People can become addicted to many different things such as gambling, smoking, pornography, gaming, food, pornography or sex. A major feature of problematic behaviour of any type is the loss of control in limiting that behaviour even when it has negative consequences. Often it can start out as a way of having fun, however, through repeated use can result in psychological or physical dependence and a lot of distress. There can be biological, psychological and social influences contributing to addiction, which all need to be addressed in counselling.
Indicators of sex addiction/compulsive behaviour
Compulsive sexual behaviour is characterised by persistent and repetitive sexual impulses or urges that seem uncontrollable, leading to repetitive sexual behaviours such as masturbation, pornography, strip clubs, cybersex and escorts. Some indicators can include:
- Is your time consumed by sexual fantasies, urges or behaviours interfering with other important goals, activities, and obligations?
- Do you repetitively engage in sexual fantasies, urges or behaviours in response to dysphoric mood states (e.g. anxiety, depression, boredom, irritability)?
- Do you have unwanted sexual preoccupation to the point of obsession?
- Have you tried but failed at efforts to control or significantly reduce sexual fantasies, urges or behaviours?
- Have you repetitively engaged in sexual behaviours while disregarding the risk for physical or emotional harm to self or others?
Sex addiction and brain chemicals
Research indicates that when watching pornography or having sex, dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and vasopressin, endorphins and serotonin are all released. These are the same chemicals that are released when having sex with your partner and include oxytocin and vasopressin which create emotional bonding with each other. However, when pornography is used, the “bonding” is with the pornographic experience rather an intimate partner. Similar to other addictions, pornography gives the brain releases dopamine and eventually stops the production of dopamine which results in higher tolerance and everyday pleasures are not pleasurable which results in seeking out more intense explicit pornography to get the same high as before as dopamine receptors fatigue. Research has found that out of control/excessive compulsive pornography use can lead to impotence, desensitisation, little satisfaction with sex, anxiety, depression and high-risk sexual activity as the user becomes numb to things once considered pleasurable.
Treatment for sex addiction includes:
- Assessment tools
- Motivational interviewing
- Goal setting
- Self-regulation tools
- Sexual conflicts exploration
- Untreated trauma/abuse/mental health
- Unresolved relationship issues/other problematic behaviours
- Identifying blocks to intimacy
- Recognising high risk situation
- Coping strategies
- Relapse prevention planning and management
- Learning to connect intimately