Progressive intimacy disorder, more commonly called sex addiction, is an evolving field of mental health. Despite all the media coverage of celebrity sex addicts, as a mental health issue, it is still poorly understood. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the go-to manual for all mental illness, does not even have a definition of this behavioral compulsion in the latest edition.
Even without the lack of information, many experts feel that progressive intimacy disorder, porn addiction, and sex addiction, do warrant further study. Some experts believe its a disorder of compulsions, while others think it’s a real behavioral addiction, similar to gambling.
Although the definition of what sex addiction is and isn’t can vary, depending on who you reference, a good starting point is “a persistent pattern of failure to control intense, repetitive sexual impulses or urges resulting in repetitive sexual behavior…despite adverse consequences or deriving little or no satisfaction from it.” Does this sound a little familiar? Are you worried about your sexual impulses, or sometimes feel out of control?
How do you tell if your kinks and sexual fantasies are heading out of ‘normal’ patterns of behavior and into compulsions? Because there is no official definition, sexual addiction can be hard to define. If you could quit cold turkey, you wouldn’t get the same types of withdrawal as substance abuse disorders. Without these clear physical indications, what are the signs to look out for?
9 Signs of a Sex Addiction
1. Constant Single-ness or a Tendency to Serial Date
As one sex addicted described his experience in an article for the Fix, “I always knew my relationships would end because I did something insane related to sex. It was just a matter of time before I would do something totally off the charts, get caught at it, and have to move on.” While not every relationship is perfect, a sex addict struggles to maintain even the imperfect ones.
Relationships for a sex addict are short lived. When they end, they end because of deviant or compulsive behavior not because of character differences or distance. Do you find you usually don’t get past the first few dates? It can be hard to foster an intimate relationship beyond the bedroom because you are so focused on a single driving need.
2. An Escalation of Stimulation
The continual pursuit of arousal helps defines sex addiction. With increased exposure to sex and sexual imagery, you can find it more challenging to reach climax and get sexual satisfaction. Therefore most sex addictions (and porn addictions) dissolve into a downward spiral of an increasingly kinky, destructive, and sometimes illegal pattern of stimulation.
As you click your way through a never-ending series of images or videos, it’s easy to get lost in a dark rabbit hole. It might mean real sex is no longer satisfying, or that you can no longer emotionally connect to the other person in the equation. These are surefire indications the problem has gone into dangerous territory.
3. Feelings of Shame, Guilt, or Remorse
Many people addicted to sex never experience the bliss-filled period of relaxation following sexual activity. Instead, they become overwhelmed with feelings of shame, guilt, or even remorse. A strict religious upbringing can explain some of these feelings, or a cultural conviction that sex is wrong. Although these feelings might be more challenging to explain.
Because sex addiction causes a progressive drive to seek new, sometimes deviant forms of arousal, people may move past their normal internal moral compass. Once they come out of the fog, driving them towards sexual pleasure, they see how far past their boundaries they have pushed themselves. Has this happened for you? Do you experience strong negative emotions related to their previous sexual activity?
4. Development of a Double Life
Because of the shame and guilt associated with the pursuit of sex or explicit imagery, a sex addict might begin to hide their activity. This double life hides your actions from those closest to you. Instead of openly discussing your hot dates with close friends, you never disclose them to anyone. Or, you might tell your partner you have to stay late at work when you are really spending it at a strip club or with sex workers.
This might also manifest with a double life financially. If your sexual activity eats into your finances, you might find yourself using creative ways to hide the credit card bills. Eventually, as the lies build up around you, it becomes increasingly stressful and difficult to maintain the rouse.
5. Sexual Daydreaming Encroaching on Other Areas of Life
Do you find yourself daydreaming about sex all the time? Of course, most of us think about sex sometimes, even fantasize a little, but has it started to eat up all your mental capacity? Obsessive thought patterns are a key indicator of most addictions, and sex is no different.
If you have a sex addiction you may find that your day mostly revolves about fantasizing about sex, or planning where you can get your next fix. You may find it hard to focus on casual conversations, tasks at work, or even after dinner television. Wherever you are, your mind drifts towards explicit content.
6. Sexual Activity Causing Impairment to Friends and Family Relationships
If you can’t maintain a conversation with friends or family anymore, it’s then hard to maintain a relationship with them. Sexual addiction can lead to isolation because the only thing that matters is arousal and sex. You might not even initially notice that you have lost friends, because the drive is so strong. People with longstanding addictions, no matter the focus, tend to have few close relationships.
7. Risky Sexual Behaviour
Certain sexual encounters are more hazardous than others. Seeking sex from sex workers is one example, or failing to use proper protection is another. If you have found yourself focused only on the act, without consideration for any of the repercussions, this is a sign. Just like someone addicted to drugs might not consider the risks before injecting, you don’t consider the dangers of your actions either.
If condoms and sexually transmitted diseases are the last things on your mind as you seek sexual encounters, you are placing your future on the line.
Risky sexual behaviors might also describe spending your entire paycheck at a strip club, on porn subscriptions, or prostitution. It’s just another example of ignoring the consequences to fulfill your compulsive behavior.
8. Increased Frequency of Masturbation
There is no doubt that on some level, personal sexual pleasure is a healthy activity. However, as with most things in life, it is easy to have too much of a good thing.
Sex addicts can find themselves masturbating for hours a day and finding themselves staring at the computer screen long after they began. Masturbation starts to impact daily routines, like eating, cleaning, and getting to work on time. Some people even start masturbating in places where they shouldn’t, like in the bathroom stalls at work.
Once masturbation becomes an obsession, you may want to reflect on the negative influence it is having on other aspects of your life. Spending the wee hours of every night =frantically scrolling through explicit images, without thought to time or repercussions, is a sure sign of a compulsive disorder.
9. Total Loss of Control
If you feel like you can no longer control how much or when you pursue sex or sexual thoughts, it’s another strong indication you may need to seek treatment. Maybe you wake up every morning, with a masturbation hangover from the night before, and think “Not today.” Then later in the day fall into the same old patterns of behavior.
Brian Whitney, a former sex addict, describes this succinctly, “You can’t stop acting out. You try to stop, but you lose everything. Little by little, you lose everything. You keep on going until it’s all gone until you are lying in a corner in the fetal position until you feel like dying. Try not to get here. Go talk to someone you trust.”
Treatment Options for Sex Addiction, Porn Addiction, and Other Sexual Behavioral Issues
With the explosion of the rehab industry and the poorly understood science of sexual compulsions, sex addiction treatment options come with a big red Buyer Beware sticker. There are many for-profit rehabilitation centers across the country which sell snake oil more than addiction recovery. There is a tendency of drug rehab centers to tag sex addiction on to their list of services when sex addiction is a much different mental health issue.
With that warning out of the way, you are not without options. There are legitimate treatment options out there, but we urge you to do your homework first. Start with trusted resources, like Sex Addiction Anonymous. Most of the available treatment options fall into two categories – treatment centers offering longterm intensives and counseling from therapists focused on sex addiction.
Treatment intensives vary from for-profit luxury rehabilitation facilities to those coming from a specific religious point of view. Every center will have a different format; some strictly focus on sexual compulsions; others may combine with similar addictions (like gambling).
Most therapeutic options, whether you decide to seek an online or in-person therapist, use cognitive-behavioral approaches to treatment. According to PsyCom, cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT for short, “is a short-term approach geared toward helping patients notice and correct the irrational thoughts and feelings that lead to compulsive behavior via learning techniques that serve to regulate the urges.” It is the most common approach to sex addiction and is associated with positive outcomes.
A certified therapist, online or off, can also help determine if there are any underlying issues behind the sexual deviancy, or contributing to it — for example, childhood trauma and history with abuse. If sexual addiction comes tied up with alcohol or drug abuse, these issues also need attention.
While the true definition of a sexual addiction remains ill-defined and only partially understood, there are many testimonies out there of people who have persevered. With the right support network and a treatment approach suited to your beliefs, you too can start on the road to recovery.