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What is sexual addiction?

Sexual addiction can be understood by comparing it to other types of addiction.  Those suffering from a chemical addiction find they need drugs to feel normal.  In sexual addiction, a parallel situation exists.  Those who are addicted become dependent on this sexual high to feel normal.  They substitute healthy relationships for unhealthy ones and opt for temporary pleasure rather than the deeper quality of "normal" intimate relationships.  Sexual addiction follows the same progressive nature of other addictions.  Sexual addiction is also associated with risk-taking.  A person with sex addiction engages in various forms of sexual behavior despite the risk of adverse consequences.  For some, the sexual addiction progresses to more risky behavior including illegal activities (exhibitionism), making obscene phone calls, or prostitution.  It is important to note that those suffering from sexual addiction do not necessarily become sex offenders.  Those suffering from sexual addiction struggle to control their behaviors and experience despair over constant failure to do so.  Their loss of self-esteem grows, adding to the need to escape further into addictive behaviors.  Those suffering from sexual addiction feel tremendous guilt and shame about their out of control behavior and live in constant fear of discovery.

What are the warning signs?

Examples of out of control sexual behavior include: compulsive masturbation, indulging in pornography, having multiple affairs, exhibitionism, dangerous sexual practices, prostitution, anonymous sex or one-night stands, compulsive sexual episodes, obsessive dating through personal ads, or voyeurism.  Those suffering from sexual addiction often create sexual barriers in an attempt to control their sexual behavior.  Examples include moving to new cities, neighborhoods, or a new environment.  Many immerse themselves into religion, only to soothe their shame, but their acting out continues.  Sexual anorexia is also attempted in which they allow themselves no sexual expression at all.

Sexual addiction is often progressive and while many individuals may attempt to control their behavior for a period of time, the behavior returns, quickly escalating beyond previously experienced levels.  Bingeing occurs to the point of emotional exhaustion.  Withdrawal for sex addictions can parallel the physical pain experienced by those withdrawing from opiate addiction.

What are the effects?

Those suffering from sexual addiction may experience adverse consequences but continue to act out.  Consequences include:  loss of partner or spouse, several marital or relationship problems, loss of career opportunities, unwanted pregnancies, suicidal ideation, exposure to HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases.  As more of the addict's energy is focused on relationship with sexual potential, healthy relationships and activities suffer from neglect.

How can someone get help?

The first step is to determine if there is a problem.  A Certified Addictions Counselor with specific training in the identification and treatment of sexual addiction can effectively perform an assessment to determine what level of care is most appropriate.  For a free confidential assessment, call the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at (800) 522-3784.  An assessment can be completed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are always welcome.