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What is Sexual Addiction?

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Sex Addiction can best be defined as an all consuming and destructive preoccupation with sexual activity. That activity might be masturbation, pornography, going to sex cinemas and shows, visiting prostitutes, sleeping with strangers, having multiple affairs, cyber sex, pursing a fetish or even sexual offending behaviour. Neither the type of activity, nor the frequency defines an addict, but the relentless preoccupation with pursuing sex in spite of the damaging consequences. Sexual addiction takes time, energy and money. As a result, many addicts find that after a while, their work, health, relationships, family and social lives are being compromised, if not devastated.

Most addicts, will have tried many times to stop and have failed. They know that their secret sex lives are spiralling out of control but feel powerless to change their desires or behaviour. Sexual addiction is fuelled by shame. As the addict feels themselves becoming increasingly dependent on a lifestyle that offends their own personal values, their sense of shame increases. And as their shame increases so does their need to escape the pain. And what better way to escape but into the drug of choice. And so the cycle continues.

Sex can become addictive in a similar way to alcohol and illegal drugs. During sex, our bodies release a powerful cocktail of chemicals that make us feel good. Some people can get addicted to these chemicals and become obsessed with getting their next fix, their next sexual high. And again, like other substance addictions, the body gets used to these chemicals and the sufferer soon finds that they need more and more sex in order to achieve the same buzz.

Like all addictions, sexual addiction is an anaesthetic. It is a coping mechanism, a way of managing difficult feelings. From an early age, sex, often in the form of masturbation, is associated with comfort and used as a way of escaping the harshness of the world. Sex becomes a refuge. There is of course, nothing wrong with turning to sex for comfort. And there is no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy our sexuality. Sex is not the problem, in the same way as alcohol is not the problem. It is the dependency and the experience of feeling out of control that the addict needs to overcome.

The prevalence of sexual addiction is almost impossible to measure because of the shame, guilt and secrecy that surrounds the condition but rough estimates suggest that between 6 and 20% of the UK population are affected. If you think you may be one of them then you may find answering the questions on the Am I an Addict? page helpful.

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