Sexual addiction (or sex addiction), also called hypersexuality. Includes a set of psychopathological conditions characterized by intrusive sexual thoughts and fantasies associated with loss of control over sexual behaviour. This disorder is commonly referred to as “hypersexuality“. So, what is sex addiction and what are the symptoms and treatment?

What is sexual addiction

Sexual addiction falls into the category of “behavioural addictions”, that is, pathological behaviours that involve apparently harmless objects or activities. Like food, gambling, work, shopping, and sexuality.

Hypersexuality is defined as an addiction whose object is sex. It is characterized by recurrent sexual fantasies, promiscuous impulses and behaviours not better explained by substances, medical conditions or manic episodes .

Furthermore, sexual activity occurs as a response to unpleasant moods (eg depressed mood ) or as a strategy to reduce stress .

Finally, these sexual behaviors create discomfort to the point of interfering with social, work and / or relational functioning.

The subject carries out a series of behaviours in order to reduce sexual addiction but fails to do so, thus leading to strong feelings of guilt and shame following the loss of control over them.

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Symptoms and characteristics of hypersexuality

Thus, as for a drug addict, even in the subject who presents a problem of sex addiction, one encounters the phenomenon of craving (intense desire for the thing on which the individual depends), addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

In this sense, the sex addict needs to increase sexual behaviours or their intensity in order to maintain the desired effect. Over time, real psychophysiological changes occur (among all an increase in anxiety symptoms ) and the same sexual addiction behaviour is implemented to alleviate or avoid these withdrawal symptoms.

Sex addiction and normal sexuality

The notion of sexual addiction (or hypersexuality) is sometimes confused with the normal, positive, pleasurable and intense sexuality enjoyed by the normal population. Or with the simple high frequency of sexual intercourse. Some people experience sexual excesses but are able to handle it.

Sex addicts, on the other hand, have lost control over their ability to say no and to choose.

Their sexual behavior is part of a cycle of thoughts, feelings and actions that they can no longer control.

Despite the serious consequences of their acts and that they promise themselves and others repeatedly to stop, these individuals are unable to stop their self-destructive behaviors. Sexual addiction has taken over their ability to choose.

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Risk factors for sex addiction

  • Stories of abuse: Early traumas such as physical, emotional and sexual abuse associates with problems in sexual behaviour.
  • Insecure attachment: attachment characterized by poor care, reduced affect and rigid upbringing is often connect with “sex addiction”.
  • Attention and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): The presence of an untreated attention and hyperactivity disorder is often related to sexual addiction.
  • Comorbidities with other psychological disorders: Substance addiction, shopping, work, and gambling often coexist with sex addicted. Depression and anxiety are also often present in the sexually dependent population.

Physical, psychological and social repercussions

In hypersexuality, sex becomes a primary need for which everything else can be sacrificed, including health, family, friends and work.

The behaviors that sexual addicts can engage in are the most varied and can include:

  • sexual promiscuity
  • sex with prostitutes or personal prostitution
  • continuous sexual fantasies
  • compulsive masturbation
  • exhibitionism
  • voyeurism
  • frotteurism
  • sadomasochistic practices
  • addiction to pornographic materials or telephone lines
  • hypersexuality within a relationship that is stable to an extent that it unbalances it

Due to sexual addiction, the person can experience consequences on various levels: physical, economic, emotional, cognitive and social.

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Physical consequences

On a physical level, the person may develop traditional sexual dysfunctions ( premature or delayed ejaculation, sexual desire disorder, etc.), STDs or problems such as ulcers, high blood pressure, vulnerability to disease, nervous breakdown or sleep disturbances .

Economic consequences

Economically, sexual addiction can involve costs such as prostitution, pornography, sex tools, sex telephony, legal costs for sex offenses or for divorce. Not to mention the losses in the workplace.

Psychological and relational consequences

Sex addiction (or hypersexuality ) has a profound impact on a person’s emotional life (depending on the case, an increase in anxiety, inadequacy, guilt, shame, depression and aggression). It can also have profound effects on mental processes (the intrusion of unwanted thoughts and fantasies can prevent the person from working and concentrating on a normal occupation).

Furthermore, a good percentage of sexual addicts progressively deteriorate their emotional and relational relationships and present serious couple problems.

Treatment of sexual addiction

For individuals suffering from sexual addiction, the efficacy of integrated treatment programs including group therapy, individual psychotherapy and drug therapy can help.

Group interventions

Group therapies are useful to relieve the feelings of guilt, secrecy, stigmatization that connect to hypersexual conduct. They also provide important mutual support for motivation to pursue therapeutic goals.

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Individual psychotherapy

Indeed, Cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy remains the most structured intervention and, currently, the one capable of offering the greatest potential for the treatment of sexual addictions. In particular, it aims to modify dysfunctional negative thoughts that lead to addictive behaviour and to learn functional strategies for the management of negative emotions eliciting sexual behaviour. Dialectical behaviour therapy, mindfulness, and metacognitive therapy have also shown to be effective for this type of addiction today.

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