Sexual addiction is defined as any sexually-related, compulsive behavior that interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one's work environment.
Sexual addiction has also been called hypersexuality, sexual dependency and sexual compulsivity. By any name, it is a compulsive behavior that completely dominates the addict's life. Sexual addicts make sex a priority over family, friends, and work. Sex becomes the governing principle of an addict's life. They are willing to sacrifice what they cherish most in order to preserve and continue their unhealthy behavior.
No single behavior pattern defines sexual addiction. These behaviors can take control of addicts' lives and become unmanageable. Common behaviors include, but are not limited to compulsive masturbation, compulsive heterosexual and homosexual relationships, pornography, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, indecent phone calls, and anonymous sexual encounters. Even the healthiest forms of human sexual expression can turn into self-defeating behaviors.
While an actual diagnosis for sexual addiction should be carried out by a mental health professional, the behavior patterns below can indicate the presence of sexual addiction. Individuals who see any of these patterns in their own life, or in the life of someone they care about, should seek help from a certified professional.
Neglect of important social, occupational, or recreational activities due to sexual behavior.
Sexual anorexia is an obsessive state in which the physical, mental, and emotional task of avoiding sex dominates one's life. Like self-starvation with food or compulsive dieting or hoarding with money, deprivation of sex can make one feel powerful and defended against all hurts. As with any other altered state of consciousness, such as those brought on by chemical use, compulsive gambling or eating, or any other addiction, the preoccupation of avoiding sex can also be devastating. In this case, sex becomes a furtive enemy to be continually kept at bay, even at the price of annihilating a part of oneself.
Specialists in sexual medicine have long noted the close parallels between food disorders and sexual disorders. Many professionals have observed how food anorexia and sexual anorexia share common characteristics. In both cases, the sufferers starve themselves in the midst of plenty. Both types of anorexia feature the essential loss of self, the same distortions of thought, and the agonizing struggle for control over the self and others. Both share the same extreme self-hatred and sense of profound alienation. But while the food anorexic is obsessed with the self-denial of physical nourishment, the sexual anorexic focuses his or her anxiety on sex. As a result, the sexual anorexic will typically experience the following:
Both men and women can suffer from sexual anorexia. Their personal histories often include sexual exploitation, some form of severely traumatic sexual rejection or both. It is also possible that a person can be both sexually addicted and sexually anorexic, acting out sexually in meaningless relationships, and paralyzed sexually with intimate relationships.
Sexual addiction can be understood by comparing it to other types of addictions. Individuals addicted to alcohol or other drugs, for example, develop a relationship with their "chemical(s) of choice" – a relationship that takes precedence over any and all other aspects of their lives. Addicts find they need drugs just to feel normal.
With a sexual addiction, there is a parallel situation occurring. Sex – like food or drugs in other addictions—provides the "high" and addicts become dependent on this sexual high to feel normal. They substitute unhealthy relationships for healthy ones. They opt for temporary pleasure rather than the deeper qualities of "normal," intimate relationships.
Sexual addiction follows the same progressive nature of other addictions. Sexual addicts struggle to control their behaviors, and experience despair over their constant failure to do so. Their loss of self-esteem grows, fueling the need to escape even further into their addictive behaviors. A sense of powerlessness pervades the life of an addict.
Estimates range from three to six percent of the population.
It is not uncommon for people to be addicted to one or more processes or substances. In fact, research has shown that the more trauma an individual has experienced in the past, the higher the probability of multiple addictions. When someone has more than one addiction, the addictive behaviors can interact in different ways. Figuring out these dimensions of addiction interaction and which one(s) apply to you can help your therapist determine the appropriate treatment.
Common addictions that interact with sexual addiction include:
Research has shown that a very high correlation exists between childhood abuse and sexual addiction in adulthood.
A poll of female and male sex addicts revealed that:
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests early child abuse, especially sexual, is a primary factor in the onset of sex addiction. Apparent biological shifts occur in the brain, which heighten the brain's arousal mechanisms and limit one's ability to filter behaviors.
It remains unclear whether one gender has a higher incidence of sexual addiction over the other. Research by Dr. Carnes shows that approximately 20-25% of all patients who seek help for sexual dependency are women. (This same male-female ratio is found among those recovering from alcohol addiction, drug addiction and pathological gambling.) The great irony is that sex addiction in women appears to be increasing. In recent, very large studies of online behavior, 40% of those struggling with sexually compulsive behavior are women.
The key to understanding the loss of control present in addicts is to understand the concept of the "hijacked brain." Addicts essentially have rewired their brains so that they perform certain behaviors (drinking, drug use, eating, gambling, sex, etc.) even when they are intending to do something quite different. Triggers to these maladaptive responses are usually stress, emotional pain, or specific childhood scenarios of sexual abuse or sexual trauma. Breakthrough scientific discoveries about brain function are helping us to understand the biology of this disease.
To help professionals determine whether a sexual addiction is present, Dr. Carnes has developed the Sexual Addiction Screening Test (SAST), an assessment tool specially designed for this purpose.
Today, over 70% of sex addicts report having problematic online sexual behavior. Two-thirds of those engaged have such despair over their internet activities that they experience suicidal thoughts. Sexual acting out online has been shown to manifest in similar off-line behavior. People who already were sex addicts find the internet accelerates their problem. Those who develop an addiction in the online space quickly start to act out in new ways off-line. One of the pioneering researchers of this problem, the late Dr. Al Cooper, described online sexual behavior as the "crack-cocaine" of sexual compulsivity.
The first step in seeking help is to admit that a problem exists. Though marital, professional, and societal consequences may follow, admission of the problems must come, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, fear of these consequences keeps many sexual addicts from seeking help, and the consequences can be dire.
Many resources are available to provide information, support, and assistance for sexual addicts trying to regain control of their lives. These include inpatient and outpatient treatment, professional associations, self-help groups, and aftercare support groups.
Like other types of addicts, some sexual addicts may never be "cured." Sexual addicts achieve a state of recovery, but maintaining that recovery can be a lifelong, day-by-day process. The Twelve Step treatment approach teaches addicts to take their recovery "one day at a time," concentrating on the present, not the future.
Partners of sexual addicts, like partners of alcoholics, can also benefit from counseling and support groups. Discovering your loved one is a sex addict can be a very traumatic experience for family members. Inpatient and outpatient programs, counseling, and support groups are all available to help them regain control of their lives and support the recovery of their partner. There are also Books and Resources for partners of sex addicts
Partners and family members can find support by visiting our support page or contacting:
P.O. Box 5117
Sherman Oaks, CA 91413
P.O. Box 14537
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Here is a helpful list of some of the most common abbreviations and acronyms. If you do not see the acronym you are looking for in one category, check out the others. This is not an exhaustive list, so the acronym you are looking for may not be here. Many professionals will list both a license and a national certification. For example, a professional counselor may place both LPC (for Licensed Professional Counselor) and NCC (for Nationally Certified Counselor) after his/her name and degree.
Some helping professions, such as art therapy, are not licensed separately in many states. In such cases, practitioners will be licensed in a related professional field, and certified by a national association in their chosen profession. In the example above, a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) may be licensed as a psychologist (Licensed Psychologist), clinical social worker (LCSW), or professional counselor (LPC).
Other professionals may have dual credentials, such as being licensed both as a professional counselor (LPC) and a marriage and family therapist (LMFT). A clinical social worker (LCSW) may also be certified as an employee assistance professional (CEAP). This makes for extra designations on their business cards, letterheads, and phone listings.
Each helping profession has its own set of educational requirements. Some professions, such as psychiatry and clinical psychology, require their practitioners to earn doctorates (such as an MD, PhD, or PsyD). Others, including professional counseling and social work, require only a master's degree (such as an MA, MS, or MSW). In the fields that allow a master's degree for licensure, some practitioners earn a doctorate in order to obtain advanced training and to teach in graduate programs in their fields.
|DMin||Doctor of Ministry|
|DO||Doctor of Osteopathy|
|DSN||Doctor of Science in Nursing|
|DSW||Doctor of Social Work|
|EdD||Doctor of Education|
|JD||Doctor of Jurisprudence|
|PharmD||Doctor of Pharmacy|
|PhD||Doctor of Philosophy|
|PsyD||Doctor of Psychology|
|EdS||Specialist in Education|
|MA||Master of Arts|
|MAR||Master of Arts in Religion|
|MC||Master of Counseling|
|MDiv||Master of Divinity|
|MEd||Master of Education|
|MHSc||Master of Health Science|
|MN||Master of Nursing|
|MNNP||Master of Nursing, Nurse Practitioner|
|MPH||Master of Public Health|
|MRC||Master of Rehabilitation Counseling|
|MRE||Master of Religious Education|
|MS||Master of Science|
|MSN||Master of Science in Nursing|
|MSS||Master of Social Services|
|MSW||Master of Social Work|
|MTh||Master of Theology|
Issued by states to allow professionals in the specified field to practice in that jurisdiction. Each state sets its own requirements for education and training for each profession it recognizes, although this is usually similar to national certification standards (see next section). Typically, each state's Department of Health has a division of health-related boards to oversee the licensure process. Some states register or certify certain professions rather than issuing licenses. In such cases, the appropriate acronym will be in the next section.
|LAMFT||Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist|
|LAPC||Licensed Associate Professional Counselor|
|LCDC||Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor|
|LCPC||Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor|
|LCMHC||Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor|
|LCPT||Licensed Clinical Pastoral Therapist|
|LCSW||Licensed Clinical Social Worker|
|LMFT||Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist|
|LMHC||Licensed Mental Health Counselor|
|LOT||Licensed Occupational Therapist|
|LPT||Licensed Pastoral Therapist|
|LPT||Licensed Physical Therapist|
|LPCC||Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor|
|LPC||Licensed Professional Counselor|
|LPN||Licensed Practical Nurse|
|LSW||Licensed Social Worker|
|RNP||Registered Nurse Practitioner|