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- Sexual addiction facts
- What is sexual addiction, and what are the types of sexual addiction?
- What are causes and risk factors for sexual addiction?
- What are sexual addiction symptoms and signs?
- How is sexual addiction diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for sexual addiction?
- What is the prognosis of sexual addiction?
- Can sexual addiction be prevented?
- What are complications of sexual addiction?
- Are support groups available for sex addicts?
- What research is being done on sexual addiction?
Sexual addiction facts
- Sexual addiction is a condition that involves the sufferer becoming excessively preoccupied with thoughts or behaviors that give a desired sexual effect.
- More than 30 million people are thought to suffer from a sexual addiction in the United States alone.
- Paraphilias are disorders that involve the sufferer becoming sexually aroused by objects or actions that are considered less conventional and/or less easily accessible to the sex addict.
- Sexual addictions may be either paraphilic or nonparaphilic. Nonparaphilic addictions are classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as sexual disorder, not otherwise specified.
- No one factor is thought to cause sexual addiction, but there are thought to be biological, psychological, and social factors that contribute to the development of these disorders.
- Sex addicts have been described as suffering from a negative pattern of sexual behavior that leads to significant problems or distress.
- As is true with virtually any other mental-health diagnosis, there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has a sexual addiction. Therefore, health-care practitioners diagnose these disorders by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental-health information to distinguish sexual addiction from medical and other mental-health disorders.
- Many people with a sexual addiction benefit from the support and structure of recovery groups or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). When sexual compulsions become severe, the sufferer may require inpatient treatment or participation in an intensive outpatient treatment program.
- Seroetoninergic (SSRI) antidepressants, antiseizure medications, naltrexone, and medications that decrease male hormones have been found to decrease the compulsive urges and/or impulses associated with sexual addictions for some sufferers.
- The prognosis of sexual addictions depends on a number of factors.
- Prevention of sexual addiction may involve interventions that enhance self-esteem and self-image, addressing emotional problems, educating children about the dangers of excessive internet use, monitoring and limiting computer use, and screening out pornographic sites.
- Sex addiction is associated with a number of potential medical, occupational, legal, social, and emotional complications.
- Research on sexual addiction includes exploring potential risk factors and developing accurate screening and assessment tools for these disorders.
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What is sexual addiction, and what are the types of sexual addiction?
As with other dependencies, sexual addiction is a condition that involves the sufferer becoming excessively preoccupied with thoughts or behaviors that give a desired effect. It involves spending an exorbitant amount of time thinking about and/or engaging in sexually addictive behaviors. Examples of sexual addictions may involve easily accessible or less accessible (paraphilic) behaviors. Examples of more easily accessible addictive acts may include having one-night stands or multiple affairs, contacts with prostitutes, viewing pornographic pictures or videos, or excessive masturbation. The sufferer may engage in behaviors like frequenting chat rooms, engaging in personal ads, or making obscene phone calls.
Statistics show that a small percentage of college-aged people suffer from a sex addiction at any one time. In the general adult population, about 12 million people are thought to have a sex addiction.
Paraphilias are disorders that involve the sufferer becoming sexually aroused by objects or actions that are considered less conventional or less easily accessible to the addict. Examples of paraphilias include fetishism (arousal by objects or specific body parts), voyeurism (arousal by watching sexual behaviors), exhibitionism (arousal by having others view his or her sexual behaviors) and pedophilia (arousal by sexual contact with children). When paraphilias include the sufferer having obsessions about the object of their desire, they may be considered sexually addicted. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) only refers to nonparaphilic sexual addictions in the category of sexual disorder, not otherwise specified.
Sexually addictive behaviors have been described in modern times for more than a hundred years. During the 19th century, people were described as frenetic masturbators and as having nymphomania, compulsive sexuality, and sexual intoxication. Although nonparaphilic sexual addictions are not yet formally included in the DSM, it was described in 1978 as addictive sexuality.
What are causes and risk factors for sexual addiction?
No one factor is thought to cause sexual addiction, but there are thought to be biological, psychological, and social factors that contribute to the development of these disorders. For example, the intoxication associated with sexual addiction is thought to be the result of changes in certain areas and chemicals in the brain that are elicited by the compulsion. Research differs somewhat in terms of gender-based patterns of sexual addiction. For example, some studies describe males who are introverted and highly educated as more inclined to develop an Internet addiction, including sexual Internet addiction. Other studies indicate that middle-aged women using home computers were more at risk for Internet sexual addiction.
Psychological risk factors for sexual addiction are thought to include depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. The presence of a learning disability increases the risk of developing a sex addiction as well. As people with a history of suffering from any addiction are at risk for developing another addiction, being dependent on something else makes it more likely for sexual addiction to occur.
Sufferers of these disorders tend to be socially isolated and have personality traits like insecurity, impulsivity, compulsive behaviors, trouble with relationship stability and intimacy, low ability to tolerate frustration, and a tendency to have trouble coping with emotions. People who are sexually abused are at somewhat higher risk of developing a sexual addiction.
What are sexual addiction symptoms and signs?
While the DSM has yet to describe specific diagnostic criteria for nonparaphilic sex addictions, some researchers have suggested symptoms and signs that are similar to other addictions for both paraphilic and nonparaphilic sex addictions. Specifically, sex addicts have been described as suffering from a negative pattern of sexual behavior that leads to significant problems or distress that may include the following:
- A need for more amount or intensity of behavior to achieve the desired effect (tolerance)
- Physical or psychological feelings of withdrawal when unable to engage in the addictive behavior
- The person making plans for, engaging in, or recovering from the behavior more or longer than planned
- Desire or unsuccessful attempts to decrease or stop the behavior
- Neglecting important social, work, or school activities because of the behavior
- Continuing the behavior despite suffering physical or psychological problems because of or worsened by the sexual behavior.
How is sexual addiction diagnosed?
As is true with virtually any mental-health diagnosis, there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has a sexual addiction. Therefore, health-care practitioners diagnose these disorders by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental-health information. The psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, or certified counselor will also either perform a physical examination or request that the individual's primary-care doctor perform one. The medical examination will usually include lab tests to evaluate the person's general health and to explore whether or not the individual has a medical condition that might have mental-health symptoms.
In asking questions about mental-health symptoms, mental-health professionals are often exploring if the individual suffers from sexual obsession or compulsions but also depression or manic symptoms, anxiety, substance abuse, hallucinations or delusions, as well as some personality and behavioral disorders that may have excessive sexual behavior as part of the associated symptoms. Practitioners may provide the people they evaluate with a quiz or self-test as a screening tool for sexual addiction. Since some of the symptoms of sex addiction can also occur in other mental illnesses, the mental-health screening is to determine if the individual suffers from an anxiety disorder like panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or the cyclical mood swings of bipolar disorder. The examiner also explores whether the person with a sex addiction suffers from other mental illnesses like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and other psychotic disorders or a substance abuse, personality, or behavior disorder like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Any disorder that is associated with hypersexual behavior, like some developmental disorders, borderline personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or multiple personality disorder (MPD), may be particularly challenging to distinguish from a sex addiction. In order to assess the person's current emotional state, health-care practitioners perform a mental-status examination as well.
In an effort to accurately establish a sexual addiction diagnosis, health-care professionals will work to distinguish sexual addictions from medical conditions that may include hypersexual symptoms. Examples of such conditions include seizures, tumors, dementia, and Huntington's disease, which may involve injuries to certain areas of the brain like the frontal or temporal lobes and therefore affect behavior.
What is the treatment for sexual addiction?
Many people with a sexual addiction benefit from the support and structure of recovery groups like Sex Addicts Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous. Professionals often use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help individuals with sex addiction learn their individual triggers for sexually destructive (acting out) behaviors, reevaluating distortions in their thoughts that contribute to their acting out behaviors, and ultimately controlling those behaviors. When sexual compulsions become severe, the sufferer may require inpatient treatment centers or intensive outpatient programs.
Seroetoninergic (SSRI) medications that are often used to treat depressive and anxiety disorders and mood stabilizers that are used to treat bipolar disorder have been found to decrease the compulsive urges associated with sexual addictions for some sufferers. Examples of SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), fluvoxamine (Luvox), and escitalopram (Lexapro).
SSRIs are generally well tolerated, and side effects are usually mild. The most common side effects are nausea, diarrhea, agitation, insomnia, and headache. However, these side effects generally go away within the first month of SSRI use. Some patients experience sexual side effects, such as decreased sexual desire (decreased libido), delayed orgasm, or an inability to have an orgasm. Some patients experience tremors with SSRIs. The so-called serotonergic (meaning caused by serotonin) syndrome is a serious neurologic condition associated with the use of SSRIs. It is characterized by high fevers, seizures, and heart-rhythm disturbances. This condition is very rare and has been reported only in very ill psychiatric patients taking multiple psychiatric medications.
Mood stabilizers like carbamazepine (Tegretol), divalproex sodium (Depakote), and lamotrigine (Lamictal) are sometimes used to treat OCD, particularly in individuals who also suffer from bipolar disorder. They may also be helpful in decreasing the impulsive behaviors suffered by some sex addicts. The side effects that professionals look for tend to vary depending on which medication is being prescribed. Health-care professionals tend to watch for mild side effects like sleepiness when using Depakote or Tegretol or stomach upset when using one of those medications or Lamictal. Health-care professionals also monitor patients for serious side effects like severely low white blood cell count in people taking Tegretol or severe autoimmune symptoms like Steven Johnson's syndrome in those taking Depakote and Lamictal.
Naltrexone, a medication that is often used to decrease the effects of narcotic medications, may be useful for decreasing the sexual compulsions, sex drive, or arousal of some sex offenders. That may be particularly important for people who have a sexual addiction and seek celibacy to abstain from their sexual compulsions. That has also been found for medications that decrease male hormones, called anti-androgens. One example of an anti-androgenic medication is medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), also known by its trade name of Depo-Provera.
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What is the prognosis of sexual addiction?
Studies show that the prognosis of sexual addictions depends on a number of factors, including the type of addiction, whether or not it involves paraphilic behaviors or, sexually violent behaviors, or if the person with the sex addiction who engages in sexually violent behaviors suffers from another mental-health diagnosis. For sexual offenders, factors that indicate a poor treatment prognosis include a higher number and more than one kind of sexual offences, having a previous criminal history, offending against boys outside their own family, low empathy for their victim, increased anger at the time of the offense, violent sexual fantasies, and attitudes that their victim enjoys it. Choosing an occupation that puts the offender in close proximity to potential victims and the use of sadomasochistic or pedophilic pornography are also associated with a worse prognosis.
Can sexual addiction be prevented?
As the driving forces for sexual addiction seem to be more poor self-esteem rather than excessive thrill seeking, interventions that enhance self-esteem and self-image appear to be key in preventing these disorders. Suggestions for preventing Internet addiction may be useful in the prevention of sexual Internet addiction and include parents educating their children about the dangers of such behaviors, monitoring and limiting computer use, screening out pornographic Internet sites, offering other activities that do not involve computer use, and addressing emotional problems like depression and anxiety, which are risk factors for developing a sexual addiction.
What are complications of sexual addiction?
There are a number of potentially devastating complications of sexual addiction. Possible medical complications include contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including the potentially fatal human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or hepatitis B or C. Examples of occupational consequences include decreased work performance or attendance due to the preoccupation with the addiction. If the behaviors result in unwanted sexual advances on others, legal problems like sexual harassment or rape perpetration may result. Individuals whose sexual addiction involves attraction to minors might engage in child molestation.
Depending on the financial demands of the addiction, the sufferer of a sexual addiction may incur a great deal of debt or engage in illegal or otherwise unsafe activity associated with the behavior. Emotionally, individuals with a sexual addiction are at risk for terrible guilt and shame at their actions and the secrecy involved. They are also more likely to experience broken relationships, separation, divorce, and the many challenges involved.
Are support groups available for sex addicts?
National Addiction Hotline
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
Sexual Addiction Anonymous
Sexual Compulsives Anonymous
USA and Canada: 800-977-HEAL
PO Box 1585, Old Chelsea Station
New York, NY 10011
What research is being done on sexual addiction?
Research on sexual addiction includes developing accurate screening and assessment tools for these disorders. The possibility that some paraphilias run in families is also being explored.
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Depression medications or antidepressants are drugs prescribed for treating depression. There are several types of drug classes of antidepressants including
- tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs),
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs),
- serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and
- monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
Side effects depend on the medication prescribed. Drug interactions, warnings and precautions, and pregnancy and breastfeeding safety should be reviewed prior to taking any medication.
AnxietyAnxiety is a feeling of apprehension and fear characterized by symptoms such as trouble concentrating, headaches, sleep problems, and irritability. Anxiety disorders are serious medical illnesses that affect approximately 19 million American adults. Treatment for anxiety may incorporate medications and psychotherapy.
Citalopram (Celexa) is an antidepressant drug used to treat:
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD),
- panic disorder,
- premenstrual dysphoric syndrome (PMDD),
- anxiety disorder,
- and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Side effects, drug interactions, warnings and precautions, and patient safety information should be reviewed prior to taking any medication.
Drug AbuseDrug addiction is a chronic disease that causes drug-seeking behavior and drug use despite negative consequences to the user and those around him. Though the initial decision to use drugs is voluntary, changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse can affect a person's self-control and ability to make the right decisions and increase the urge to take drugs. Drug abuse and addiction are preventable.
Lexapro (escitalopram) is a medication used for treating depression and general anxiety disorder. Lexapro is in the drug class called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Some of the side effects of Lexapro include agitation or restlessness, blurred vision, diarrhea, drowsiness, difficulty sleeping, dry mouth, frequent urination, headache, indigestion, nausea, sweating, and sexual difficulties.
Drug interactions, dosage, and pregnancy and breastfeeding safety information are provided.
Genital Warts In WomenGenital warts is a sexually transmitted infection (STI, STD) caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is the most common STD in the US. The warts can appear anywhere on the skin where sexual contact has occurred.
The warts look like raised, flesh-colored lumps or bumps that have a cauliflower-like appearance. Signs and symptoms of genital warts in women include vaginal, vulva, or groin pain, itching, and burning where the wart(s) is.
Treatment can remove warts or lesions, but it does not prevent spread of the virus, and the warts usually grow back. Removing genital warts does not prevent the infection from spreading elsewhere on the body.
There is no cure for genital warts, and there is no vaccine to prevent them; however, there is a vaccine to prevent infection from four common types of HPV. Gardasil vaccine available for female adolescents and teens to prevent HPV infection and cervical cancer.
Infidelity QuizHow long does the average affair last? Learn about love, lies, and more with the Infidelity Quiz.
MasturbationJust about everybody masturbates. Masturbation itself is the self-stimulation of the male or female genitals to achieve sexual pleasure or arousal to the point of orgasm. Masturbation involves stimulating the penis or clitoris. Masturbation is very common among people who have, or do not have sexual relations with a partner. Masturbation can relieve sexual tension that can build up over a period of time. Masturbation generally is considered normal unless it becomes a problem by inhibiting sexual activity with a partner, done in public, or causes distress to the person masturbating. Some experts suggest that masturbation can improve a person's sexual health and personal relationships.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes a person to suffer repeated obsessions and compulsions. Symptoms include irresistible impulses despite a person's realization that the thoughts are irrational, excessive hand washing, skin picking, lock checking, or repeatedly rearranging items. People with OCD are more likely to develop trichotillomania, muscle or vocal tics, or an eating disorder. Treatment for OCD includes psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and medication.
ParaphiliaParaphilias are characterized by sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors involving unusual objects or activities. Exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism, pedophilia, sadism, transvestitism, voyeurism, and sexual masochism are examples of paraphilias. Counseling, therapy, and medications are used in the treatment of paraphilias.
Rape (Sexual Assault)There are many forms of sexual assault, including rape, attempted rape, child molestation, sexual intercourse that you say no to, inappropriate touching, and vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Sexual assault can also be anything that forces someone to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention, such as voyeurism, exhibitionism, incest, and sexual harassment.
Zoloft (sertraline) is a medication prescribed for the treatment of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Side effects include:
- Skin rash
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- Decreased interest in sexual activity
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Drug interactions, dosage, and pregnancy and breastfeeding safety information should be reviewed prior to taking this medication.
Sex & Love QuizRelationships, sex, and love! Could it be that what motivates physical attraction in us may be all in our minds? Take the Sex & Love Quiz to challenge yourself on healthy human sexuality!
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Sexual (Sex) Problems in WomenSexual dysfunction refers to a problem that arises during any phase of the sexual response cycle, preventing an individual or couple from experiencing sexual satisfaction. Physical, medical, and psychological conditions may affect sexual functioning, resulting in inhibited sexual desire, inability to become aroused, lack of orgasm, and painful intercourse. Treating the underlying physical and psychological problems usually resolves most female sexual problems.
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Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a parasite passed from person to person. Trichomoniasis can be picked up from contact with damp, moist objects like towels, wet clothing, or toilet seat. Symptoms include
- yellow, green, or gray vaginal discharge with a strong odor,
- painful intercourse or urination,
- genital irritation and itching, and
- lower abdominal pain.
Antibiotics are the only treatment to cure trichomoniasis.