We all know how an alcohol or a drug addiction can wreak havoc on a person’s relationships. But there is another kind of addiction that’s still talked about in hushed tones – it’s called sex addiction. Experts say that sex addiction cases are rising in India, but there’s hardly any study that throws up substantive statistics. If any of the partners in a relationship is diagnosed with sex addiction, it can put considerable strain on their love life.
So, how do you define compulsive sexual behaviour, commonly known as sex addiction? Experts say that it is by and large a pathological condition, triggered by a chemical imbalance in the brain. And it can afflict people from all walks of life and all strata of society. Broadly speaking, sex addiction doesn’t mean that one just has a high sex drive or that one is hooked on fetishes. It is of course more complicated than that. A person becomes a sex addict when his or her sexual behaviour becomes unmanageable. In fact, the person suffers from an unquenchable urge to pursue sexual activities, at any cost. This is a condition that is not deliberate, but goes out of control, necessitating immediate intervention. There can be insatiable cravings.
Experts say that an addict can also use sex to escape difficult situations in life. They can actually feel that sex can be a panacea for everything going awry in life.
Causes of sex addiction
The causes are complex and, experts say, still poorly understood. The roots of this kind of addiction can be traced back to one’s childhood as well. Research shows that trauma, abuse and depression can play a vital part in causing sex addiction later in life. An American study says that almost 80 per cent of people with sex addiction could have suffered emotional setbacks (for instance, a child witnessing domestic violence in his home) or sexual abuse during their childhood.
What research says
A seminal study on sexual addiction was done by researcher Patrick Carnes in the 90s. It involved around 1,000 participants with sex addiction issues. Carnes’ study showed that 97 per cent of respondents suffered falling self-esteem levels because of their compulsive sexual behaviour. Concomitant emotions included loneliness, isolation, despair, shame, dejection and a debilitating emotional disequilibrium.
Another study done in the UK showed that people with sexual addiction showed brain activities that looked similar to those of people suffering from drug addictions. So the corollary is that one cannot deny there’s a biological component to hypersexuality or sex addiction.
Sex addiction & Celebs
Sex addiction of these international celebs and their consequent enrolment in rehab programmes grabbed media headlines:
A few years ago, it was widely reported in the media that Academy Award-winning Hollywood star Michael Douglas had admitted to a sex addiction problem. It was also said that he was treated for it in the 90s. But he dismissed these as rumours during media interviews later.
A few years ago, the celebrated British actor and radio and TV host came up with a shockingly frank autobiography, where he talked about a sexual addiction that threatened to affect his life and career profoundly. He even revealed that he checked into a rehab to treat this addiction.
The Tiger Woods addiction problem shocked his fans around the world. The ace golfer checking into an unspecified rehabilitation centre for treatment grabbed headlines. Apparently, his ex-wife gave him an ultimatum – check into a rehab programme or be ready for bidding adieu to his family.
The star of Californication and The X-Files is among a handful of celebs who revealed to the world that he suffered from sex addiction. Media reported that he entered a rehabilitation centre for sex disorder about a decade ago.
Signs your partner’s addicted to sex
Please remember that having a high sex drive or fetishes or getting hooked to cybersex and internet doesn’t make one an inveterate sex addict automatically. You need to look for other expert-backed symptoms and take several factors into consideration. Often sex addicts live in denial. Here are some signs you should watch out for:
Has your partner become very secretive these days? Do you feel he’s reluctant to give you details about any of his current activities? In fact, you get a feeling that he’s always trying to hide some things from you. If he’s on the phone, he moves as far away from as possible so that you are completely out of earshot. If he cancels appointments or date nights, he is loath to give you any explanation. Unless he is bound by confidentiality, thanks to a job that demands utmost secrecy, there’s obviously something amiss in his behaviour. But this secrecy can be triggered by other factors as well – so don’t jump to conclusions yet, till you check for other symptoms.
Always thinking of sex
Is sex the only thing on his mind? Do you find him thinking of sex to the point of exclusion from everything else in life? Does he always seem distracted and unfocused. It’s a veritable sign of addiction.
What’s he looking at?
Do you often find him looking at sexually arousing photos or articles online? Or staring at sexually explicit content in magazines? Is he always logging on to sex sites? What you need to check is whether he’s viewing these materials compulsively or not. Does he seem so engrossed in these that it’s becoming uncomfortable to you and others around him? In other words, his habit of gazing at pornographic content doesn’t appear normal to you in any way.
Addicted to porn?
Watching pornography is no longer considered a guilty secret. Gone are the days when one would hide pornographic material under the bed or in some hidden closet. Thanks to our greatly enhanced access to technology, smartphones in particular, consuming porn is no more a big deal. Experts say that in a relationship, watching porn together can be fun and can spice up things between you and your partner. But if your partner becomes so busy watching porn that he has no wish to be intimate with you anymore, beware of an addiction problem. Experts say addiction to pornography is a type of sex addiction.
Having sexual fantasies isn’t odd. In fact, couples should be frank about each other’s sexual fantasies. But if your partner is a sex addict, he might appear lost in his own world of unbridled fantasies. And he seems to be willing to pursue them at all costs – this obsessive behaviour seems more out of line than a simple fetish. If this makes you feel uncomfortable and concerned, you may have an addiction problem at hand.
Does he indulge in this without paying slightest heed to his surroundings? For instance, he may choose inappropriate areas such as his workplace. Look for such tendencies.
Unending sexual pursuits
Have his affairs outside the relationship been a problem area? In the past, has he frequently engaged in a series of affairs or indulged in various kinds of sexual pursuits? Does it continue unabated?
Irritability and depression
Does he appear more irritable than usual these days? Does he look depressed too? Does he complain about feeling hollow or dejected after lovemaking? Beware, sex addiction can be one of the reasons for such negative feelings.
Booked for offences?
It may not be a huge crime, but has he ever been censured or even booked for such improper behaviour as voyeurism or exhibitionism? Have you received complaints from others about unacceptable behaviour on his part? In fact, is his sexual behaviour in public becoming almost unmanageable? If yes, it can be a fallout of his addiction and you need to deal with the issue on a war footing. Needless to say, this addiction can lead to offences.
Disconnect in personal relationships
A sex addict will increasingly drift away from personal and social commitments and responsibilities. You could feel a detachment or an emotional disconnect on his part.Disregard for family responsibilities can also become very apparent. Again, don’t jump to conclusions without checking with a sex therapist or a counsellor.
Shame and self-loathing
Experts say that feelings of shame and self-loathing can be very strong in sex addicts. He might talk about feeling ashamed about his obsession with his sexual activities, yet he pleads helplessness.
Impacting your well-being
Sex addiction can have devastating effects on a relationship. If one of the partners is an addict, the other half can also go through a whole lot of emotional turmoil. Despite the bitterness and pain, you need to understand that sex addiction is a pathological condition and you need to see the problem from that vantage point only. Here’s what you can be feeling when your partner has been proved to be a sex addict and how you can deal with your emotional distress:
It’s quite normal to feel betrayed if you find your partner indulging in various kinds of sexual pursuits because he’s addicted to sex. You have every reason to feel betrayed. But you need to tell yourself that your partner has cheated on you because of a condition he cannot control. Talk to your friends, family members and counsellors if you find that the feeling of betrayal is becoming too overwhelming for you.
You are bound to feel angry. You might start despising your partner and the very sight of him can be repulsive to you. Again, you need to control your angry outbursts and look at the issue from an addiction perspective. Maybe some distance from your partner for a few days can help you see things more clearly. So take time to heal internally. You can seek professional help as well to check anger.
There’s a strong possibility that you may not be able to trust your partner ever again. You might find yourself recoiling from him. And these trust issues can linger even after your partner recovers from addiction. You need to prepare yourself to face these trust issues and work your way around these, if you really wish to keep your relationship alive.
Apart from the emotional distress that can result from your partner’s addiction to sex, there’s the risk of diseases as well. His unchecked sexual activities can put you in danger – you can possibly contract a plethora of sexually transmitted diseases. So watch out.
This can be an inevitable outcome if one of the partners is a sex addict and no effort has been made to check the problem.
Sex addiction remedies
Here’s a basic step by step guide to helping your partner overcome sex addiction:
Identify the problem first
First things first. You have to be absolutely sure that your partner is indeed afflicted with sex addiction. Check all the symptoms, but as we have pointed out above, don’t confuse sex addiction with other kinds of pathological conditions. For instance, feeling dejected or isolated can be also because your partner is going through some stressful period or because of some other psychological problems. Be 100 per cent sure that sex addiction is what you are up against.
Talk to him
He may be living in denial. But you must broach the topic gently. And make him aware of the symptoms. Do have a heart to heart chat. It will be very difficult for him to accept the condition, so you need to exercise patience and help him realise why he needs to opt for a de-addiction programme.
Seek professional help
Talk to sex therapists and de-addiction counsellors. Let them diagnose, follow their prescriptions and proscriptions. There are rehab programmes too available in the country. If experts say that your partner is in need of a rehab programme, don’t hesitate to enroll him in it.
You need a loving support structure to deal with the problem. So enlist the help of your near and dear ones. Take them into confidence. Involve his friends and relatives too. Together, give your partner all the emotional support he would be needing at this moment.
You may also need to deal with negative comments regarding your partner’s addiction from some people. You shouldn’t get bogged down by these. Learn to ignore and focus on your partner’s well-being instead.