Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Cate Campbell MA, MBACP (Accred), MCOSRT (Accred), MAFT
5th March, 20140 Comments
Sex addiction has been in the press a very great deal over recent years, often associated with celebrities. Possibly because of this, it isn’t always taken seriously - some people even think it is cool. Others - including some people who are affected - do not even believe that sex addiction exists. However, compulsive sexual behaviours certainly are real, and often follow the pattern of addictions to substances, such as drugs and alcohol, and behaviours like shopping or gambling.
It doesn’t really matter what you call it, sometimes sex can become a problem. Often, the issue doesn’t initially feel like a problem to the individual involved but it may be to their partner or family. For example, the internet provides easy access to pornography, sex chat and cybersex. Many people who use their computer for recreation are tempted to look at some of the sex websites out of curiosity or because they come across them accidentally. After a long and stressful day, an hour or so with computer porn can seem like a treat after the rest of the household has gone to bed. However, partners may be hurt by this, particularly if sex between them has diminished or ceased. Often, too, computer sex does seems more exciting and fulfilling than partner sex and the person enjoying computer sex may resent any demands on their regular ‘me time’.
That may be as far as it goes, but some people go further and start paying for porn or even arranging sexual liaisons in the real world. For some people, sex has always been a way of dealing with problems - everything from boredom to depression is treated with sex. Some individuals have, indeed, always conducted a sexual life separate from their partners, which may be something of a fantasy which they feel does not intrude on their ‘real’ life. Eventually, though, it affects family, friends, work and finances.
This may be revealed to the partner when they see credit card statements or they may make the discovery in a more dramatic way - by finding out that the family is in debt, that they have acquired a sexually transmitted disease, or that their partner has been arrested - when sexual behaviour is out of control and has escalated into offending.
However, compulsive sexual behaviour is not really about how often or regularly someone has sex. Indeed, it isn’t really about sex at all. Because it offers relief through orgasm, and brings a person’s frazzled and anxious body back to a more relaxed state, it can provide a useful means of relieving stress. Problems arise when sex becomes the main or only way someone is able to relieve stress. Because sex releases chemicals associated with pleasure and focus, the person can become dependent on the feelings they engender. They develop a pattern of behaviour which, when triggered, can easily develop into a preoccupation with sex - planning it, getting it and then recovering from it. Recovery often involves feelings of intense shame which can then be the trigger for the behaviour to begin again.
Other dependencies, such as alcohol or recreational drugs, may exacerbate the problem as they tend to make the person feel disinhibited. However, the ‘props’ they use to make themselves feel better end up making everything worse and worse, so that they may eventually risk losing their homes, families and jobs.
Naturally, partners are often devastated and angry but they can also be supportive. Whether you are worried about your own behaviour or someone else’s, it is wise to seek help before it does more damage. It can be difficult to accept that what began as a way of coping with anxiety, overwork, or other mood problems, can accelerate into a major problem itself. A history of trauma, poor self-esteem or difficulty managing feelings and mood can all be associated with compulsive sexual behaviour, as can a variety of mental health conditions.
Specialist psychosexual therapists who work with compulsive sexual behaviours can help affected individuals and their partners to accept what is happening to them and find a way through. Sometimes, support of the partner is all that can be offered if the affected individual is not ready to change. When they are ready, there are individual therapists and a variety of groups available to offer help. It certainly isn’t easy but, ultimately, it is possible to find other ways to manage your mood and to recapture a healthy sex relationship.
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