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Understanding Sex Addiction

Edition 107: Estimated read time -- 5 minutes

This week in sexual news: WHO said what?

In the era of smartphones and frictionless-dating apps, sex addiction is like being hooked on a drug that's always available in unlimited supply. I invite you right now to think about where you are – be it work or home and the endless amount of opportunity one could have to engage in pornography, sexual behavior or hyper-arousal. It's like living with a meth dealer at your side, or a brick of cocaine in your pocket. Worse, you can get a potential high from every person you meet. But unlike other addictions, this one isn't officially recognized. There's no health coverage for it, no medication, and for those trapped in its strange and unrelenting spell, no easy way out. Until now, the World Health Organization (WHO) just came out this week that it is officially recognizing it as an addiction.

But even now, sex addiction seems to exist in equivalent realities: one in which millions of people are struggling with it, and another in which it is barely studied and not even clinically recognized. Research has yet to confirm that extreme sexual behavior really is addictive in the same neuroscientific sense that, for instance, habitual heroin use appears to be. For this reason, many clinicians prefer the term hypersexuality, even though they concede that the distinction is mostly linguistic. But the real-world effects of such hesitation are enormous. No drugs exist to treat sex addiction; no health care plan specifically covers it; there’s virtually no funding for studies.

Today I am going to offer a couple of questions to consider as it relates to both sex/porn addiction and warning signs to consider about hypersexual arousal.

Sex and Pornography Addiction: One in the same?

First, I need to clarify that sex addiction was recently observed as a “true” addiction. That does not mean that we have any real grasp at what to do with this yet. Nor can I say with any reasonable certainty that pornography addiction will be identified as a similar recognized addiction. What I can say is sex addiction and pornography addiction is not the same issue. Addiction to pornography I consider being a type of sex addiction and can manifest itself very differently than other types of sex addiction. The World Health Organization has defined sex addiction as a “true” addiction; however, the Diagnostic Statistic Manual- 5 (DSM-V) the book therapists use to diagnosis for insurance does not recognize either. Don’t get me started… So—Why is this important to you? It is important to understand this because they are different, which means the symptoms can be different and yet both lead to distress and concern.

What is the list of sex addictions?

It’s important to share with you some different versions of how sex addiction can manifest. These are not addictions that or individual in concern nor do people participate in all these behaviors at once. Often they are independent of any real order and traditionally are unique to the person based off their biological issues, past trauma, how they were raised… The list goes on and on. So you can see how it becomes important to treat the person not just the symptom. The following is a list of sex addiction it is not limited to these behaviors. There are no distinct categories, and yet sexual addiction can come in different forms.

Here is the list of sex addiction:

  • Pornography

  • Prostitution

  • Masturbation

  • Sadistic or Masochistic behaviors

  • Exhibition or Voyeurism

  • Other excessive sexual behaviors that are over consuming

The devil really becomes in the details at this point, I know right away one can argue these behaviors as—being ok, right? I agree and this is why it is important to remember the golden rule when it comes to any behavior be it drinking, eating or sexual behavior. Is it affecting your life in a negative way? Such as time away from work, lost of family, or anyway that the individual sees as negative.

Here are the warning signs of a sex addict.

You really want to be on the look out for both emotional and physical symptoms as it relates to your relationship with sex. Emotional symptoms can go two ways: The addicted and the betrayed. If your partner or loved one is addicted to porn or sex, you may need to check in with your emotions. Are you feeling alienated, isolated, depressed, angry or humiliated? Do you contemplate feeling abandoned? These are signs of being in a sexually addicted relationship. On the other side of the coin as the addict, you might have anger, depression or guilt only the emotions are because you may be missing the behavior or needing it. You may have a tendency to become easily involved with people sexually or even emotionally regardless of how you feel about them as a person.

Because most sex or porn addicts fear being alone or rejected, they stay in relationships that aren’t healthy. The same goes for the betrayed, because they become accustom to being rejected and then believe they can’t have a “normal” life where someone respects them and loves them.

I could and should write a whole focused paper on the physical symptoms of sex and porn addiction. And the most important thing to understand is that the addict feels immobilized by the need for sexual excitement and engagement and the betrayed finds no enjoyment with that particular person. And actually starts to feel used violated and potentially void of any desire for intimate connection with the addict.

In conclusion, I am enthused by the introduction of sex addiction in the eyes of the World Health Organization (WHO), and yet with conscious optimism I hope you are able to start to see the real work it will take to live with, work on, and support a person living with sex addiction. Moreover the need for understanding the supportive family members and friends has too.

Dr. Ryan Westrum is a clinical psychologist that specializes in working with individuals and couples living with sexual addiction. You can contact him at ryan@healingsoulsllc.comor by phone at 952-261-5269 to set up a complementary consultation.

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