Sex addiction, also known as sexual compulsion and sexual dependency, can be used to describe any kind of sexual activity that someone feels is out of control. This could be a physical act, such as having sex with someone else, paying for sex, or masturbating, or it can refer to watching online pornography, reading graphic erotica, visiting online chat rooms, having phone sex or listening to audio pornography.
When someone has a sexual addiction, it can feel like they are compelled to look for and engage in sexual behaviours to satisfy their needs, even if it may cause problems in their personal, work, or social life.
What is sex addiction?
Having a high sex drive does not necessarily mean you have an addiction. Neither does regular use of pornography, cybersex, or exploring other sexual activities. In fact, regular engagement in sexual activity is considered healthy and can have a surprising range of health benefits. For many, sex can help create an increased feeling of intimacy and pleasure, providing physical, emotional, psychological, social, and even intellectual benefits.
However, if you begin to feel like you are no longer in control of your actions, you struggle to think of anything else, or your sexual desires begging to take over other areas of your life, it can be a sign that there may be a problem. If you find yourself engaging in sexual activities that may put yourself or others at risk, or begging to notice your sex life is having a negative impact on your own or someone else’s personal life, it could be time to speak to a professional.
Sex addiction is a term that describes any sexual behaviour that feels ‘out of control’. It’s not the behaviour itself that defines it as an addiction, but rather the dependency on it to numb out negative emotions and difficult experiences.
- Relationship counselling service, Relate.
For many, control - or a feeling that you lack control over your actions - is the difference between a sex addict and a non-addict. Sexual addiction may result in someone spending a lot of time planning, engaging in and recovering. A sex addict feels unable to stop their behaviour, in spite of any physical, emotional, relational or financial costs to themselves or those around them. It's thought that for many, engaging in these sexual activities are a way to cope with psychological pain.
Is sex addiction real?
Currently, experts disagree about whether it is possible to become addicted to sex. According to the NHS, “Some sex and relationships experts believe people can become addicted to the enjoyable feeling or ‘high’ experienced during sex and sexual activity, but others disagree.”
As hypnotherapist Biodun Ogunyemi explains, there is still some controversy around sex addiction. “There is some controversy in the medical community of whether sexual addiction falls into the same category as other addictions such as to drugs or alcoholism. Because this form of addiction has no outside agent, it is seen by some experts as behavioural in nature and not a traditional form of being addicted.
“Those who experience [sexual addiction] undergo an experience similar to that of drugs or alcohol. The urges become too difficult to resist, all to reach a reward that is often filled with regret and humiliation.”
Regardless of the clinical diagnosis, if you feel you are experiencing urges to take part in a behaviour that you feel you are not in control of, that is affecting your relationships, finances, and personal or professional life in a negative way, it’s important to speak out and seek help.
Depending on sex or sexual activities to numb or ignore negative emotions or difficult experiences can have a serious, detrimental impact on you and those you care about. Seeking help to address these behaviours is so important in helping you to learn healthier coping mechanisms, and to get any additional support you may need.
What’s the difference between sex addiction and porn addiction?
Sex and porn addictions can have many of the same symptoms and characteristics, such as feeling like your thoughts are always focused on something sexual, or a near-constant state of arousal.
While someone with either sex or porn addiction may watch, listen to, or read pornography whilst masturbating - often at a higher than would be considered typical rate - someone who is struggling with a sex addiction may also pursue other forms of sexual gratification. This can vary from person to person but can include intercourse with a partner or strangers, seeking out sex workers, or taking part in risky sexual behaviours.
Enjoying or regularly using pornography does not necessarily mean you or your partner are addicted. If you feel unable to achieve gratification without the use of pornography, or if you feel compelled to seek out porn to a level that begins to affect other areas of your life, it can be a sign that you may have a problem.
Am I a sex addict?
It is important to understand the difference between a healthy sex life and an addiction.
While the following may not accurately reflect how you’re feeling or your experience, these are common behaviours associated with sexual addiction. Whether the following statements are familiar or not, if you're worried, it is important you talk to someone.
Signs of a sex addiction
- Seeking frequent casual sex.
- Having multiple affairs even if you are in a relationship.
- 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 may 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 the frequency of sexual encounters to get the same ‘high’.
- 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 engage in sexual activities. This may result in you feeling as though your entire life has been taken over by your addiction.
- An obsession with sex. This could include frequent sexual thoughts, fantasies, or focusing on past sexual experiences to an extent that it takes up much of your time and energy, affecting your ability to concentrate on other things.
- Undertaking risky sexual behaviours without thought of consequences. This may include having affairs, unsafe sex, frequently seeking out sex workers, paying for webcam or telephone sex beyond your means, missing work to have sex.
- Continuing to do things that you know could harm yourself or others (emotionally, physically, or sexually) even after experiencing negative repercussions or after others have expressed concern over your behaviour.
- An increased need to pursue sexual fantasies or gratification, despite negative repercussions or an already busy and active sex life.
- Feelings of guilt, shame, or disgust following sexual acts.
What is the impact of sex addiction?
As with all forms of addiction, sex addiction can have a significant impact on your life, and the lives of those around you. Using sex to mask other problems or feelings you don’t want to deal with can have a lasting impact on your well-being and relationships. In some cases, sex addiction can lead to:
- Loss of or strained romantic relationships or friendships.
- Trouble forming or maintaining relationships.
- An increased risk of STDs/STIs.
- A negative impact on your career or loss of your job.
- Further compulsive behaviours or addictions.
- A decreased sense of self-worth and confidence.
- Feelings of shame, guilt, self-hatred or self-loathing.
Overcoming a sex addiction
If you think you have a sex addiction, or are worried about your habits, tackling it on your own can be a very daunting, lonely road. It may not be easy, but talking to someone about your feelings can be a great help. If you’re not comfortable talking to a friend or family member, consider talking to a professional.
Recognising and accepting that you may have a problem are the first steps to recovery. After this, you can begin to take the next steps. The journey is different for everyone and one person’s experience will differ from yours, but suggested steps include:
Accepting the problem and confiding in others
When you feel ready to talk about your addiction, confide in someone you trust. If this isn’t possible, or you’re not ready to talk to a close friend or family member, consider speaking to a professional. Asking for help isn’t easy, but it’s OK to need extra support. Also, talking to someone about how you feel is often a huge relief, especially if you’ve been keeping it to yourself for a long time.
Coping with your triggers
You may already know what triggers your addiction to certain sexual activities. If there are certain feelings or situations that drive you towards these activities, such as loneliness, sadness or anxiety, it's important you recognise these and learn how to cope in other, healthier ways. This may mean speaking to a counsellor or hypnotherapist. They can work with you to understand what may be causing the problem and teach you techniques to cope with the feelings.
Speaking to a professional may also help you to understand what may have caused your sex addiction. If engaging in sexual activities is your way of coping with deeper feelings, it's important you take the necessary steps to address them. Always remember that support is available, you don’t need to go through this alone.
Hypnotherapy for sex addiction
Hypnotherapy can provide considerable support in overcoming sex addiction. However, for hypnosis for addiction to be effective, the client will first have to accept that he/she has a problem. The client will then have to want to make a change. While certain behaviours can be changed through hypnosis, the client must want to address the problem for the hypnosis to be a success. Recognising a problem and having a willingness to change will result in the client being more open to subliminal suggestions during the session.
Because sex addiction operates under similar principles to other types of addictions, hypnosis can treat the core of the affliction in a direct manner. Hypnotic treatments are used to implant suggestions and curb behaviour that triggers the addiction mechanism.
Hypnotic suggestions combined with self-hypnosis can help to turn the patient away from addiction. Normal sexual behaviour can be restored.
- Biodun Ogunyemi.
Hypnotherapy for sex addiction focuses on both the addiction itself and any possible triggers. The hypnotherapist will typically ask you to think about any particular situations you believe to be a trigger for your addiction. For example, do you find yourself wanting to engage in sexual activity after an argument, or stressful experience? You may also be asked to recall moments where you crave sexual activity, and when you don’t.
You may also be asked to record your feelings during these times. Tracking your addiction and recording any behaviours, thoughts and how you feel before and after engaging in the activity can give the hypnotherapist an idea of your triggers, and how you can manage them.
What to expect from a hypnotherapy session
Hypnotherapy for addiction aims to access your unconscious and change the thought patterns and behaviours believed to be causing the problem. Hypnotherapy uses the power of suggestion to alter the way you think and react to certain situations.
Your hypnotherapy sessions will depend on you as an individual, as well as taking into consideration your triggers, your past experiences and your lifestyle. If your sex addiction is believed to be a result of past experience, for example, hypnosis can help you through the recovery journey. Supported by the hypnotherapist and tailored sessions, you'll learn how to overcome the trauma and out of the negative cycle.
The number of sessions you have is completely up to you, so speak to your hypnotherapist and discuss how many you think are suitable. If you come to the end of your booked sessions but you, or your hypnotherapist, believe you may benefit from extra sessions, this can be discussed. You may also be taught self-hypnosis techniques, which can help you cope with potential triggers long after your sessions have finished.
Worried about someone else?
Sex addiction doesn’t only affect the ‘addict’ but the people around them. If you’re worried about a loved one, or their addiction is beginning to affect your quality of life, as well as theirs, it’s important you talk to somebody. If you’re able to speak to them about how you feel, express your willingness to support them and be there to listen to them. If they’re not ready to talk, that’s OK too, just be there when they’re ready.
Consider talking to a counsellor or hypnotherapist for further support. They can provide you with information on how they can help you and your partner manage and overcome the addiction. It’s important you look after your own health and happiness, as well as someone else’s.