How is Sexual Addiction Different from Other Addictions?
Whether referred to as an addiction, compulsive behaviour, or other adverse condition, sexual addiction is nowadays more widely recognized as a serious issue that can dramatically alter lives.
What makes sexual addiction different from other addictions?
And why do these differences make sexually compulsive behaviour harder to see until severe consequences occur?
The “under the radar” nature of sexual addiction means that seeking therapy is often drastically delayed, allowing unintended effects to build up over time.
Let’s take a look at why this happens, and how Whitestone can help treat sexual addiction.
Sexual Addiction is An Extreme Behaviour of a Natural Function
Clinically we know that sexual addiction has parallels to chemical addictions, with similar consequences.
Humans can survive without illicit drugs or alcohol. We can live without gambling.
While it might seem “fun” or “adventurous” to partake in such activities, the physical and psychological costs of addictions in these categories are clear. Treated on a much wider scale, public admission of a substance or gambling addiction now comes with less and less of a price – and more admiration for “facing one’s demons” and “getting your life together.”
Sex, however, is a different story. It is, at the same time, both a basic human function as well as a taboo subject.
Talking about sex is only a recent phenomenon in North American society, and indeed many aspects remain either unspoken or downplayed. Sexual addiction is high on that list.
And yet we’re wired for sexual desire. From an evolutionary standpoint, sex is what keeps human beings around as a species.
Sexual desire is also generally seen as a healthy sign. Men particularly are encouraged, from their adolescent years onward, to have a healthy sex life. It’s something to boast about. Not having this desire could raise concerns about one’s physical and/or mental health.
Thus, recognizing when a natural behaviour starts to become adverse poses numerous challenges. How we do know when a “healthy” activity becomes “unhealthy?” How do we know when “normal” sex turns into a “problem?”
And when it does cross the line (more of a wide yet mostly-undefined gray area), most addicts (and many loved ones) are either unaware of the seriousness of the problem or in denial of it. Denial is an understandable trap, since one can try to justify his or her actions by saying things like, “sexual desire is natural and healthy.
Escalation is the Key Sign for Early Diagnosis
The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity has defined sexual addiction as “engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behavior acted out despite increasing negative consequences to self and others.”
We know it’s too late if we wait until the consequences occur:
- relationships and families are torn apart
- depression and anxiety intensify, with feelings of worthlessness and despair (even to the point of suicidal thoughts or action)
- physical health is jeopardized (e.g. with sexually transmitted disease)
- one’s sexual behavior crosses societal norms and results in financial and/or legal ramifications
It’s the escalation, then, that we ought to be on the lookout for. A subtler process, to be sure.
You might not have one singular moment where you can recognize the problem as it’s happening. Those are usually the kinds of things we look back on, e.g. “THAT’S when I hit rock bottom.”
But, by exercising some vigilance, we can catch some of the signs of escalation along the way.
So how do we distinguish “adverse” and “normal?”
Be on the Lookout for Compulsive Patterns
Signs of sexual addiction, as pointed out by the “DSM-5” (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association), include:
- compulsive searching for multiple partners
- compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner
- compulsive masturbation
- compulsive love relationships
- compulsive sexuality in a relationship
Okay, so compulsivity is the big theme. It’s of those things where “we know it when we see it.” And not in one action, necessarily, but across a pattern or series of events.
While there’s not one specific means of quantifying “how much is too much,” it’s worth exploring one’s sexual behaviour in a qualitative sense.
Is your sex life a source of enjoyment, but not the sole source or singular focus?
Is sex something you constantly think about, at the expense of other aspects of your life?
We can break this down even further. If you find yourself showing one or more of these symptoms, it’s worth seeking help before things intensify and the consequences become costlier.
- You find yourself reacting to stress and negative life events by feeding your sexual desires on a consistent and increasing basis
- You find yourself less in control over your sexual urges, fantasies, obsessions, etc. – and more consumed by them, nearing (or at) the point where the following happens:
- Your sexual desires start to interfere with your marriage / relationship (less desire for sex with your partner, seeking or having sex outside your relationship, etc.)
- Your productivity (at work or school, around the house, or in other areas of your life) has decreased because of your sexual behaviour, with more and more time consumed by it
- Your personal finances have taken a hit due to your sexual behaviour
- You have co-occurring depression (with shame and low self-worth), anxiety or substance abuse issues that feed into or off of your sexual compulsivity
- Your sexual behaviour is headed in the direction of (i.e. desires for and/or flirtation with) illegal activity – or it’s already there
Sex is often a taboo subject, but it doesn’t have to be. The real problems arise when the behaviour becomes compulsive, and help isn’t sought to dial things back.
That’s where effective treatment comes in. Whitestone’s counsellors have specialized training and experience in the field of sexual addiction in Ottawa. We can help you or someone you love whose sexual behaviour has gone from healthy to compulsive.