INFORMATION DEVELOPMENT AND CONSEQUENCES OF SEXUAL ADDICTION
SEXUAL ADDICTION CLASSIFICATION
In 2019 the World Health Organisation has included Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder (CSBD) as a subset of Impulse Control Disorder in the new International Classification of Diseases (ICD), Volume 11.
Compulsive Sexual Behaviour Disorder is also called Sex Addiction, Sexual Addiction or Hyper-sexuality and refers to obsessive, compulsive and excessive sexual thoughts, fantasies, urges and behaviours that cannot be controlled and taking over other essential aspects of a person’s life, causing distress and harm to wellbeing, relationships, families, finances, and careers.
WHO CAN BE AFFECTED BY SEXUAL ADDICTION
Sexual addiction can affect people at adolescent or adult age indiscriminately of their gender, sexual orientation, culture, social status, education, or wealth.
SEX ADDICTION AND MENTAL HEALTH
In some cases, hyperactive sexual behaviour may be linked to Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, BPD, OCD, ASD, Epilepsy, or other brain disorders.
In rare cases, hyperactive sexual behaviour may be linked to brain tumour.
In such cases, ASAA will refer to a medical/mental health professional for diagnosis, and encourage a dual (medical/counselling) treatment approach.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SEX ADDICTION INCLUDE
- Impaired impulse control
- Obsessional single focus on sex/pornography/masturbation
- Escalations of sexually motivated fantasies, desires and behaviours
- Uncontrollable sexual urges/cravings or moods
- Sexual rage disorder (SRD) when sex/pornography/masturbation is not available
- Inability to control, postpone, limit, or give up compulsive sexual behaviour despite severe negative consequences
- Self justification or entitlement
- Poor attitude to sexual consent
- Failure to prioritising one’s own sexual health needs, or a partner’s sexual health and safety
- Difficulty with meeting daily life demands, including self care, study, or workplace performance
- Poor sleep, broken sleep, insomnia
- Depression, anxiety, panic attacks
- Social isolation
- In rare cases, untreated sexual addiction may lead to suicide
SEXUAL ADDICTION AND THE BRAIN
Sex addicts depend on using sex as a coping mechanism. Acting out sex and pornography significantly increases neurotransmitter activity, namely dopamine (feeling motivated), endorphins (promoting a state of feeling great, elated, mildly euphoric), oxytocin (promotes feelings of love, cosiness, bond), adrenaline (promotes up-surges of alertness, ‘aliveness’, anxiety, pleasure enhancing), and serotonin (promotes feelings of being emotionally calm/stable).
Early research by American Psychiatrist Dr Martin Paul Kafka suggests that not only sex addiction exists, but also talks about obsessional sexual fantasy and sexual enactments as a way of self-soothing emotional discomfort brought on by life-stressors, including unresolved early-life trauma and/or the dysphoria associated with anxiety and depression.
Kafka 2010, Reid et al 2011, Bothe et al 2018.
Hyper sexual disorder, or sex addiction can be associated with vulnerability to dysphoric affects such as unease or dissatisfaction with life and acting out sex as a response to soothe dysphoric affects.
Sex addicts are typically not aware of how their underlying traumas or dysphoria impact on their moods and behaviour. They describe their mood states rather as ‘feeling scrambled’ or ‘frustrated’, ‘irritated’, ’empty’, ‘blurred’, ‘brain fogged’ or ‘being in a ‘bubble’, being angry or confused.
Sex addicts in withdrawal commonly suffer a lack of motivation, most likely due to low dopamine levels in their limbic brain circuitries.
Sex addicts self-report
- They can’t get ‘switched on
- Feeling ‘crippled’ with boredom, or being overwhelmed
- Needing sex/pornography/masturbation fixes
- Having low self esteem
- Feeling fear of exposure
- Feeling fear of rejection
- Feeling fear of failure
- Feeling helpless
- Feeling numb
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling depressed
- Feeling ‘some sort of an outcast’
- Foul moods or rage if sex/porn is not attainable
- Suicidal thoughts
PHYSICAL WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS
When not acting out sex, addicts may experience physical withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision, feeling bloated or tired, muscle pain, and a general sense of malaise.
SHORT LIVED HIGHS
Sexual addicts self-report an almost immediate sense of improved wellbeing after acting out sex followed by withdrawal, mood swings and more cravings. A sex addict’s ‘remedy’ is to act out more sex and thus repeating the cycle of sexual addiction.
HOW COMMON IS SEX ADDICTION
Conservative research figures estimate about 6-8% of adult men, and 2–3% of adult women being affected by sexual addiction.
Sex addiction may affect over three million people in Australia, and an estimated thirty million people in the USA.
*Numbers may be on the rise due to increasing online sexual and pornographic activity.
POSSIBLE CAUSES RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF SEXUAL ADDICTION
Brain based research focuses on the neurobiology of addiction and suggests that addiction is influenced by two predominant factors
- Biological – involving a number of genes, hormones, and neurotransmitters
- Environmental – involving developmental and external stimuli
- Deprived childhood development
- Early childhood sexualisation
- Exposure to pornography in childhood
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Neglect abuse
- Parental rejection
- Dysfunctional family of origin
- Love deprivation
- Adult trauma
- Opportunity and access to sexual environments
EARLY LIFE CONTRIBUTORS
Addiction can be understood as a substitute for affect and emotion regulation. Emotional dysregulation may begin in early childhood with insecure child-parent love attachment bonds. An infant’s survival and sound development depends on secure love and safe attachment to their parents or primary carers. Absence or disruption of secure love and nurture may be substituted with other ‘feel good’ survival mechanisms in later life.
THE DEVELOPING BRAIN AND SEX ADDICTION
Brain development in humans is said to reach full maturity around the age of 25 years. (Research Prof Jay Giedd, National Institute Of Mental Health NIMH, USA).
It is quite easy to understand that the immature brain of a child is unable to process adult sexual concepts without negative consequences to their development.
The mature executive function centre of the brain, (frontal lobes), ‘puts brakes’ on impulses, ‘estimates situations’ and ‘assesses rational responses’ to stimuli.
These systems are immature in childhood.
CONSEQUENCES OF CHILDHOOD SEXUALISATION AND ABUSE
Children, who are exposed to abuse including pornography or other forms of adult sexuality, are unable to ‘size up’ such situations correctly and therefore cannot assess a rational emotional response.
As a result, children are vulnerable to suffer damaging consequences in their psychological, social and sexual development.
Common manifestations in adulthood include;
- A lack of impulse control
- Expressions of inadequate sexual or social behaviours
- Lack of empathy
- Low self esteem
- Difficulty trusting others
- Over-or-under attachment
- Inability/avoidance of intimate relationships
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