DEFINITION CHARACTERISTICS DEVELOPMENT AND CONSEQUENCES OF SEXUAL ADDICTION
WHO CAN BE AFFECTED BY SEXUAL ADDICTION
Sexual Addiction, or Hypersexual Disorder, is a condition of dysregulation or ‘faulty wiring’ in the mesolimbic brain circuitries associated with motivation and reward, including pleasure.
Sexual addiction can affect men and women of any orientation, culture, socioeconomic background, and education.
SEX ADDICTION CAN BE SUCCESSFULLY TREATED
Help is on hand. The cycle of sexual addiction can be successfully stopped if treatment from a professional sex addiction specialist and sex therapist is sought.
SEX ADDICTION AND MENTAL HEALTH
In some cases, hypersexual behaviour may be linked to depression or bipolar mood disorder.
In extremely rare cases, sexual hyperactive behaviour may be linked to certain brain tumors.
In such cases, ASAA will refer to a medical professional.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SEX ADDICTION AND SIDE EFFECTS
- Impaired impulse control.
- Obsessional single focus on sex.
- Spending inordinate amounts of time on sex/pornography.
- Escalations of sexually motivated fantasies and desires.
- Intense or uncontrollable sexual arousals and urges.
- Compulsive masturbation.
- Severe sexual cravings.
- Mood swings.
- Sexual rage disorder (SRD) when sex/pornography is not available.
- Inability to limit, or to give up, sexual compulsive behaviour despite sincere attempts to stopping oneself.
- Maladaptive responses to making sound lifestyle decisions, including failure to prioritising safer sex practice, sexual health, relationship, family, workplace, financial safety.
- Difficulty negotiating sexual consent.
- Progressive intimacy erosion.
- Impaired relationships.
- Distorted thinking style, ‘all or nothing’ thinking.
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CONSEQUENCES OF UNTREATED SEXUAL ADDICTION
Consequences of untreated sexual addiction may include threats to
- Sexual and mental health and safety.
- Sexual function.
- Relationship harmony.
- Family function.
- Financial and workplace productivity.
- Stagnation in personal or vocational development.
- In severe cases, untreated sexual addiction may lead to legal prosecution.
- In rare cases, 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 ON SEXUAL ADDICTION
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 unresloved early-life trauma and/or the dysphoria associated with anxiety and depression.
VULNERABILITY TO DYSPHORIA – SEX ADDICTION
Hypersexual 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.
UNAWARE MOOD STATES – SEX ADDICTION
Sex addicts are typically not aware of how their underlying traumata and dysphoria impacts on their moods, and subsequently on their sexual behaviour. They describe their mood states rather as ‘feeling scrambled’ or ‘frustrated’ or ‘irritated’ or ’empty’ or ‘blur’ or ‘fogg’ or ‘being in a ‘bubble’, angry, confused.
LACK OF MOTIVATION AND BOREDOM – SEX ADDICTION
Addicts commonly suffer from a lack of motivation due to low dopamine levels in the mesolimbic brain circuitries.
Sex Addicts report
- They can’t be ‘switched on’,
- Feeling riddled with crippling boredom, or being overwhelmed.
- Can’t get started – procrastination.
- Low self esteem.
- Not being good enough.
- Fear of rejection.
- Fear of failure.
- Helplessness and hopelessness.
- Only way out is sex.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Being ‘some sort of an outcast’.
- Foul moods.
- Anger at self, ‘the world’, and blaming others.
- Rage if sex is not attainable.
PHYSICAL WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS – SEX ADDICTION
When not acting out sex, addicts may experience physical withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision, feeling bloated, tiredness, muscle pains, and a general sense of malaise.
SHORT LIVED HIGHS – SEX ADDICTION
Sexual addicts self-report an almost immediate sense of improved physical and emotional wellness when acting out sex. However, sex induced brain highs are short lived and soon followed by low states and mood swings, dissatisfaction, and more cravings. The untreated addict’s remedy is to act out more sex.
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 activities.
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 external impact and 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
SEX ADDICTS STRUGGLE WITH FINDING MEANING AND MOTIVATION
- Addicts struggle significantly with finding meaning, motivation, turn-ons, and emotional balance.
- Predisposed persons are at a greater risk to addict when exposed to an environment that mimics compensation and can make them feel better.
- E.g. sex, pornography, gambling, eating, sugar, drugs, smoking, alcohol, over-generosity, spending.
- A myriad of diverse adrenaline enhancing activities, such as risky finances, risky sports, flamboyancy, crime.
CONTRIBUTORS TO SEX ADDICTION DEVELOPMENT
Addiction can be understood as a substitute for affect and emotion regulation. Emotional dysregulation may begin in early childhood with a development of insecure child-parent 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 part of the brain, the frontal lobes, ‘puts brakes’ on impulses, ‘estimates situations’, and ‘assesses a rational response’ to emotional stimuli.
These systems are immature in childhood.
CONSEQUENCES OF CHILDHOOD SEXUALISATION AND ABUSE
Children, who are exposed to pornography or other forms of adult sexuality are unable to ‘size up’ the situation correctly, and therefore cannot assess a rational emotional response.
As a result, children are vulnerable to suffer damaging consequences to their emotional, psychological, and social development.
Common manifestations in adulthood are evidenced in
- 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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