Often, when we talk about sex addiction, we talk about whether or not it actually exists. Is it just a convenient excuse for celebrities or politicians when the tabloids reveal their endless strings of affairs? Dr. Brandy Dunn, a sex therapist who argues for the validity of sex addiction (also known as hypersexual disorder), asked readers of The Huffington Post, "Does [medical denial of the addiction] mean some believe that sex addiction is simply a pop psychology label used to pathologize normal male behavior?" These kinds of arguments ignore the underlying issues that accompany a compulsive, self-destructive problem like sex addiction: depression, drug abuse, trauma, etc. They ignore that sex addiction even results in less pleasurable sex. So what is sex like when you have a sex addiction? What makes you keep having sex, even when it hurts you?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, does not consider sex addiction to be a mental disorder. But many doctors, researchers, psychologists, and recovering addicts beg to differ. So let's take a look at what sex is like when you are coping with this oft-misunderstood and minimized condition.
1. Sex Addiction Does Not Mean That You Just Really Love Sex
It's not unheard of for a womanizer to blame their behavior on a "sex addiction," instead of just taking responsibility for their actions. It's an excuse that we have seen scores of horny male celebs and humiliated politicians discuss in press conferences and exclusive interviews. And while I am sure that some people keep the label in their back pocket in case they are ever caught in the act, that doesn't minimize or disprove the existence of sex addiction, or hypersexual disorder, as a whole.
Dr. Rory Reid, a professor and researcher at UCLA's Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior told WebMD that sex addiction merely being an excuse for men who cheat is "a common misconception." He said that "It is no more about sex than an eating disorder is about food or pathological gambling is about money." Additionally, sex addicts also struggle with a lot of other issues which motivate and support their compulsive, dangerous sexual behavior. Many are also substance abusers and seek elusive pleasure through sex, or they are battling trauma, depression, anxiety, abuse, or a mental illness. Hypersexual disorder becomes a side effect of other already-compulsive, harmful behaviors.
2. Sex Is Not Always Enjoyable
Another very important facet of addiction is the that sex becomes less pleasurable. Sex is a compulsion, often accompanied by feelings of disgust and self-loathing. It's not a fun or playful activity that one engages in because it feels good. John O'Neill, an addiction counselor in Houston, told WebMD, "I see in them an inability to stop what they're doing. They're preoccupied; their brain just keeps going back to it. It often leads to loneliness and isolation. There's such intense shame and pain." And as with any addiction, the addict reaches a point known as "pleasure deafness," a condition which Dr. Brandy Dunn, a New York sex therapist, expands upon in The Huffington Post. When one is an addict, "the brain's ability to sense pleasure becomes stymied." This essentially means that after the addict engages in seemingly endless, compulsive sexual encounters, the brain's pleasure threshold becomes too high, so the addict requires more and more simulation, at an almost constant rate, in order to fulfill any desires or achieve any pleasure.
Dr. Dunn explained some of the more unhealthy steps that an addict will take to achieve this goal: watching porn at work and subsequently losing that job, going into debt in order to pay for sexual services, destroying a marriage and losing a family due to frequent cheating, and even masturbating to a dangerous degree, possibly drawing blood.
3. You'll Risk Everything To Get Sex
As demonstrated by the scenarios to which Dr. Dunn alluded, sex addiction will often cause the addict to take great risks in order to procure their "next fix." Just as a drug addict may get caught stealing money from a family member in order to afford a next batch of drugs, sex addicts also commit various deeds that represent "hitting rock bottom." However, some addicts need to hit this kind of rock bottom. Things have to fall apart so they can try to rebuild. In a way, their constant stress and shame is lifted off their shoulders because they have been exposed; they no longer have to fear their addiction becoming public. Reid continued, "The world comes crashing down and some say, 'I'm glad that I got caught.'"
4. Permanent Abstinence Is Usually Not The End Goal
Treatment is available for sex addiction, often in the form of sex therapy, counseling, and/or support groups. In addition to the personal therapy that the addict will receive, good counseling and support groups will also reach out to family members — especially partners — to aid in rebuilding relationships and coping with the ways in which the other person's addiction has affected them. Additionally, many sex addicts are also substance abusers, so a lot of drug addiction programs contain treatment for sex addiction as well.
Common suggestions for recovering sex addicts include practicing abstinence during the first months of treatment — typically for 60-90 days. Treatment for sex addiction is different than treatments for other addictions because permanent abstinence is not the goal (unless that is what the addict desires). Instead, the recovery goal is to be able to control compulsive urges and learn how to maintain a healthy sex life.
Some sex addicts report being helped by anti-depressants. As Reid said, those who suffer from hypersexual disorder sometimes exhibit similar behavioral traits as those with obsessive compulsive disorder. As a result, some have found relief through medication typically meant to treat OCD or other impulse control disorders.
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