When people engage in sexual behavior that is damaging to themselves or their loved ones, they may have developed an addiction to sex. Being compelled to participate in excessive or dangerous sexual behavior, despite negative consequences, closely resembles the behavior of drug addicts who are compelled to continue using drugs even when this behavior puts jobs, relationships and reputations at risk.
There are several different types of sex addiction, and some are more dangerous and damaging than others. When done in moderation, the following behaviors may not be an addiction; it is when they are done compulsively or obsessively that they become a problem. Here are the main categories of sex addiction:
- Anonymous sex: being drawn to someone simply because he or she is a stranger; treating that person as a conquest and not an actual partner.
- Fantasy sex: spending an excessive amount of time and energy engaged in sexual fantasies, particularly with a partner who is flawless. These intense fantasies often interfere with developing any kind of intimacy with a partner.
- Paid sex: allows a sex addict to have a practically unlimited stream of sexual partners. Sex addicts are drawn to the possibility of constant sexual stimulation as well as the excitement of participating in secret or illegal activity. Paid sex also includes participating in phone sex.
- Voyeurism: spying on unsuspecting individuals using binoculars, a hidden camera or telescope. Voyeurism is a common form of sex addiction that also includes going to peep shows or viewing pornographic materials.
- Intrusive sex: touching or rubbing up against someone in a sexual manner without their consent.
- Exploitive sex: engaging in sexual activity with vulnerable people such as children or disabled individuals. The sex addict obtains pleasure from the power that he or she has over the victim.
- Seductive sex: treating another person as a conquest. Those who participate in seductive sex are gratified by charming or coercing others into participating in sexual activity. The addict may engage in several relationships simultaneously and is addicted to the thrill of the chase and the conquest.
- Exhibitionism: flashing genitalia and receiving gratification from the reactions of others. This may include being part of a peep show or stripping in a club. This is a risky form of sex addiction because of the constant possibility of being caught.
- Trade sex: offering sex to others for pay or other compensation, such as drugs. Sex addicts may feel a sense of power for being able to charge others for sex.
What Causes Addiction to Sex?
There isn’t a clear answer to the question of why some people become addicted to sex and others don’t. What is clear is that when a sex addict pursues sexual contact, he or she is not pursuing intimacy. Like drug addicts, sex addicts pursue sex in order to avoid feeling stress or other unpleasant feelings. Sexual stimulation has become a form of escapism, an opportunity to momentarily experience euphoria and detachment from the pain of day to day living.
Most experts believe that sex addiction is caused by a combination of factors. It appears that biochemical abnormality or brain changes may increase the risk of developing sex addiction. Many sex addicts have co-occurring psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, depression, a personality disorder or a problem with impulse control.
Damage to certain areas of the brain due to medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, dementia or Huntington’s disease may sometimes be a factor in compulsive sexual behavior. There appears to be a genetic predisposition to developing various forms of addiction, including sex addiction. Abuse or neglect during childhood are also risk factors for developing an addiction to sex.
Treatment Options for Sex Addiction
When addiction to sex has become unmanageable, it’s important to get help. Consequences of failing to recover from sex addiction include not only guilt and shame, but also destroyed relationships and the possibility of legal problems. There can also be medical consequences such as contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Sex addicts are often full of shame and may never recognize that the problem is treatable. In many cases, sex addicts never ask for help unless they commit a sex crime and are court-ordered into treatment.
Treating sex addiction may include a combination of approaches, including medication, psychotherapy and support groups. Medication options include SSRI antidepressants, anti-seizure medications and mood stabilizers. Medications that decrease male hormones may also decrease impulsive urges.
Many sex addicts are able to bring their addiction under control by attending meetings such as Sex Addicts Anonymous. Cognitive behavior therapy can be helpful in learning to recognize triggers and thinking through alternate choices. Residential facilities provide intense treatment in a focused environment and may be beneficial to some.