What is sexual addiction?
So rarely is sexual addiction discussed, that common knowledge of the subject extends little further than David Duchovny’s tabloid-selling confessions. The truth is that it’s not unlike alcoholism or drug abuse.
Lawson explains, "Sexual addiction is using what may be normal sexual behaviours to excess in order to medicate an uncomfortable emotional state."
There is no intimacy involved; addicts develop a dependency on orgasm-induced highs achieved through traditional types of stimulation, such as masturbation or intercourse. And the advent of the Internet has only made it easier for them to feed the addiction.
"In the old days, there would have to be a transaction. You would have to actually go to a store to buy porn, and that kept a lot of people from exploring their curiosities," Lawson says. Today, the unfettered access to pornographic images, videos and chat rooms comes at no cost and little effort.
But sex addiction doesn’t just appear out of nowhere, according to Lawson. For the majority of cases, there is a family history of addiction, or a pre-adolescent exposure to sexuality.
"It could be something as innocent as finding Dad's porn," Lawson says, "or as serious as sexual abuse."
Where daily relational sex with a partner is no need for concern, masturbating half a dozen times a day is cause for alarm. Here are four major signs that your sexual behaviour has slipped into a destructive pattern.
1. Unable to stop
Your sexual appetite has been out of control lately, and you've vowed to cut back, but you just can't seem to make it through the day without a release.
2. Secretive behaviour
You feel ashamed of your recent sex acts, so you have decided to keep them a secret from your partner. You have started to lie to cover up certain activities.
3. Tight on time
"Your behaviour and your urges begin to take up more of your day and your life," Lawson says. "Some people go into a sexual trance where they spend all their time thinking about when they'll get their next release, and everything else falls by the wayside."
Page 1 of 2--On page 2: The consequences of sex addiction and how to get help
Sex addicts build up a tolerance to a certain level of excitement and have to increase the risk level of their behaviour to achieve the same sense of satisfaction. This can include unprotected sex with strangers, which exposes them to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
The repercussions are also felt in your personal life. "Your partner finds out you're cheating on them to get your fix, your boss finds out you've been watching porn online at work ... things start catching up to you," Lawson says.
Cold turkey is the oft prescribed treatment for many addictions; alcoholics quit drinking and drug addicts get clean. Are recovering sex addicts therefore expected to give up sex for good, too? Not exactly, Lawson says.
"It's about eliminating unhealthy arousal," she explains. "Similar to an eating disorder, where the challenge is to develop a healthy relationship with food, sex addicts must develop a healthy relationship with sex."
In the early stages of recovery, an addict will abstain from sex until the mind has rested and a supportive recovery base has been built. Only then can he or she begin to have healthy sex with a primary partner again.
If you're concerned about your sexual behaviour, visit www.sexhelp.com and take the Sexual Addiction Screening Test for a preliminary assessment. Bellwood Health Centre also offers free in-person assessments and there are several nation-wide 12-step programs available to those struggling with their urges, including Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (www.localslaa.org).
"The problem is more common than people realize, it's just that up until now there's been so much shame surrounding these issues that people weren't open to talking about it," Lawson says. "But I think it's important for people to know that it’s more than possible to recover from it."
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