What is Sex Addiction and How Does it Affect Relationships?

What is Sex Addiction?
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We’ve all heard that relationships have their ups and downs. When the relationship is “up,” we enjoy our partner and our outlook on the relationship is positive. When it’s “down,” we sometimes question if the relationship will ever get better or if we’ve even chosen a partner who doesn’t seem to fit us.

Yet, what if there is something else happening in the relationship that appears bigger than the two of you? What if you or your partner is preoccupied by a behavior and this behavior becomes the priority? In other words, what if you or your partner is experiencing an addiction and that addiction is a sex addiction?

What is Sex Addiction?

As defined by the American Psychological Association, sex addiction is an addiction that the person cannot seem to control despite harmful consequences to oneself or others and despite trying to stop. To give this type of addiction perspective it is often likened to drug addiction. In movies, characters will casually call someone a “sex addict” if that person likes having sex, but there is nothing casual about sex addiction. It is a real behavioral (as opposed to drug) addiction with real consequences.

What are Some of the Features of Sex Addiction?

People who have a sex addiction will have a preoccupation with sex. This can manifest in many ways. Some will be addicted to spending time on adult site, while others will fantasize about sex. Some people will engage in repeated risky behavior by having sex with people they don’t know. These behaviors can be referred to as hypersexuality.

Other behaviors classified as paraphilia involve using inanimate objects as a precursor to arousal. For example, a male might wear high heel shoes to become aroused or a person might engage in bodily harm (ex. cutting or hitting) to become aroused. In some cases, sexual assault can even be considered paraphilia disorder if the person can only become aroused by sexually assaulting others.

Often, people feel guilty after engaging in these behaviors and want to stop.

How Does Sex Addiction Affect a Relationship?

Just like with any addiction, sex addiction can have severe consequences in a relationship. Ideally, one partner making the other partner a priority and vice versa is a healthy sign of a strong relationship. However, when one has an addiction, the addiction becomes the priority. 

With regard to sex addiction in particular, the person with this addiction might spend time involved in other activities that satiate their addiction, leaving little or no romantic or sexual feelings toward their partner. They could, as stated earlier, engage in risky behavior that could also put their partner at risk, such as STDs and HIV. Money is a concern, too. Paying for sex workers, missing work, or anything else required to meet the demands of their sex addiction is putting the financial health of both parties in jeopardy.

When one has an addiction, that addiction gets that person’s attention. The other partner is left with their wants and needs unmet. To the other person, it’s as though their partner is in love with this “thing” that has taken them over and by extension, the relationship.

Is There Help for Someone Who has a Sex Addiction?

Yes, there is help for someone who has a sex addiction. The first step, though, is for the person to acknowledge that they have this addiction. Secondly, to acknowledge that they cannot stop on their own. Just like with other addictions, enlisting the support of trusted friends and family and seeking professional help can go a long way in managing their sex addiction.

Unlike other addictions, sex addiction can be unique, which is why it’s important when seeking help to specifically find someone who is trained and experienced with this type of addiction. A therapist can use cognitive behavioral therapy to address thoughts that lead to behaviors and impulses. There are some 12-step programs specifically designed for those with sex addiction, and there are also inpatient treatments centers for sex addiction.

Having a sex addiction or being in a relationship with someone who does is taxing on all parties, resulting in an unhealthy relationship. There is no cure for sex addiction, but there are steps to take to manage it. With help and an ongoing commitment to each other, both parties can begin to heal and improve their relationship.

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