Counseling Corner: The truth about sexual addictions
The truth about sexual addictions
by Jennifer Pierce, LCPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
Bi-weekly Contributing Writer
The media loves it! What's better than a sex scandal? News stories go on and on for months about Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen. Do they have a sexual addiction or are they just chauvinistic pigs? Having never met or treated either of these men, I wouldn't know. But what does Sex Addiction mean? Is it even a real thing?
The verdict is still out. Experts disagree if sexual addiction is really an addiction (like drugs), a compulsive disorder (like OCD), or even exists at all. If it does exist, Sexual Addiction is defined by sexual thoughts and/or behaviors that are extreme or out of the person's control. As with all addictions, sexual addiction is hard to define. How much is too much? How do you know if you are out of control? It's all subjective. The general rule is it's a problem when it negatively affects your life (socially, financially, legally, health, etc.).
It is generally believed that all addictions (drugs, gambling, alcohol) share some characteristics. Tolerance and withdrawal are key markers of an addiction. Tolerance is when you need more of the substance to achieve the same effect. Pornography addicts are a prime example of this as they often begin viewing "soft" porn and usually advance to more extreme or perverted pornography as their tolerance increases. Withdrawal is when a person experiences negative mental or physical symptoms as a result of stopping the addiction. Addictions also typically take up a lot of the addict's time, resulting in less time for normal activities such as work, family time, etc. Other typical characteristics of addiction include continuing the behavior despite negative consequences and unsuccessful attempts at quitting.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine states that "Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry." Meaning that addiction causes chemical changes in the brain, namely the pleasure centers of the brain. Our brain is naturally wired to find certain things pleasurable, with sex being one of them. Certainly, sex is pleasurable, and an orgasm may even be comparable to a drug high. These brain pleasure centers become dysfunctional in cases of addiction, causing the individual to crave more of the pleasure. So, it seems that on a biological level, at least, that sex addiction is a very real and possible condition.
Current treatment for sex addiction is limited. Generally it is treated the same as all other addictions. Patients are instructed to refrain from any contact with the addictive substance, taught to identify and avoid triggers, and devise relapse prevention plans. The celebrities go to inpatient rehab programs, but it is more common for people to seek help from counselors or 12-step self-help groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous. Some doctors are even prescribing certain antidepressant (SSRI) medications since a common side effect is a reduction of libido.
So, how do you know if you have a sexual addiction? If it's causing problems in your life, then it's a problem. Don't worry about if it technically meets the definition of addiction. It doesn't matter. If it's causing life problems, then you need to do something to fix it. If you think you may have a sexual addiction, or any other addiction, then I highly recommend that you get some kind of help. Overcoming addiction is a difficult and often confusing battle that is almost impossible to do alone.
Jennifer Pierce, LCPC is the owner and primary therapist of Hagerstown Counseling, LLC. She can be contacted at 240-347-4845 or by visiting her website at: www.HagerstownCounselingLLC.com.