Many people love having sex. Of course, there are exceptions. Some, but not all, people who identify as asexual do not enjoy sex.
What if your sexual fantasies were all you thought about, even if you didn’t want to? What if you started engaging in risky sexual behaviours, even at the detriment of your health and safety? For at least three to six per cent of Americans, sex isn’t just something enjoyable. It’s an addiction. What is sex addiction?
Sex addiction describes a range of compulsive sexual behaviours and thoughts. Like other forms of addiction, these patterns can have significant and damaging consequences for the individual and the people around them. It’s also a very complex and controversial disorder. As a result, sex addicts often lack the same resources and support as those suffering from other forms of addiction.
Although the American Psychological Association (APA) rejected sex addiction in 2013 from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), mental health professionals have characterized it as a pattern of destructive sexual behaviours typically found in those with substance-abuse disorders. The World Health Organization added “compulsive sexual behaviour” under impulse disorders in the latest edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
The difficulty in getting diagnosed
The lack of acknowledgment from some of the mental health community, including the removal of sex addiction from the DSM-5, makes it harder to receive a diagnosis and worsens the stigma associated with this addiction.
There are other reasons behind this stigma, including a general lack of empathy and understanding from the public. Many people see sex addiction as something less serious compared to other addictions. Some may believe sex addiction only hurts the individual. In reality, it can harm the individual’s family and friends just as much.
These misconceptions and the stigma around sex addiction intensify feelings of guilt and shame and discourage sufferers from seeking help. Consequently, those with this condition might lie or be misleading about their actions to hide them from those closest to them.
People struggling with sex addiction may have persistent sexual ideas fantasies, multiple sexual partners, guilt following sex and other harmful symptoms.
These obsessive, seemingly uncontrollable thoughts and behaviours can severely impact other people or possibly endanger them. In some cases, the person struggling with sex addiction may put themselves and those around them at risk to satisfy their compulsions.
Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) is a support group for men and women struggling with sex addiction or dependency. SAA developed a 12-question self-assessment to determine whether a person’s behaviour indicates signs of sexual dependence or addiction. Some of the questions are: “Do you keep secrets about your sexual behaviour or romantic fantasies?” and “Does your preoccupation with sex cause problems in any area of your life?”
The assessment is in no way a replacement for professional advice. Instead, it is a tool to guide people to the next step in finding help. If you are worried that you might be a sex addict, you should seek professional help.
One thing to keep in mind is that experiencing pleasure during sex is not a sign of sex addiction. Sex is a natural part of being human, and it’s healthy to enjoy it. In the same vein, if you are in a relationship and have a higher libido than your partner, that does not make you a sex addict either. Sex addiction is a serious mental health concern and should be treated in the same vein as other mental health disorders. It’s time we break the stigma.