The making and breaking of intimate relationships is central to the human condition and integral to our humanity. In sex addiction, sometimes also known as love addiction, intimacy malfunctions and we get trapped in patterns of relating, which are damaging and destructive for ourselves and others. At the Priory we provide a number of treatment options to help with sex addiction.
What is sex addiction?
Sex addiction may begin when someone uses the behaviours to manage other emotional issues such as depression, anxiety or trauma. These problems come to light once someone is being treated for addictions such as alcohol or drug dependence. Often they reflect deep-rooted problems we have in our relationships with ourselves, which can be summarised as low self-worth or low self-esteem. Many of Priory's clinics specialise in sex addiction help including love addiction support.
Whilst individual behaviour in relationships varies widely, using the term ‘addiction’ can be helpful to understand how an individual can engage in sexual behaviour in which they feel out of control, or persist with a relationship despite clear evidence that it is deeply destructive for them and the other person(s) involved.
Symptoms of sex addiction
An individual with a sex addiction will be drawn towards actions which are harmful to them, and which make their lives unmanageable. These actions may include:
- Engaging with multiple sexual partners
- Excessive masturbation
- Excessive use of pornography
- Interaction with prostitutes
It is not about having a high sex drive, which in itself can be healthy, but rather engaging compulsively in sexual activity despite the serious negative consequences. These consequences may be on relationships, finances, risk to physical health through sexually transmitted diseases or legal sanction. In such an addiction, sex stops the creation of healthy intimate relationships and intimacy is feared and avoided.
Sex addiction causes
As with other forms of addiction such as drugs or alcohol, one of the reasons a person can become addicted to sex is that it offers a form of escape or “high.” These are some of the most common sex addiction causes:
- Genetics and family dysfunction: there is a belief that a number of inherited genes can give you a predisposition towards sexual addiction, as can a family history of substance abuse and addiction and/or dysfunctional family dynamics
- Sexual abuse during childhood: according to some research, a high percentage of sex addicts have reported being abused as a child or adolescent
- Substance abuse or other addictions (including drugs, alcohol and gambling)
- Existing mental health problems (e.g. depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder), or difficulties with impulse control
- Biochemical and/or hormonal imbalances: addictions and compulsive behaviours have been linked to imbalances of chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters and the sex hormones androgens
- Medical conditions: there are several health conditions that can damage certain areas of the brain (e.g. multiples sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, dementia), and can play a role in exacerbating compulsive sexual activity
How to stop sex addiction
If you have recognised you have an addiction to sex and are ready to begin your journey to becoming well again, there are some suggested steps to take in order to stop:
- Accept your problem and confide in others: once you feel ready to talk about your addiction to sex, try to confide in someone you trust. It may be difficult to accept you need help from other but once you have shared the secret you may have been trying to hide, it is a huge relief and weight off your shoulders
- Avoid triggers: as many addicts use sex addiction to cope with difficult and intense emotional pain or other dependencies, it is important to recognise in yourself which feelings drive you towards being addicted to sex, be it feelings of loneliness, sadness or anxiety
- Learn new coping methods: when you have recognised a trigger for your sex addiction, , it is crucial to develop alternative methods of managing it. These might exploring your cretaive side, exercising or talking to someone, be it a friend, partner, family member, therapist or on a relevant online forum
Love addiction symptoms
A love addiction sufferer is an individual who becomes dependent on a relationship and the attention of another, to the extent that their life becomes unmanageable. Driven by beliefs such as “unless I am with someone I am worthless”, the following characteristics may be displayed:
- Clinging to an idealised relationship, despite a different reality
- Returning time and again to an abusive and damaging relationship
- Placing responsibility for their emotional wellbeing, or even ‘survival’ to others
- Craving attention from many different relationships and seeking new sources of attention
In these situations, the person becomes dependent on the rush of finding someone new who is attracted to them. The condition hijacks the early stages of dating and they find themselves wanting to repeat these stages despite the painful consequences. Often such behaviour is linked to low self-esteem, derived from emotional neglect or abuse in childhood.
Sex addiction therapy & counselling
Recognition and acceptance of the problem are the first steps to recovery. A comprehensive psychiatric or psychological assessment is an important starting point. Some people may be using their addictive behaviours to self-medicate underlying conditions such as depression or anxiety. If so, such conditions should be identified and treated effectively.
A twelve step facilitation programme, such as the Priory addiction treatment programme (ATP), is a good starting point in receiving sex addiction therapy. While the programme is based on abstinence for substance misuse disorders, in sex and love addiction it will help the individual to develop healthy patterns of loving and relating. Old habits are hard to break and establishing a period of abstinence from the harmful behaviour is usually required. Completing the ATP will lead on to engagement with a twelve step recovery programme such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. These are recurring conditions and engagement with such a programme is important to remaining in recovery.
Further treatment for sex addiction
Individual treatment approaches are also available and individual Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a good starting point. Where an individual has deep-rooted problems with self-esteem, longer term psycho-dynamically informed psychotherapy may be helpful.
Free sex addiction assessment
We understand that the thought of getting counselling and treatment can be emotionally daunting. With this in mind, the Priory offers a free initial assessment with an experienced therapist at all of our addiction treatment hospitals and clinics to help you or someone you care about discuss the addiction in confidence.