The criterion to screen addictive/compulsive behavior is “loss of freedom to choose whether or not to engage in a behavior (compulsively), continuation of the behavior despite adverse consequences related to the behavior (consequences, and obsession with the behavior” (Cooper, 2002, p. 148). There are various behaviors that can be considered sexually compulsive or addictive. These include masturbation, repeated affairs, pornography, cyber sex, phone sex, multiple anonymous partners, unsafe sexual activity, objectification, strip clubs, prostitution, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and other paraphilias.
Patrick Carnes, a leading researcher in the sexual addiction field, in 1991 did a study in which he stated that 3-6% of the general population has a problem with sex addiction (Ragan, et al, 2000, p. 164). This is a significant amount of people.
Sharon Nathan said “What appears undeniable is that there are people who are troubled by a sense that they cannot curb, control, or modify their sexual behavior, even when they are aware of the negative, social, medical, and or financial consequences that attend their inability to do so” (Ragan, et al, 2000, p. 162). Consequences include legal problems, isolation and loneliness, neglect of family and friends, financial problems occupational impairments, STI’s, shame, and anxiety. In a study by Donald Black, M.D. et al, 36 subjects who reported sexually compulsive behavior were asked the question “Why they felt their sexual thoughts, behaviors, or urges were a problem? 61% listed guilt, 47% listed feedback from others, 14% listed health problems, 11% listed financial consequences, and 8% listed the amount of time consumed” (Black et al, 1997, p. 247).
A process addiction is when a person is addicted to a process rather than a substance ingested in their body.
Sexual addiction is a way of coping with depression, anxiety, or any other uncomfortable emotion. “The addiction is an altered state of consciousness in which “normal” sexual behavior pales by comparison in terms of excitement and relief from troubles” (Carnes, 2001). There are not many things that can compete with the immediate gratification and pleasure the one feels while sexually acting out. It then becomes a cycle, in which the addict feels emotionally uncomfortable and relieves the discomfort with temporary relief and pleasure. Patrick Carnes said “within the addictive system, sexual experience becomes the reason for being, the primary relationship for the addict” (2001). Sexual addiction is lonely. It is a place of toxic shame and worthlessness.
Sexual addiction becomes a person’s automatic response to any kind of uncomfortable emotions or stress. The goal of treatment is to bring an automatic or unconscious response to awareness and find a new corrective process to deal with stress. This takes time but there is hope. The person must make the decision everyday to engage in recovery and find new ways of soothing. The condition for healing is created by following the principals of consistency, duration, and frequency. Every time an individual chooses to engage in something healthy rather than their addiction, they are changing. As they make these choices consistently, frequently, and for a period of time, they heal. Treatment includes concepts of toxic shame, empathy, relationships, forgiveness, healthy sexuality, relapse prevention, stress management, and emotional regulation. Treatment is a comprehensive look at the person’s life to help make lasting change.