While numerous media stories circulate regarding celebrities and sexual addiction, few address sexual addiction as an illness with symptoms and destructive consequences, making it difficult to pinpoint the characteristics of this complex condition.
Obsessive and compulsive thoughts and actions, and an inability to control the behavior despite the consequences are key symptoms of sexual addiction, similar to substance abuse addictions. Sexual addiction is progressive, which means the person will spend more and more time on the computer or acting out sexually, even if it means the loss of family, personal relationships and careers. What once seemed inappropriate or offensive to the user – such as certain types of pornography or sexual activities – begin to seem acceptable as the need for more intense experiences continues to climb.
Contrary to stereotypes, people with sexual addiction may engage in the behavior to avoid negative feelings, especially low self-esteem and an inability to maintain close, intimate relationships. The behavior can become a way of escape and coping, rather than as an act of sexual pleasure.
As the brain’s reward system changes as a result of the behaviors, sexual addiction can quickly grow out of control until it is all-consuming. Types of sexual addiction can include an addiction to pornography, paid sexual services, sex with multiple partners, or an addiction to sexting or cybersex.
Activities related to sexual addiction usually occur in private, but then as the addiction progresses, many addicts find themselves unable to resist viewing cyberporn or engaging in cybersex in public places or in the workplace, as highlighted in recent news reports. Once the behavior has stopped, a feeling of guilt or shame is common, often leading to serious depression.
Treatment for sexual addiction requires the guidance of professionals, and new inpatient and outpatient centers for sexual addiction are becoming available worldwide. A self-help support group program for sexual addiction can also be part of a treatment strategy, such as Sex Addicts Anonymous. It is also key to involve a spouse in the treatment, as the emotional effects for a spouse whose partner is involved in sex addiction can be severe and long-lasting.