In most people’s minds, addiction has to do with substances. We usually think of drugs, alcohol, or gambling as addictions that people might struggle with. Most people recognize that addicts have an inability to control themselves around these activities and usually need rehabilitation to break free from addiction.
When someone engages in frequent sexual intercourse, most people typically see this as a sign of low moral character and a lack of restraint. What they may not realize, however, is that sex can be an addiction just like drugs or alcohol.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a “chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry” that “is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors”.
Addiction seems to have a fairly straightforward list of characteristics, and when these are caused by illicit substances, it makes sense that they would have a damaging impact on a person’s life.
But sex is a normal, healthy, and even necessary part of a human life, which cannot be said of drugs or alcohol. If that’s the case, how can sex be an addiction?
What is Sex Addiction?
On the whole, sex addiction is widely debated among clinicians. While some believe that hypersexuality (as it is often referred) is a lack of impulse control often rooted in depression or anxiety, some psychologists believe that a higher sex drive may be the root cause.
Hypersexuality was previously included in the DSM-4 (the authoritative text for mental health diagnoses), but it was not included in the newer DSM-5. Due to a lack of empirical evidence, many experts do not believe that hypersexuality can be classified as a true addiction.
So, What is it Then?
Hypersexuality, while possibly not an addiction in the classic sense, can still pose a potential threat to one’s health and relationships.
According to Psychology Today, these factors may be a symptom that your sexual activity has crossed over from healthy to problematic. For a period of at least six months you:
- Have recurrent, intense sexual fantasies, urges, and/or behaviors
- The behaviors consistently interfere with other activities and obligations
- Behaviors occur in response to dysphoric mood states (anxiety, depression, boredom, irritability) or stressful life events
- Engage in consistent but unsuccessful efforts to control or reduce sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors
- Engage in sexual behaviors while disregarding the potential for physical or emotional harm to self or others
- The frequency or intensity of sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors cause significant distress or impairment
Just like any addiction, an overindulgence in sexual activity can become a hindrance to your everyday life and personal relationships.
Treatment for Sex Addiction
There is debate among experts as to what may cause maladaptive sexual activity. Some say it may be linked to previous sexual abuse or emotional trauma.
Treatment for sexual addiction should always begin with seeking a trained medical professional, such as a licensed counselor. Someone with the proper training will help you be able to identify whether or not you truly exhibit hypersexuality and can walk you through your next steps for treatment.
Sexuality is a normal, healthy, and beautiful part of being a human, but just like all things, it can be detrimental when it become a part of unhealthy behavior patterns. For individuals who are potentially addicted to sex, seeking out help is a vital part of learning how to engage in sex in a healthy way.
If you struggle with compulsive sexual behavior and are facing discouragement, TheHopeLine’s Hope Coaches are available to help you on your journey toward freedom. God loves you and yearns for you to overflow with hope and not despair.