Affecting between 3% – 6% of the population, sex addiction is a growing concern, especially given that sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase. Cases of gonorrhea have risen by 65% over the last 8 years, with other STIs such as syphilis and chlamydia showing a similar upturn. Another surprising statistic surrounding sex addiction is that the disorder – traditionally thought of as a ‘male condition’ – is more frequently being diagnosed in women. But what is causing this worrying trend? Some psychologists believe that the internet is a catalyst or ‘enabler’ for sex addiction. Addicts may start out by viewing porn on the internet then progress to more and more damaging sexual behaviours.
Defining Sex Addiction
Like any other type of addiction, sex addiction is behaviour that is compulsive to the point of excess, relied upon as an emotional crutch, or that disrupts a person’s ability to live a normal life. Sex addicts are unable to manage their sexual behaviour and may partake in compulsive masturbation, excessive use of pornography, multiple affairs and they may fail to keep their sexual impulses in check. A person who is addicted to sex may also develop unhealthy obsessions with people or sexual fantasies. Often a sex addict will engage in increasingly risky behaviours, displaying an escalation in the sexual acts they need to feel fulfilled. All of this can result in damage to personal relationships.
An Online Issue?
Where the internet may not be the root cause of sex addiction, it can be a part of the process of becoming addicted. Some experts believe that the internet is enabling sexually addictive behaviours because of the ease of accessing sexually explicit material and also because of the anonymity it provides. Some 12% of websites are pornographic. Porn is free, easy to access and more graphic in content than ever before. Addicts may start by watching pornography, then progress to hanging out in sex chat rooms, then accessing websites that allow them to ‘hook up’ with people for casual or ‘paid for’ sex. Where the internet might not actually be causing the problem, it’s certainly an enabler. People that may not have previously had the means to act out fantasies can now do easily and instantly online.
Once sexual behaviours progress from online to offline liaisons, they become more dangerous. A person diagnosed with sex addiction usually gives little or no thought to the risk associated with their behaviour – so protection against STIs and thoughts of personal safety might not be considered. The nature of sex addiction also means individuals use sex instead of dealing with complex emotions; substituting intimacy and acceptance with sexual gratification. In short, addicts are putting their physical and mental health at risk, as well as getting themselves into dangerous situations in order to get their kicks.
Treatments and Recovery
Cognitive and talking therapies are often the solution to sex addiction, but the road to recovery can be a long one. Extreme cases may even need to check into rehab for a period of time. If a person is putting themselves in dangerous situations through their sexual activities then sex toys and masturbation can be a short-term substitute, limiting danger while still providing a ‘thrill’ until they get long-term help. However, therapy should be encouraged so people don’t simply substitute one addiction with another.
The fact that sex addiction is recognized and more people are coming forward with their issues around sex addiction can only be a positive. However, more research is needed into the leap in cases and how the internet is fuelling this, in order to address the problem.