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Understanding Sexual Compulsivity

Many people who seek professional help for symptoms related to depression, anxiety or mood disorders many not even realize they also have sexually compulsive behaviors – and the news may also be a surprise to many mental health professionals if they are unaware of the complexities of this disorder.

Sexual compulsivity, like other types of compulsive disorders, may vary in symptoms and level of intensity. However, a recent research article addresses some key elements that may be common across people with sexual compulsivity, and contribute to the similarities between this disorder and other compulsive behaviors, such as overeating or compulsive gambling:

  • Continuing to take part in the sexual behaviors, such as viewing online pornography, engaging in sex with multiple partners or compulsive masturbation, regardless of the consequences
  • Desire to use the sexually compulsive behaviors to cope or avoid stress and negative emotions
  • Strong feelings of guilt, shame or feeling desperate, often perpetuated by using the sexual behaviors as a means of escape
  • Intense preoccupation with the activity, such as planning a next sexual encounter and being unable to avoid sexual thoughts
  • Intense amounts of time spent engaging in the sexual activities

As with other types of compulsive disorders, there are multiple types of the behavior. This further complicates diagnosis, especially when the person also has co-existing depression or mood disorders. Some, called paraphilic, engage in sexually compulsive actions that are extreme and considered bizarre – such as exhibitionism, pedophilia or self-harming and masochistic behaviors. Others, called non-paraphilic, exhibit sexual compulsivity that includes obsessive masturbation, spending excessive time and money on prostitution or stripping night clubs or even sex outside of marriage with numerous partners.

The symptoms and types of sexual compulsivity can be overlapping or can vary in intensity, and many can be linked back to beginning in teen or young adult years. Because the co-existing conditions like anxiety and depression can also be connected with substance abuse as another way to cope, identifying a clear diagnosis and treatment strategies can be complex. However, like other compulsive disorders, with professionally trained sexual addiction experts, the cycle of sexual compulsivity can be broken.

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