Sex is the crux of all life. It is the reason we exist, the drive behind many of our most basic impulses and behaviours and a subject that never fails to catch the attention of today's public. Over the course of history, human sexuality has been explored, revered, repressed and bound within a complicated rope-work of rules, beliefs and speculations. It is one of the most popular subjects in fiction, critical theory, sociology and psychology among countless other studies. Some of the most famous academics in history, including Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud, based their entire works upon sex, ideas that have undoubtedly helped shape society's current understanding of who we are and why we are. Sex is, in short, our number one favourite subject.
On this page
- Sex and society
- What is sex addiction?
- Signs you have a sex addiction
- Risks of sex addiction
- Porn addiction
Sex and society
In a society that quite clearly loves to write, talk and think about sex constantly, it can be hard for anyone to fully escape it. Turn on the television and you'll find it almost impossible to find a programme that doesn't, in some shape or form, involve sex. Even daytime shows are likely to involve mild sexual puns or particularly amorous female presenters. A hugely lucrative industry has been built around the curiosity and intrigue sex evokes. We've all heard the phrase 'sex sells'- this is something that is reflected in the thousands of adverts featuring close-ups of half naked men and women, and even more so in the multi-billion pound porn industry. According to statistics, an average of 28,000 people across the world are thought access porn every second, spending a grand total of £90,000 every minute.
But what happens when sex begins to dominate a person's life completely? What happens when they can't go a day, or even a few hours without finding a way to satisfy their sexual desires? What happens when they spend all of their money in strip clubs and brothels and end up ostracising themselves from their friends, family and partners? Sex addiction is becoming an increasingly acknowledged behavioural disorder in Western society thanks to an explosion in media coverage in recent years. But how far do we really understand this controversial condition, and what can be done to help the people who suffer from it?
What is sex addiction?
The term 'sexual addiction' was first coined in 1998 by Patrick Carnes in his book: 'Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addictions', which explored the similarities between compulsive sexual behaviour and commonly accepted addictions such as drug and alcohol abuse.
Although the term is relatively new, the condition itself has probably existed for as long as humans have. Sex addiction has over the years been known as 'hypersexuality', 'satyriasis' (in reference to males) and 'nymphomania' (in reference to females).
All of these terms apply to people who exhibit unusually frequent, obsessive and uncontrollable sexual behaviours, often resulting in guilt, remorse and other detrimental side-effects.
Carnes defined sex addiction as:
"Having a pathological relationship with sex and using it as a mood-altering drug."
Sex addiction covers the following subjects:
- sex addiction
- porn addiction
- love addiction.
Is sex addiction real?
There has been much controversy surrounding the subject of sex addiction over the last few years. Countless articles have been published in the press asking 'is sex addiction real?', sparking debates all across the globe between people who think sex addiction is a weak justification for sexual deviants, and people who think sex addiction is a pathological disorder that needs specialist treatment.
There are currently on-going talks as to whether or not sex addiction should be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the manual for all generally accepted psychological disorders.
In the 20th century, the same debates were being held over the nature of alcohol abuse. Were alcoholics exhibiting moral weakness, or were they simply sufferers at the hands of unfortunate genetics?
Is addiction unavoidable?
The big question hotly debated in addiction research at the moment is: can addiction be predetermined by genetic makeup?
Any conclusive answers to this question could potentially change the way society views addicts. Addicts are often seen as weak, morally loose, emotionally unstable and suggestible, all sweeping judgements that can increase an addict's feelings of isolation and helplessness and even cause their problems to worsen. But what if we found out that addiction is an unavoidable component of some people's genetic make up? Would sex addicts still face the same stigma as they do now? Or would people be more likely to ignore or accept their addictions rather than resist them?
One study claims to have answered this question by identifying a gene directly responsible for sex drive.
A group of participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire designed to measure their sex drives. Scientists then tested their DNA and found that 30% had a particular variation of the 'D4' gene. This 30% also happened to have an above average sex drive, as identified by their questionnaire answers. Interestingly, the D4 gene has in the past been linked with addictive behaviour such as gambling.
Experts agree that although the D4 gene may have a part to play in sex addiction, there are also many other factors to take into account, both biological and social.
Signs you have a sex addiction
It is important to understand the difference between an enthusiasm for sexual encounters, and an addiction to them.
According to statistics, British people have sex an average of 127 times every year. Men have an average of nine sexual partners in their life time and women have an average of 5. Having the above average number of sexual encounters or partners does not automatically make you a sex addict, neither does having extra-marital affairs or having more than one lover. Although some may view these as immoral, they do not necessarily point to a pathological condition. The defining characteristics of an addiction is dependency. There is a big difference between enjoying lots of sex, and being dependent on it for happiness.
The following behaviours are thought to be indicative of a more serious problem:
- Seeking frequent casual sex.
- Having multiple affairs even if you are in a relationship - this need to keep seeking new sexual experiences points to dependency.
- Excessive use of pornography- to such an extent that it gets in the way of daily activities such as work and socialising.
- A desire to stop having sex but being unable to - this lack of control goes further than a general enjoyment of sex and can even lead to an active dislike of it.
- Using sex as a distraction or coping mechanism - if you feel like you need to seek sex for emotional reasons or to distract from life's stresses, your behaviour could be unhealthy.
- Needing to increase frequency of sexual encounters to get same high - one main characteristic of an addiction is becoming increasingly numb to the substance or activity and feeling the need to up your dosage.
- Feeling low and guilty afterwards - being unable to do anything about something you know is harming you can have a detrimental effect on your mental well-being.
- Spending a long time planning sexual encounters - this is indicative of obsessive behaviour and can be dangerous for both you and the people you encounter.
- Missing important events or work to have sex - if you reach this stage, you will feel like your entire life has been taken over by your addiction and this is when things begin to spiral out of control.
Risks of sex addiction
- breakdown of relationships - divorce/separation
- loss of job or job opportunities
- unwanted pregnancy
According to a survey conducted by the BBC in 2008, three-quarters of therapists claimed that the most common trigger of sex addiction was the use of Internet porn.
Millions of people across the world access pornographic material every day. In fact, an average of 28,258 people are thought to be viewing porn right now. But when does a casual enjoyment of pornographic material become something more dangerous? How do you know when you have a porn addiction?
A short history of porn
Porn, short for pornography, describes any image depicting or describing sexual organs or a sexual activity. The word itself was coined in England in 1850 as an amalgamation of the Greek words 'porne', meaning prostitute, and 'graphein', meaning to write.
Porn has existed as long as art and writing itself and the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome have both left us a huge store of erotic imagery. Countless sexually explicit artefacts have been unearthed dating from thousands of years ago and the Ancient Greeks even designed an early female 'sex-toy' made from leather, wood and stone.
Pornographic imagery has been widely explored in literature throughout history and some of the world's most explicit texts date from the middle ages, such as Pietro Aretino's 'School of Whoredom' written in the 1500s and the infamous Marquis de Sade's torture-porn novel '120 Days of Sodom' written in 1785.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the emergence of the printing press and new technologies, porn has become even more widely accessible. Today, it takes a couple of clicks on a computer to access millions of pornographic images and videos, free to anyone who wants to see them and (thanks to popups) even to those who do not wish to see them.
In one U.S. study, researchers wanted to compare the behaviours of men who watched a lot of porn and men who had never watched porn. Unfortunately their plan was thwarted when they failed to find even one man who had never watched porn. This growth of people who watch porn can be attributed mostly to the rise of broadband internet and the use of portable technology such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets.
Women and porn
Of course, it is not only men who are accessing porn. According to an addiction help site, six out of 10 women will admit to watching porn and one out of three clients hoping to fight porn addiction are women.
Scientists have not identified any differences between the way women and men develop addictions. However, certain cultural factors can determine the likelihood of someone trying an addictive substance or activity in the first place. For instance, many women shy away from watching porn due to it being a predominantly male market saturated with masculine ideals. Additionally, many women believe the porn industry degrades and abuses women and may therefore be less inclined to view it. This can also increase the guilt women feel when they do watch porn because it can make them feel like they are doing something dirty or wrong.
How much porn is healthy?
Porn successfully satisfies many people's sexual desires. Many of us will experience sexual desire at some point in our lives, however mild, intense, frequent or rare they may be. Sexual feelings are perfectly natural and fundamental to the human race. However, some experts believe that by condoning porn, we are normalising often perverse sexual behaviours that can then cause people to seek increasingly explicit images, in turn fuelling the production of harmful and illegal sexual activities. Pornographic material is regulated in the UK by the following acts:
- Obscene Publications Act 1959/64
- Indecent Displays Control Act 1981
- Video Recordings Act 1984
- Criminal Justice & Immigration Act 2008.
On the other hand, many experts agree that as long as the porn has been produced and distributed legally, watching it occasionally to vent sexual desire is a perfectly reasonable and acceptable form of behaviour. The problems only arise when a person feels like their porn habit is taking over their whole life. One study found that single men watched, on average, 40 minutes of porn three times a week whereas men in relationships watched it 1.7 times a week for 20 minutes. Not one of the 20 subjects were found to have a pathological sexuality as a result of watching porn.
Causes of porn addiction
A porn addiction develops when a person begins to lose control of their porn usage. Reasons why people develop porn addictions include:
- Escapism- some people find the act of watching porn has an almost zombie effect on them, causing them to lose track of time and forget everything else happening in their lives.
- Loneliness- being unable to find a partner can be one reason many people turn to porn. The instant and easy gratification means many people will choose to stay in to watch porn rather than to go out and meet new people, thus creating a vicious cycle, where they never give themselves the chance to meet someone new.
- Depression- watching porn is thought to cause the brain to release a flood of dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin and serotonin, the body's natural 'feel good' hormones. People suffering from depression or low moods might appreciate this rush of emotion, causing them to depend on porn for mood boosts.
- Boredom- boredom can cause people aimlessly browsing the Internet to visit porn in an attempt to stimulate a sense of excitement.
Risks of having a porn addiction
Of course, most people who access porn do so casually and occasionally as a natural part of their day-to-day lives. On the whole, it causes no problems and affects no part of their lives or mental health. However, the risks of having an addiction to using porn include:
Some studies investigating the effects of prolonged exposure to pornography by the Home Office have revealed links between excessive usage and sociopathic behaviour including:
- social exclusion
- exploitative behaviour
- sexual dysfunction.
The emergence of internet networks means people with shared sexual fantasies can communicate and share their experiences and desires anonymously, however culturally inappropriate they may be. This means that sometimes, very perverse ideas can become normalised, meaning people with these fantasies and desires are more likely to access the material they desire, potentially fuelling the exploitation of vulnerable groups.
This is how paedophile rings develop- increased exposure to shocking material desensitises the viewers who then need more and more to experience the same level of arousal. This demand for more material fuels the production of illegal images, which in turn feeds the addiction for them, thus creating a vicious circle.
Effects on family life
In a study of 350 American divorce lawyers, 62% claimed that watching Internet porn or engaging in cybersex played a big role in divorce. The main problems arise when the porn-watcher begins demanding more experimental sex, becomes less loving and begin to treat their partner like an object or toy. This can lead to great rifts in partnerships and cause the porn-watcher to start seeking their sexual gratification elsewhere. Statistics show porn users are three times more likely to cheat on their partners. The statistics also show that happily married people are 61% less likely to watch porn.
As well as forming the basis for Robert Palmer's chart-topping single of 1986, love addiction is another compulsive behaviour beginning to take its place in the media spotlight.
The idea of a 'love obsession' is nothing new. The history of literature is heaving with woeful romantics lamenting over their unrequited loves, from Shakespeare's Duke Orsino (from the Twelfth Night), who spends the duration of the comedy in agonising and irrational love for a woman who does not love him back, to Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones, who intensely fears 'dying fat and alone, and found three weeks later half-eaten by Alsatians'.
Interestingly, the preoccupation with finding 'true love' is a popular theme in comedies, hence the term 'rom-coms' or, romantic comedies, which feature any number of hopeless romantics unlucky in their pursuit of love. The slapstick, self-deprecating humour so popular with rom-coms casts love obsession in a distinctly rosy hue, and certainly helps many viewers deal with their own romantic problems. But behind the characters and behind the laughter, is there something more serious to explore? Many counsellors and therapists are beginning to look at love obsession not as a subject for comedy, but as a serious and difficult pathological condition: a love addiction.
What is love addiction?
When does the age-old pursuit of love become a love 'addiction'?
Love addiction, according to the experts, is characterised by the compulsion to repeatedly experience the drama and pain associated with obsessive relationships.
Symptoms of love addiction include the following:
- Obsession - this often involves constantly thinking about a person or a relationship to the point of being distracted from everyday life, putting important things on hold and even changing who you are to fit what you think the other person wants.
- Infatuation- this involves idolising someone you don't really know very well, building a (probably unrealistic) picture of them in your head and imagining you have experienced 'love at first sight'. Of course, this behaviour is normal and healthy to some extent but the problems arise when every other aspect of your life becomes less important than this person and your fantasies begin to take up a significant amount of time in the day.
- Irrational behaviour- love addicts lose all common sense or rationality and start to behave irrationally and sporadically in the belief that the object of their affections is the only thing that matters in the world. They may make plans to 'bump into' this person, which can quickly spiral into stalking. In more extreme cases, a love addict may feel the desire to possess this person so strongly that they use force or violence to get what they want.
- Dependency- like with all forms of addiction from drugs and alcohol to gambling and sex, love addicts will eventually become dependent on the object of their desire. They will begin to believe that their happiness is entirely dependent on this person and rely on thoughts of them, glimpses of them or interactions with them to get through the day.
- Manipulative- a love addict in a relationship can become manipulative and controlling very quickly. The intense fear of losing their partner can cause them to find new ways to keep hold of them. This may involve manipulating their partner's emotions by evoking guilt and insecurity and making them feel worthless in an attempt to prevent them from leaving.
- Needy- love addicts are always searching for their next romantic encounter. They find it almost impossible to be alone for very long and crave the comfort and affirmation of a relationship. For this reason they tend to be serial monogamists who fly from relationship to relationship without a break. Often it is love they love, and not the individual, although they are rarely aware of this.
Love addiction is a problem
Love addicts are not happy. They constantly crave love and affection and when they don't have it, they feel worthless and unfulfilled.
Millions of people get along perfectly happily everyday without having a romantic partner or even a love interest. These people find fulfilment in other parts of their lives, such as work, hobbies, friends or simply their own company. Whereas romance does play a role in a lot of people's lives and often will affect their happiness levels, for most people, these feelings can be controlled.
For love addicts, love and relationships dominate every single aspect of their lives, and they often feel that there's nothing they can do about it.
Love addiction can cause:
- low self-esteem
- low self-confidence
- violent feelings
- suicidal thoughts.
Am I a love addict?
If you are wondering whether you might be a love addict, you might consider asking yourself the following questions:
1. Am I very needy?
2. Do I fall in love often and quickly?
3. When I do fall in love, do I obsess over the person?
4. Do I go out with anyone who shows an interest in me?
5. Do my partners ever accuse me of 'smothering' them?
6. Do I prefer to hold onto relationships even if they are unhealthy or making me unhappy?
7. Do I always fall in love with the wrong person?
8. When a relationship ends, do I feel like my whole life is ruined?
9. When a relationship ends, do I ever feel like killing myself?
10. Am I always the one to work harder in a relationship?
11. Do I lack confidence?
12. Do I ever feel like I don't fit in?
13. Do I feel uncomfortable or bored in my own company?
14. Do I often feel lonely when I'm not in a relationship?
15. When one relationship ends, do I immediately seek another?
16. Am I scared of never finding someone to settle down with?
17. Do I get scared that the person I'm with will hurt me just as my exes did?
18. Do I crave control in relationships so I can feel more comfortable?
19. Do I have trouble in arguments e.g. not being able to argue fairly, attacking people when they disagree or giving them the silent treatment?
20. Do I feel unable to take criticism?
21. Do I overreact to anything that feels like rejection?
22. Do I feel like getting into a relationship would make everything else about my life better?
If you answered 'yes' to most of these questions, you may have certain love addiction issues to address.
Treating sex addiction, porn addiction and love addiction
Although each of these addictions have slightly different social repercussions, the process of treating each is very similar.
Hypnotherapy for sex addiction
Hypnotherapy is a popular choice of treatment for many addicts, whether they depend on alcohol, drugs, sex, porn or love for their emotional highs.
Hypnotherapy for sex addiction focuses on both the addiction itself and any possible triggers for the addiction. A hypnotherapist will usually ask you to think about any particular situations that trigger your sex addiction. For example, you might notice that after a particularly stressful day at work you find yourself heading for the strip-club or calling up a partner. You may be asked to recall certain times you don't think about or crave sex. What about when you're engaging in your favourite hobby like squash, or painting? Do you think about sex when you concentrate on things you like doing? It can be a good idea to keep a diary of your addiction, documenting your thoughts and behaviours so you can grasp a better understandings of the patterns you unconsciously follow.
Your hypnotherapist may then take you through a number of deep relaxation techniques. Tension can often be a major trigger for many addictions, including sex addiction. Therefore, being in a state of relaxation could give you greater control over yourself. During this state of deep relaxation it can become far easier to map out and replace negative thought patterns with positive ones. It can be useful to imagine possible situations in which you might be tempted to rely on sex, and to then think of ways you could handle it differently, or distract yourself with a different activity.
Hypnotherapy for porn addiction
People seek hypnotherapy to help them break their porn addictions when they get out of hand. Avoiding porn when you use the Internet for work, communication or entertainment purposes can be difficult- like giving up chocolate when you work in a chocolate shop. When you know thousands of images are a single click away, it can be almost impossible to stop yourself. Hypnotherapy aims to dissect those thought patterns and break your habitual responses. For instance, you might have an argument with your partner and immediately think about venting your frustrations on a porn site.
Hypnotherapy can teach you to counteract those patterns of thought and direct them somewhere else. Instead of visiting the porn site, you could go for a jog. The exercise is likely to release feel-good hormones which could act as a suitable substitute for the 'buzz' you get from watching porn, and ultimately put you in a better position for making up with your partner. Soon, your need for porn will fade as you get better at 1) facing up to your problems and 2) taking control of your behaviour.
Hypnotherapy for love addiction
Love addicts can reach a very low state when they realise how little control they have over their lives. This can lead to problems with depression and even suicide. One way to tackle the problem is to try hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy addresses your whole life. It is not a case of taking a drug and hoping the problem will go away. A hypnotherapist will encourage you to reflect on your behaviours and help you to identify the triggers. In a state of deep relaxation, you will then learn how to exchange certain thought patterns for new, positive ones.
You will aim to exchange lack of self-esteem and worthlessness for control, optimism and awareness. Hypnotherapy is not, as many believe, a form of relinquishing control to your hypnotherapist so they can programme your brain. It is simply a way for you to regain your control over your own thoughts and behaviours.
Recovering from a sex, porn or love addiction
After your hypnotherapy sessions, you will be required to maintain your new-found control. Your hypnotherapist may teach you certain self-hypnosis tricks to keep you on track and you may be given a plan of action. Some things that may help include:
- Continue your addiction diary- this self-awareness is important when it comes to recovering from an addiction. Recording your behaviour patterns allows you to assess yourself objectively and identify the places you need to address further. It also lessens the likelihood of you falling into denial again.
- Instigate control methods- block porn websites, delete lovers' or ex partners' phone numbers, get rid of magazines and photo albums, have a ritualistic purge of your 'old life' so you really feel like you are finally moving on to a new stage.
- Talk to family and friends- ask them for support, and also ask them to tell you if you're talking too much about your old addiction! Understanding your past is one thing but dwelling on it can be counterproductive. Friends and family can also help you to control yourself when your cravings kick in. They can discourage you from using the computer or calling certain numbers, and they can make a special effort to keep you busy and introduce you to new hobbies, activities and people. Addiction is difficult to fight alone.
- Take up a new hobby- sometimes an addiction can be indicative of something lacking. This deficiency could quite possibly be mental or physical stimulation, so starting a new hobby could help satisfy that need. Exercise releases hormones and keeps your body healthy, and joining a team or group will allow you to meet new people and maybe even open your eyes to new ideas, cultures and opportunities. Sometimes it's easy to forget there is a whole world out there to explore, and we don't have to get all of our 'buzzes' from a single substance or activity.
- Don't beat yourself up- if you relapse, take it easy. Don't let guilt take over because this could lead to further negative thoughts such as 'I have no self control, I may as well give in'. Instead, reflect on and write or talk about what you did, and identify the exact thoughts that went through your head. When it happens next time, you might be able exercise that little bit of extra control. Fighting addictions takes practise and patience.
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