Essay on Sexual Addiction
Today, specialists have no doubt that sex can be the object of addiction just like food, shopping or gambling, alcoholism or drug addiction. In cases when a person becomes sexually addicted intimate relationships become the keystone, while all life priorities quietly fade into the background and eventually disappear altogether. The only occupation a person devotes one’s own energy and thoughts to is the striving for pleasure, incessant desire to experience sensual delight. As a result, sexual addiction leads to the loss of ability to control thoughts, feelings and actions.
The physiological basis of addiction consists in the fact that sex and love provoke the production of the same chemicals in the brain as heroin and cocaine do, and therefore people suffering from sexual addiction obtain from sex the same experience that drug addicts get from drugs, and alcoholics from alcohol: extremely pleasant sensations, incomparable to anything else in their lives. Sexual relationships become for them the only way to lift the spirit. From the standpoint of psychological roots, the addicts use sex in order to suppress such feelings as sadness, anger, anxiety or fear, as well as get rid of the burden of everyday life. Current observations show that this need is so great that sexually addictive people, like alcoholics, are almost unable to resist their addiction, and therefore the emergence of the disease should not be socially justified by hypersexuality or treated as libertinism, another sexual disorder. Further in this paper, we will attempt to draw this line, considering the epidemiology, causes and course of sexual addiction, as well as will discuss possible therapeutic solutions.
Understanding sexual addiction: symptomatology and causes
Sexuality is an integral human need, a source of pleasure and positive emotions. But this is only a part of life, one of the many human needs, and most people do not put it to the forefront among the others. Harmony is violated in the case when for one reason or another, one of the needs, in this case sexual, becomes an obsession, gains distorted shapes and subordinates all person’s thoughts and actions.
However, where is the line distinguishing the normal human need for sex from a mania? On the one hand, as Karila et al. (2014, p. 4018) state in their research, some specialists long used to deny the existence of sexual addiction as a mental disorder and rather attributed it to libertinism. On the other hand, the differences between promiscuity and engagement in the perverted forms of sexual relations and addiction as such are quite obvious. In particular, similarly to other kinds of addiction, sexual addiction is characterized by such main symptoms as the inability to control one’s own sexual impulses, obsessions with sex ideas, inability to say “no’ and promiscuity of choice (Coleman-Kennedy & Pendley, 2002, p. 145-47; Schaeffer, 2009, p. 154-55). As Karila et al. (2014, p. 4019) rightly put it, regardless of the particular type of sexual behavior, it turns into addiction when it gains elements of compulsiveness and complete disregard for the consequences.
In this way, sexual addiction should be understood as a compulsive sexual behavior that is subconsciously used to achieve psychological comfort and pleasure. Sex addiction symptoms are manifested in (Coleman-Kennedy & Pendley, 2002; Giugliano, 2003; Karila et al. 2014; Schaeffer, 2009):
- implicit emotional obtrusiveness and psychological instability,
- low level of moral values,
- regular uncontrolled sexual impulses arising suddenly and not eliminated by the efforts of will and intellect,
- gradual increase in the frequency of sexual impulses,
- signs of “withdrawals” (abstinence syndrome) after a short abstinence
- penchant for casual sex with strangers,
- inability to maintain a long communication and sexual intercourse with the same partner
- persons’ uncontrollability in other spheres of life.
In this way, for a sexual addict sex is the only valuable and desired thing in life, in which one can express independence and natural talents, as well as to assert in society. However, the number of sexual partners increases together with a sense of inner emptiness (Giugliano, 2003, p. 181). Considering a person of the opposite sex only as an object for sexual satisfaction, addicts appear not to be able to build long-term relationships or experience emotional bond in existing communications. Inability to fulfill the increasingly burgeoning sexual fantasies often leads to aggression, irritability, sudden mood changes, and depression (Giugliano, 2003; Riemersma & Sytsma, 2013).
In psychoanalytic understanding, the basis of sexual addiction is all-consuming anxiety (Giugliano, 2003; Coleman-Kennedy & Pendley, 2002; Maté, 2012). According to Giugliano (2003, p. 179), this anxiety often originates in the disorder of sexual structure of personality: for example, in the sexual need for suppression of painful feelings during early sexual trauma, as well as for overcoming the state of infantile rage, depression, or anhedonia (irritation and displeasure). Reasons of sexoholism can be serious psychological problems related to childhood rape, unsuccessful first sexual experience, parents’ sexual misconduct and distorted set of priorities (Maté, 2012, p. 58-61). Thus, basing on 2012 research of childhood trauma by Gabor Maté, the factors responsible for the development of sexual addiction for women may be, for example, mother’s chronic depression and hyperstimulating sexualized relationship with father. In the case of men, these might be degrading and rejecting parental figures, especially mother, demonstrative exception of the boy from parental love relationships.
In general, expects agree that the lack of love, care, and attention from parents, and especially mother, has a great influence on the formation of future patterns of behavior with the opposite sex (Giugliano, 2003; Maté, 2012; Schaeffer, 2009). An “underloved” child who lacked affection, gentle mother kisses and hugs finds it difficult to feel confident in adult life even with a good outlook. Such people with low self-esteem constantly feel the desire to assert themselves at the expense of attention of the opposite sex. Men tend to prove to each new partner, to themselves and others their power and “sexual might”; women conquering another man subconsciously look for acknowledgement. Thus, deviant behavior patterns mainly form as a response to psychological trauma, and have a fairly strong tendency to develop into a full-fledged addiction.
Dealing with sexual addiction:
epidemiology, risk groups, and their most common behavior patterns
Thus, numerous studies claim that today about 6% of people are obsessed with the constant idea of sex (Karila et al. 2014, p. 4013). It should be noted that the most or nearly 70% of sexoholics who search for skilled medical help are men (Riemersma & Sytsma, 2013, p. 307). As Riemersma and Sytsma (2013, p. 309) describe it, a typical portrait of a sexual addict is a heterosexual man in his forties, married (or having a permanent partner), a professional who leads quite a normal life in all other aspects. At the same time, the situation with identifying dependencies among women is uneasy. According to experts, due to the still-preserved system of double standards, they often do not admit having any disorders and do not seek medical help. Nevertheless, the number of women experiencing constant irresistible need for sex is not less than 30% and shows rapid growth in recent years (Riemersma & Sytsma, 2013, p. 312).
According to Giugliano (2003), some people are more prone to addiction than others. For example, such traits may indicate that the person is able to get hooked on sex: suggestibility and imitation, curiosity and the constant search for new sensations, risk appetite and adventurism, fear of loneliness (Young, 2008, p. 23-26). According to Maté (2012); observations, potential sexoholics often have uneasy relationship with the parent of the opposite sex. Dependence is often provoked by a crisis situation like, for example, a betrayal when the deceived partner seeks to dissociate oneself from pain by using one of the patterns of deviant sexual behavior (Schaeffer, 2009, p. 159).
In general, psychiatrists distinguish 12 behaviors that are often associated with sex addiction (basing on Coleman-Kennedy & Pendley, 2002; Giugliano, 2003; Karila et al., 2014; Riemersma & Sytsma, 2013; and Schaeffer, 2009):
- Compulsive masturbation reaching in some cases 20 times a day,
- Numerous sex and extramarital sexual relations, a high demand for sexual intercourse,
- Promiscuity in sexual partners, frequent “one night” relationships,
- Obtrusive use and watching of pornographic materials, pornophilia,
- Sex with strangers without using condoms and other contraception and protection against STDs,
- Phone sex, constant participation in sexual forums on the Internet and social networks,
- Obsessive dating through electronic and conventional dating services,
- Frequent use of prostitutes or gigolos,
- Voyeurism (watching other people have sex),
- Sexual harassment and sexual abuse,
- Propensity for sexual abuse and incest, and other paraphilias.
If a person’s behavior matches at least four of the above symptoms, there is high probability that an individual is a sexual addict (Karila et al., 2014, p. 4015).
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