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What Is Sexual Addiction?

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1 What Is Sexual Addiction? on Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:56 pm

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What Is Sexual Addiction?

By Michael Herkov, Ph.D

Sexual addiction is best described as a progressive intimacy disorder
characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. Like all
addictions, its negative impact on the addict and on family members
increases as the disorder progresses. Over time, the addict usually has
to intensify the addictive behavior to achieve the same results.


For some sex addicts, behavior does not progress beyond compulsive
masturbation or the extensive use of pornography or phone or computer
sex services. For others, addiction can involve illegal activities such
as exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, child molestation or
rape.

Sex addicts do not necessarily become sex offenders. Moreover, not
all sex offenders are sex addicts. Roughly 55 percent of convicted sex
offenders can be considered sex addicts.

About 71 percent of child molesters are sex addicts. For many, their
problems are so severe that imprisonment is the only way to ensure
society’s safety against them.

Society has accepted that sex offenders act not for sexual
gratification, but rather out of a disturbed need for power, dominance,
control or revenge, or a perverted expression of anger. More recently,
however, an awareness of brain changes and brain reward associated with
sexual behavior has led us to understand that there are also powerful
sexual drives that motivate sex offenses.

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.” In other words, a sex addict will continue to engage
in certain sexual behaviors despite facing potential health risks,
financial problems, shattered relationships or even arrest.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders,
Volume Four describes sex addiction, under the category “Sexual
Disorders Not Otherwise Specified,” as “distress about a pattern of
repeated sexual relationships involving a succession of lovers who are
experienced by the individual only as things to be used.” According to
the manual, sex addiction also involves “compulsive searching for
multiple partners, compulsive fixation on an unattainable partner,
compulsive masturbation, compulsive love relationships and compulsive
sexuality in a relationship.”

Increasing sexual provocation in our society has spawned an increase
in the number of individuals engaging in a variety of unusual or illicit
sexual practices, such as phone sex, the use of escort services and
computer pornography. More of these individuals and their partners are
seeking help.

The same compulsive behavior that characterizes other addictions also
is typical of sex addiction. But these other addictions, including
drug, alcohol and gambling dependency, involve substances or activities
with no necessary relationship to our survival. For example, we can live
normal and happy lives without ever gambling, taking illicit drugs or
drinking alcohol. Even the most genetically vulnerable person will
function well without ever being exposed to, or provoked by, these
addictive activities.

Sexual activity is different. Like eating, having sex is necessary
for human survival. Although some people are celibate — some not by
choice, while others choose celibacy for cultural or religious reasons —
healthy humans have a strong desire for sex. In fact, lack of interest
or low interest in sex can indicate a medical problem or psychiatric
illness.

Explore More About Sexual Addiction


Mark S. Gold, M.D., and Drew W. Edwards, M.S. contributed to this article.

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