Help and Treatment for Sex Addiction

The first step in sex addiction treatment is to get the addict to stop the behavior. A period of abstinence gives the person who is addicted to sex time to focus on getting to the root of the addiction. Sex addiction treatments can include inpatient or outpatient therapy at a rehab center. Individual or group sessions focus on the reasons why the person chose to act out in this way and identify the triggers for the behavior. The addict can learn new coping skills.

Part of the sex addiction treatment must include helping the addict learn how to have healthy sexual relationships. This part of the treatment includes the addict's partner, if they have one who is willing to continue in a relationship with them. Unlike being treated for alcohol or drug addiction, lifelong abstinence is not the goal for a person who is addicted to sex. 

Beyond Quitting: Sex Addiction Recovery and Rehabilitation

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Recovery from sexual addiction can continue with sessions with a therapist. Support groups or 12-step programs such as Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous may also be helpful. In some situations, prescribed medications (such as Prozac or Anafranil) can help to deal with the obsessive-compulsive part of the addiction. Interacting with people with the same addiction problem may also be of help.

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