Compulsive sexual behavior is known as many different things – hypersexuality disorder, hypersexuality, or sexual addiction. When you call someone a sex addict, you are downplaying the severity of compulsive sexual behavior, and what it can actually mean to those who are affected by it. Compulsive sexual behavior is the excessive preoccupation with urges, behaviors that are hard to control, sexual fantasies, and other things to do with sex that may affect not only your mental health, but your physical health, job, relationships, and social skills.
Those who may have compulsive sexual behavior may find this behavior affecting them in so many common sexual experiences that most enjoy. This can be masturbation, pornography, paying others for sex, having multiple sexual partners, and even cybersex. Sometimes, the behaviors can become harmful or disruptive to not only you and your life, but others in your life. This is typically when it is classified as compulsive sexual behavior.
Regardless of what we refer to this behavior as, if left untreated, compulsive sexual behavior can not only damage your relationships, but it can also take a toll on your self-esteem and self-worth, your career, your mental health, and how other people feel about you. However, with early recognition, you can take advantage of treatments and professional help that will allow you to not only manage your compulsive sexual behavior, but also overcome it.
How can you identify compulsive sexual behavior?
There are many signs that indicate compulsive sexual behavior. Some of these include things such as:
- Experiencing chronic, recurring sexual fantasies or urges that are taking up time in your day, and feeling as if you do not have any control over your actions.
- Feeling extremely motivated and driven to perform or take part in certain sexual behaviors and activities, but feeling extreme guilt or remorse afterwards, even though you feel a release of stress and tension upon completion.
- Trying to manage or control your sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviors, but being unsuccessful.
- Utilizing these sexual urges to escape from feeling lonely, sad, depressed, anxious, or stressed.
- Engaging in these behaviors, even though you know they have serious consequences and repercussions. This could include the possibility of contracting or spreading an STI (sexually transmitted infection), the loss of a relationship, hardship or strained work relationships, financial struggles, and even potentially problems with the legal system.
- You may experience difficulty creating and maintaining a strong, healthy, stable relationship, due to your constant compulsions.
Consequences of compulsive sexual behavior vary, but can include things such as:
- Guilt or constant stress that develops or exacerbates other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
- Lying to your friends, family, and partners in relationships, or neglecting their needs.
- Not being able to focus on your job or work in general.
- Contracting an STI (sexually transmitted infection) and/or passing it along to someone else.
How do I know when to seek help?
You are the only one who can choose to seek help. However, if you feel like you’ve lost control over your sexual urges and tendencies, or that your behaviors are beginning to cause difficulties for you or people in your life, it’s probably time to seek help from a professional. Compulsive sexual behavior has a tendency to get worse over time when not worked on, so it’s imperative to reach out for help as soon as you recognize that you may be affected.
There are important questions to ask yourself when seeking help, such as:
- Am I able to manage my sexual impulses?
- Do I feel stressed or upset by my sexual behaviors?
- How is my sexual behavior negatively impacting my relationships, affecting my life, or having consequences that could result in arrest or jail time, or loss of job?
- Am I hiding my sexual behavior from my partners or people close to me because I feel ashamed of the choices I am making and actions I am taking?
It can be embarrassing and difficult to seek help for compulsive sexual behavior. Don’t feel alone, and remember that even though this is extremely personal, there are people out there who can and will help you.
Tips for seeking help effectively:
- Do not be embarrassed, upset, or ashamed in seeking help and treatment.
- You are not the only person struggling with compulsive sexual behavior. Mental healthcare workers are going to be discreet, and have training specifically to help you! Just be sure to seek out a therapist who specializes in this area of mental health.
- Remember that even though what you discuss with a doctor or mental healthcare professional is confidential, if you do speak about hurting yourself, hurting someone else, sexual abuse of a child or other person, and a few other things, they do have a duty to report what they hear.
When should I seek immediate help and treatment?
Immediate treatment may be needed if you feel like:
- Your uncontrolled sexual behavior will cause harm to yourself or another person.
- You are unable to control your impulses and believe that you may be out of control sexually. l
- You feel like you are suicidal. If you feel suicidal, it is important to immediately call 911, or a Suicide Hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (in the United States) at 1-800-273-8255.
What causes compulsive sexual behavior?
There are many different factors that may cause compulsive sexual behavior, such as:
- Having an imbalance of chemicals in your brain. These neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine help to keep your mood regulated. It’s thought that higher levels of these may create or worse compulsive sexual behavior.
- Brain pathway changes. It’s well known that addiction causes a change in your brain’s neural circuits, which includes the reinforcement centers in your brain. Like many addictions, it takes more and more intense content and stimulation to relieve the feelings and urges.
- Brain conditions or conditions that affect your brain like dementia and epilepsy.
What puts me more at risk?
While compulsive sexual behavior can affect and occur in any gender, sexual orientation, or sex, it is thought to be more common in men. There are a number of varying factors that could cause an increased risk of compulsive sexual behavior, including:
- How easy it is for you to access sexual content. With social media, the internet, free porn, and intense sexual images in movies, the easier the access, the more you may seek it.
- Feeling like you need to be secretive. The need for secrecy and hiding of compulsive sexual behaviors and activities seems to create deterioration and enables these symptoms to worsen over time.
You may not be able to prevent compulsive sexual behavior, but you can absolutely seek early treatment and help to keep it from worsening over time. Remember, there is no shame in asking for help.