Sexually Compulsive Behavior, clinically referred to as Sexual Addiction, is a multi-faceted problem with roots sourced deep in the spiritual, emotional, cognitive, relational and physical functioning of an individual. All of these areas must be fully assessed and treated in order for the individual to begin their recovery journey. Sex addiction is present when sex becomes the core principle around which life is organized. We would like to suggest that sex addiction is not about sex, but rather, an attempt to meet intimacy and emotional needs in inappropriate ways. Sex Addiction might be more accurately thought of as an intimacy disorder.
Scope of Impact
Current estimates show 6 to 10% of the population struggle with some form of sexually compulsive behavior. Once thought to be only a male problem, it is now estimated that up to half of those are women. Lesser known is the number of adolescents who, due to ease and accessibility to hard-core Internet pornography, are sexually addicted before finishing their teen years. Children are extremely vulnerable to developing faulty ideas of healthy sexuality as a result of being exposed to sexually explicit material at earlier and earlier ages. When one family member is sexually acting out, particularly an adult, the entire family must be assessed for co-addiction symptoms.
Sexually compulsive behavior is made up of a constellation of symptoms, not one specific symptom. Some symptoms can be clearly seen, while others may go undetected. Accurately diagnosing this problem is difficult…and imperative. Although some differences in symptoms exist, generally men and women manifest the same behaviors and warning signs. For a more comprehensive list of symptoms, scroll down to the bottom of the page.
General observable symptoms for both men and women are:
- Preoccupation with sexual behavior
- Escalating patterns of sexual activity
- Acting distant or withdrawn
- Depression and mood swings
- Abuse of self and others
- Resistance to supervision or criticism
- Use of sexual humor
- Inappropriate sexual behavior or overt sexual advances
- Occupational, social, family and legal difficulties
- Intuitive and direct evidence
Symptoms generally seen in Men
- Fantasy (living in your head)
- Viewing pornography (magazines/internet)
- Phone sex
- Compulsive masturbation
- Serial relationships/Affairs in marriage
- Visiting prostitutes/massage parlor
- Risk taking behaviors
Symptoms generally seen in Women
- Romance/Fantasy/Relationship Addict
- Exhibitionism (provocative dress)
- Serial Relationships
- Partner with another sex addict
- Sexual Anorexia
- Image management (over attention to makeup/body shape/attire/outward appearance)
Diagnosing sexually compulsive behavior is challenging. Individuals struggling with out of control sexual behaviors should seek out clinicians with specialized training, or at least addictions training, for assessment. Confrontation by a spouse, dismissal from a job or financial crisis are primary reasons an individual seeks professional help. However, sexual addiction can destroy an individual or family without ever reaching this level or even being detected by those closest to them.
Because sexually compulsive behavior is a multi-faceted issue, treatment must also be multi-faceted. Individual counseling, group therapy and support groups when combined provide the best hope of recovery. Treatment must address all five areas of functioning (physical, relational, cognitive, spiritual and emotional). Simply stopping the acting out behavior is not treating the problem. Treating only one area of functioning is also not thoroughly treating the problem. Sexual addiction will not go away by itself.
The Christian Counseling Center of First Presbyterian Church provides individual counseling and separate therapy groups for men and women seeking recovery from sexually compulsive behavior. A trauma treatment model, developed and used by Bethesda Workshops, a nationally recognized Christian sexual addiction treatment program located in Nashville, TN, provides the clinical foundation for the therapy groups. Clinicians facilitating groups have received training in the diagnosis and treatment of sexually compulsive behavior using this model. Christian principles, as well as 12-step recovery material, are integrated into the treatment approach. In an atmosphere of grace, individuals learn about the roots of their acting out behavior, the addiction cycle and its impact on all areas of functioning, tools of recovery, healthy relating, relapse prevention and sobriety maintenance. Group work includes teaching, group discussion/sharing and some experiential work. Individual counseling, in tandem with group therapy, is available and highly encouraged.
www.sa.org (Sexaholics Anonymous/12 step support group for those desiring recovery from sexually compulsive behavior)
www.slaafws.org (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous/12 step support group for those desiring recovery from an addictive compulsion to engage in or avoid sex, love, or emotional attachment).
www.saa-recovery.org (Sex Addicts Anonymous/12 step support group for those desiring recovery from sexually compulsive behaviors)
www.christiansexaddiction.org (Christian Leaders Attaining Sexual Purity/12 step support group that abides by the 12 steps of Sexaholics Anonymous, but is a distinctly Christian group for those in the mental health field, ministry or public office; located in Columbia, SC).
For additional information please call 803-779-1995