Sex and Love Addiction Clinic | Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

Sex is a healthy part of relationships and is designed to be a pleasurable experience. But for some, sex becomes a compulsive and obsessive behaviour that mimics the highs experienced by drug users. Sex addiction is characterised as a behavioural addiction, the below article explains in detail what it is, and how it can be treated.

What is Sex Addiction

As with all addictions, sex addiction can be quite painful and desperate. Sex impacts the neurotransmitters in the brain, as do many drugs. The same brain pathways associated with energy, focus, euphoria and craving are linked to both substance and non-substance/process addictions. Sex addiction is characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour.

The relentless pursuit of the romantic or sexual “high” can hinder the development of genuine intimacy with others, and so can be a very lonely experience. The driving force behind sex addiction is not any kind of hedonism, instead, its roots can most often be found in lack of self-esteem and lack of self-love.

Sex and love addiction have some potentially devastating consequences from possible medical complications including contracting sexually transmitted diseases, to decreased performance at work due to obsessive behaviours, and isolation and shame.

What Causes It?

Sex addiction often accompanies preexisting psychological disorders, such as bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Childhood trauma such as sexual abuse can be a contributing factor in the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms, and relational styles, and can negatively affect the processes needed for healthy sexual behaviour later in life.

Sex addiction may also develop as an attempt to self-medicate pain felt about past trauma. Experts have noted that sometimes trauma survivors may “recreate” the experiences that traumatised them. For example, someone who was sexually abused by an authority figure might later try to put themselves in a position of power within a sexual context.

By recreating the power dynamic of their abuse, they can regain a sense of control over their sexuality, though this behaviour may cause further pain and unhappiness.

Key Facts about Sex Addiction

Sex addiction might just be one of the least understood of all addictions. After all, it’s considered taboo to talk about sex generally speaking. However, it is possible to get a better understanding of this addiction.

  • Relate defines sexual addiction as any sexual activity that feels “out of control”. [1][1] https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-sex/sex-common-problems/im-worried-i-or-someone-i-know-might-be-addicted-sex
  • A questionnaire completed by 21,058 people since 2013 on the Sex Addiction Help website revealed 91% of those seeking help for sex addiction were male
  • The largest age group of 31% was aged 26-35, 1% were under 16 and 8% over 55
  • The World Health Organization is expected to approve the inclusion of “compulsive sexual behaviour disorder” in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) list in May 2019
  • The NHS has some resources [2] relating to sex addiction.

There are some Anonymous Fellowships able to support you if you are suffering from sex addiction:

  • Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) [3]
  • Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA)
  • Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
  • Sexual Recovery Anonymous (SRA)

The brains chemistry is a powerful thing. When the common neural pathways get disrupted by addiction, it can lead to a preoccupation with sex to the exclusion of other interests. Sex addicts will compulsively engage in sexual behaviour despite adverse consequences and despite the sincere wish to stop.

Addiction can be a severe condition to witness not least because it affects otherwise competent, healthy, intelligent, goal-directed people. It is possible to become an addict having no other contributing disorders, because of this addiction is an equal opportunities illness.

Signs and Symptoms

Sex addiction is characterised by lack of control, obsession, and compulsion Sex addicts will experience the compulsion to have sex, despite negative consequences. If you are a sex addict, you may also experience compulsive masturbation, compulsive pornography use. [4]

It is possible to experience some of these symptoms and not be a sex addict at all, if you are experiencing addiction it will likely be causing significant distress to you, and others, and disruption to your life.

You may be engaging in sex addiction despite consequences that are:

  • Social – withdrawing from friends and avoiding social situations.
  • Physical – practising unsafe sex may result in STDs
  • Emotional – despite how addictions may appear to the outside world, addiction is often a deeply painful experience that is accompanied by stigma and isolation.
  • Legal – you may progress to arrests for behaviours such as soliciting sex from prostitutes, having sex in public, and sexual harassment.
  • Financial – Spending money on sex workers and porn. You may also experience lost wages due to the impact of addiction on productivity at work.

Other signs of sex addiction include:

  • Compulsion – the inability to stop despite a genuine desire to and despite negative consequence.
  • Obsession – the obsession to engage in sexual behaviours and associated activities can become an obsession. An excessive amount of time spent in finding sex, being sexual, or recovering from sex. Feeling desperate longing to be with your sexual partner
  • Progression – over time the behaviours escalate, you may feel a need to increase the intensity, frequency, riskiness of the behaviour
  • Unmanageability – Missing work due to visiting prostitutes, for example, or not paying bills because of money spent on porn.
  • Emotional – you may find yourself discontent, restless and also experiencing a drop in self-esteem. Using sex to try to deal with problems or to fix your feelings

Sex addiction leaves you with disordered intimacy patterns. Preoccupation with sex creates a barrier between people. You may find yourself unable to connect intimately or even not wanting to be around people at all.

Why some people, and not others, develop an addiction to sex is poorly understood. Possibly some biochemical predisposition or other brain changes increase risk, hence the efficacy of antidepressants in treating some people with sex addiction.

Studies indicate that food, drugs, and sex share a common pathway within our brains’ reward systems. This pathway leads into the area of the brain responsible for our higher thinking, rational thought and judgment. There may be a genetic element. Also, those with family members who are addicts are more likely to develop addiction generally and in this case sex addiction. One study found that 80 per cent of recovering sex addicts report some type of addiction in their families of origin. [5]

Treatment Options

There are various treatment options available for sex addiction you may benefit from residential rehab, medication, therapy or a combination of all three.

Rehab

Most residential rehab programmes require a 90-day stay. This 90 day period will provide you with enough time to get a good grounding recovery in terms of education, skills, and tools. It will give you time and space to process those things in your past which may have led to your addiction.

One of the most potent things about recovering in a residential rehab setting is the community aspect of the treatment. In therapeutic communities, you will help others and be supported by your peers in the programme. Rehabs provide a positive, nonjudgmental, and caring space, in which you can heal from the past and recover.

In rehab you will be able to work on:

  • stopping the addictive behaviour
  • building healthy relationships
  • setting appropriate boundaries
  • achieving genuine intimacy
  • building self-esteem
  • developing interpersonal skills
  • developing assertiveness tools
  • gaining an introduction to 12-step support groups such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
  • learning to regulate emotions without the use of unhelpful behaviours

While no two addicts are the same, trauma often plays a part in developing sex and love addiction so some deep therapeutic work may be appropriate. In rehab an experienced, expert therapeutic team who can guide and support you at every step.

It can be a compelling experience to come to realise that your unconscious processes may be driving you into painful situations. From a place of understanding and acceptance, you can choose to change! This kind of uncovering and knowledge is essential in breaking the cycle.

Medication

In understanding how prescription and over-the-counter medications can be used in the treatment of sex addiction, it’s important to recognise such medical procedures are typically designed to reduce the impulse to engage in sex. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) works by acting on neurotransmitters. SSRI’s are commonly used in the treatment of depression; it has also been used to treat panic disorder as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

SSRIs are usually the first choice of medication for depression because they have fewer side effects than many other types of antidepressant. As well as depression, SSRIs can be used to treat some other mental health conditions, including:

  • generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • panic disorder
  • severe phobias, such as agoraphobia and social phobia
  • bulimia
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

SSRIs can sometimes be used to treat other conditions, such as premature ejaculation, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and to help patients cope with pain.

Therapy

Therapy has proven to be very useful in the treatment of addictions. You may benefit from:

One-to-one therapy

One-to-one treatment is usually a core component of any rehabilitation programme.  Through one-to-one sessions, you will have the opportunity to work through your issues privately and confidentially with a counsellor.

Group Therapy

Group Therapy sessions are made up of a small number of your peers and are facilitated by a therapist. In this setting, you will be able to both support and be supported by your peers. The counsellor may also use group therapy to utilise group dynamics and to work on communication, assertiveness, and relationship building skills.

Various therapeutic approaches are available for sex addiction such as:

  • Person Centred Counselling
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy
  • Trauma therapy
  • Relapse prevention
  • Gender group
  • Body image group
  • Relationship therapy

The counselling you receive will often address not only your addiction; it will help you become healthier in every area of your life.

 

Citations

[1] https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-sex/sex-common-problems/im-worried-i-or-someone-i-know-might-be-addicted-sex

[2] https://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/3053.aspx

[3] https://www.slaauk.org/

[4] https://www.projectknow.com/research/are-you-addicted-to-porn/?utm_term=p_addiction

[5] https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-causes-sexual-addiction/

CQC Report