Drug, alcohol and gambling addiction are well known health problems and most of us have come to accept and even support people around us that may be struggling with these issues.
Most us are, however, not acquainted with addictions that are related to over-indulging in activities that are considered part of normal human function such as food and sex addiction.
We were taught that sex and intimacy is something that must always be under our control. Men and women who have problems related to lack of sexual control are labelled ‘immoral’ and no one really considers that, in some cases, there could be an underlying mental health problem.
What exactly is sex addiction?
Sex addiction is also known as ‘hypersexual disorder’. We all think of sex from time to time but a sex addict is obsessed with it. Their thoughts are constantly being invaded by sexual desires and the need to pursue them.
Often this constant mental and physical pursuit of sexual satisfaction interferes with the person’s social and even professional life.
Common features of sex addiction:
Sex addiction can be manifested in many ways. These include:
Multiple affairs and serial dating: Most sex addicts engage in multiple often meaningless affairs in pursuit of sexual satisfaction.
Lack of intimacy: Most sex addicts do not know how to achieve genuine intimacy and often have little attachment to their sexual partners.
Compulsive masturbation: Some addicts constantly masturbate – even leaving their work stations in the middle of the day to go to the bathroom to do so.
Anonymous sex -‘one night stands’: Most sex addicts will recall many a time when they have had sex with a stranger. Usually, this occurs on a regular basis as it satisfies the sexual urge without the need for forming an emotional bond/attachment with ones’ partner.
Prostitution: Sex addicts are sometimes willing to pay for their urges to be met. Conversely, there are some men/women who turn to prostitution to satisfy their sexual need (they don’t really need the money – they just want the thrill. Others find it arousing to be paid for sex).
Risky or unsafe sex: Most sex addicts engage in sexual activity without thinking about potential consequences. It is not unusual for them to repeatedly engage in unprotected sex.
Cybersex and pornography: The anonymity of online sex is appealing and often addictive. Sex addiction can be in the form of pornography addiction or even featuring in pornographic movies/websites.
Exhibitionism: This involves sexually exposing oneself to others (without their willing participation).
Voyeurism: This involves activities like watching or even filming unsuspecting people as they go to the toilet or use the bathroom or engage in sexual behaviour.
Visiting strip clubs and events focused on sex: Some people find their sexual release by constantly visiting strip clubs. The use of ‘sensual massage’ is a popular and legitimate outlet.
Sex addiction can destroy lives
For sex addicts, activities related to sex become the primary focus of their lives. They are unable to quit or control their behaviour, despite a variety of negative life consequences. The pursuit of sex becomes more important than family, career and even personal health and safety.
Most addicts go through different phases: Initially, they are in denial. They believe that they are still in control of their sexual behaviour. If people around them point out that their behaviour is not normal, they are often met with hostility and anger.
Once a person realises that their sexual behaviour is not normal and they cannot control it, they are often filled with feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, confusion and despair -especially after they act out on their sexual desires.
Relationship problems and breakups: Sexual addicts often get involved with people intimately even though they really don’t care for them. They are often emotionally detached and separate the sexual act from the person they are engaging in it with.
This makes it difficult for them to establish healthy relationships. Addiction such as constantly watching pornography can destroy relationships like marriages. If your spouse is addicted to porn, you may feel unwanted, unloved and humiliated.
Health problems: Apart from the mental and emotional burden sex addiction brings, it is also associated with increased risk of getting sexually transmitted infections.
Workplace and financial problems: Just like alcoholism, sex addiction can be all consuming. You find yourself spending more time pursuing your sexual desires as opposed to focusing on your job or looking for new financial ventures.
Legal problems: In Kenya, it is possible to get arrested for exhibitionism, voyeurism, prostitution and having sexual intercourse in public.
A high libido does not make you an addict
A strong libido does not make you a sex addict. Even a person with multiple sex partners is not necessarily a sex addict. Most people can set boundaries when it comes to their sex lives and will not allow it to jeopardise their career, relationships and health. A sex addict cannot.
Just like an alcoholic will stop everything to go get a drink, a sex addict will drop everything to pursue a sexual desire.
Sex addiction is not pleasurable
A common misconception is that sex addiction is pleasurable. It is not. Sex addiction is not driven by a desire for sexual enjoyment. Most sex addicts explain that the sexual act is often a ‘shallow’ experience that does not give them deep satisfaction. Most of the encounters are not memorable and they are constantly in search of the next one.
Sex addiction gets worse if it is not addressed
If sex addiction is not addressed, it becomes worse with time. You become so preoccupied with it, it becomes like a ritual.
Speak to a counsellor, spiritual leader or psychiatrist who is experienced with dealing with it.
Most of the treatment involves behaviour change but cases of depression and anxiety may need medication.