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What Is Sex Addiction (& How Can I Tell If I Have It)?

Brannon Patrick

August 5, 2022

Compulsive sexual behavior can be difficult to overcome—and left unchecked, it can be seriously detrimental. Not only can sex addiction cause personal and professional problems for the individuals it afflicts, but it can also put strain on their relationships with others in their lives and create pain for them as well. Still, sexual desire is a normal—even healthy—part of life for most people, so how can you tell when sex addiction is a problem for you, and what should you do if it is?

At Therapy Utah, we specialize in providing compassionate and effective treatment for people struggling with sex addiction and the problems it causes. Let us share our knowledge of this potentially-serious but fairly common condition with you so that you can determine whether you need help and find out how to get it.

What Is Sex Addiction?

Sexual addiction is a type of behavioral addiction not defined by specific types of sexual act or the gender of a person’s sexual partners. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) provides the following definition for what addiction means:

“. . . a treatable, chronic, medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”

A study conducted by Dr. Valerie Voon found that the brain activity of people with sexual addictions was similar to the activity in the brains of people addicted to drugs. Dr. Voon stated:

“I think [ours is] a study that can help people understand that this is a real pathology, this is a real disorder, so people will not dismiss compulsive sexual behavior as something moralistic. This is not different from how pathologic gambling and substance addiction were viewed several years ago. People are experiencing a disorder they need help for, and resources should be put towards funding this and treating this.”

When assessing for addiction, therapists include 5 key indicators, referred to as ABCDE:

1) Inability to consistently Abstain

2) Impairment in Behavioral control

3) Craving (or increased “hunger” for drugs or rewarding experiences)

4) Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships5) A dysfunctional Emotional response

Via Pexels

What Are the Symptoms of Sex Addiction?

Common symptoms of sex addiction include:

Obsessive Sexual Thoughts

Sexual thoughts are normal—with the exception of asexual people, everybody experiences them. But if your sexual thoughts are regularly causing significant distractions when you’re engaged in other activities, this can indicate sexual compulsion or addiction. At TherapyUtah, we have access to in-depth evidence-based assessment tools that give our clients a deeper understanding of their sexual behaviors, mental health, and attachment styles.

Relations with Numerous Partners (Including Strangers)

Polyamory and ethical non-monogamy do not necessarily indicate sexual addiction—but when a person compulsively seeks out unsafe or risky sex with a wide variety of people, it can signify addictive behavior. This is especially true when a person indiscriminately seeks out sex, even from strangers—since it can indicate that the act itself is more important than the connection it usually represents in healthy sexual situations.

Lying about Sexual Behavior

Being dishonest about sexual encounters may signify that a person with sex addiction is attempting to downplay their compulsions. Lying is also common in situations where a person with sex addiction has engaged in cheating or adultery in order to satisfy the urges their addiction causes.

Struggling to Control Sexual Behavior

Are you having sex because you want to, or because you feel like you can’t go without it? People who cannot effectively regulate their sexual behavior may be dealing with an addiction that causes them to act inappropriately at work or in social situations.

Negative Feelings After Sex

Guilt and shame do not normally accompany healthy sexual behavior, but people dealing with sex addiction often experience these emotions in the wake of satisfying their compulsions. This is frequently due to their self-awareness that they have given into their addiction, which can make it feel as though they lack the ability to control their own behavior.

Creating Dangerous Sexual Situations for Oneself or Others

Putting yourself or others in danger so you can satisfy your sexual desires is a clear and urgent sign of sexual addiction. If your need to have sex is greater than your need for self-preservation or your concern for the well-being of others, you should seek help for sex addiction right away.Note that occasionally or intermittently experiencing one of the symptoms listed above is not always an indication that someone is struggling with sex addiction. However, if you find yourself persistently experiencing one or more of these symptoms and feel as though your relationship with sex is unsustainable, it’s probably time to find help.

Can a Therapist Help a Client Who Has a “Sexual Problem”?

Various therapeutic methodologies can be effective for dealing with sex addiction. Many therapists who treat patients suffering from sex addiction use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to identify the thoughts and feelings that trigger their addictive behaviors (i.e. cognitive distortions) and create strategies for processing them differently.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is another method that can be effective for helping people overcome addictive behaviors. DBT has been shown to help people regulate their emotions, improve mindfulness, and increase their tolerance for distress—all of which can be useful in resisting compulsive sexual urges.

However, recovering from any kind of addiction can be a challenging and lonely process, so it’s also vital to find others who can offer support during your transformation. That’s why Therapy Utah has developed our own group recovery program for helping people who are affected by sex addiction and betrayal trauma.

How Can I Break Free from Sex Addiction?

At Therapy Utah, we believe that the best way to find help and resources for dealing with sex addiction is by joining a community of others who have faced similar challenges. Our LIFT Program for Sex Addiction provides online modules and weekly group sessions led by expert sex addiction therapists where you’ll be able to process what you’ve learned with others in a safe and supportive setting.

The LIFT Program consists of an 8 week discovery phase, followed by a 52-week phase divided into six stages that takes participants on a journey of self-reflection and recovery. With an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars from our clients, it represents an effective and unique approach to overcoming sex addiction. To learn more about the LIFT Program or book an intake session at Therapy Utah, contact us today and speak with a member of our team.

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